Overcoming Single Level Objections

There is a reason that automobiles have a reverse gear. Sometimes you have moved as far forward as you can and in order to get anywhere you need to change your path. However, for some reason many sales representatives only have a forward gear. They move along a trajectory until they meet a seemingly immovable object, the client objection. An objection is a question, exclamation, protest, challenge, complaint, or correction posed by one of the negotiating parties.

Unfortunately, many sales people will treat an objection as an opportunity to ingratiate themselves to the client with a price reduction. For that reason, you need to assemble the team right away to go over the kinds of objections that truly warrant a price reduction. In the meantime, here are ways to handle non-price objections.

Some objections are merely clarifying questions. Provide the needed information without being defensive or backtracking. Your response will set the tone for future questions. For example, if the client stops and you asks, “Why did you do it this way?” your reply might be “We chose to do X, because of Y, because we have found that is a more effective solution than doing Z. Does that answer your question?” Don’t assume the question means you are on the wrong track. Sometimes a question is just a question.

Most objections are single-level: That is, there is nothing beneath the surface of the customer’s comment. In fact, it’s often not even an objection. What’s important is not to over-respond. An exclamation such as “Whoa, that’s more than I was expecting!” warrants a reply, but not necessarily an explanation. My typical response goes something like this, “It is a lot of money. Let me explain why you shouldn’t be surprised.”

A protest is an emotion or reaction that is asking you to pause and regroup. You will need to address the protest before moving on. If a customer were to say, “That’s far outside of our budget,” then you have to acknowledge the protest. “That’s important to know at this stage. Would you like me to continue to explain what we can deliver for this price, or should we focus on how best to utilize the budget you have?” Or, you might say, “We know how to work within budgets. Let me share the rest of the proposal and we can discuss how to apply your resources.”

A challenge is a clear declaration that you have deviated from the customer’s intent. Something in your proposal or presentation introduces an assumption or a solution that is not acceptable in the current paradigm. It’s an indicator that the client feels you haven’t been listening or have dismissed their needs in some way. It’s important to stay in the moment and explore what’s behind the challenge. Example: “This is not what we asked for at all. We won’t consider a budget that doesn’t include [insert non-negotiable item here].” While dire, this is still a single level objection. “I apologize. This was my mistake. I would like to resubmit my proposal with corrections. Could we take a few moments and identify other areas where I may have misinterpreted your criteria?”

Complaints typically come from existing customers and often involve changes in pricing. If not addressed, you might not move forward. “I see you raised the price of shipping. I know you guys need to make money, but this increase is unreasonable.” The best way to handle a complaint is not have any. You should anticipate and pre-empt whenever possible. However, even a pricing complaint is a single level objection especially if you can redirect, “Yes, we know this cost is higher, but it is a better representation of its value in the transaction. By reducing the subsidy on shipping, we can hold the price on the actual product.”

The steps to fielding single level objections are 1. Acknowledge the objection, 2. Address the point succinctly, 3. Affirm that your response registers with the client, and 4. Move on. When you have finished your presentation, consider reviewing all of the objections that came up along the way and reaffirm that you have addressed them adequately.

I once missed a change in my best client’s circumstances that dictated much tighter budgets with no “frills”. When he corrected me for including elements that weren’t in the specification, I took it as a compliment instead of recognizing the opportunity to retool my proposal. My client gave the project to another supplier, and I lost a million dollar account. Had I been in the moment and heard what he was saying, I could have responded, “I’m so sorry that I missed this. If it’s not too late, could you tell me what you would do in my shoes to fix this?”

Single level objections are the most common and therefore the first thing we need to learn how to handle as sales professionals. The skill we need to develop to better handle objections is called, “Being in the moment.” Teach your team how to spot these situations, acknowledge, address, affirm, and move on.

Tom Stimson MBA, CTS helps owners and management teams rediscover the fun and profit that comes from making better decisions about smarter goals. He is an expert on project-based selling and a thought leader for innovative business processes. Since 2006, Tom has successfully advised over two hundred companies and organizations on business strategy, process, marketing, and sales. Learn More at TRSTIMSON.COM