From the December 1998 issue of Startups

Here's a guarantee: Put a handful of veteran salespeople in a room together, and within a few minutes, they'll start telling war stories. No matter what they sell, they'll begin reminiscing about a prospect who was dead set against buying from them. Through sheer sales talent, of course, they overcame the person's objections and made the sale.

As every good sales book points out (and every good salesperson knows), the ability to overcome objection is what separates average salespeople from great ones. And if you're running your own homebased business, this skill could be the difference between succeeding and going back to being someone's employee.

Objections are what stop a sale. Period. You ask a prospect whether he or she wants to buy your product; the prospect says it's too expensive. That makes sense to you, so the meeting is over, right?

Wrong. Instead, when someone objects, listen carefully. Does he or she really think the price is too high, or is "no" just a knee-jerk response? Customers rarely accept the first offer in any situation--especially when it comes to price. Objections are also a way to buy time; your prospect may just want to think for a moment or hear about the product before making up his or her mind.

Hear the prospect out. Regardless of the objection, let him or her finish before responding. Many novice salespeople hear an objection and over-react. All they can see is a sale slipping away, so they anxiously interrupt. This results not only in cutting someone off, but appearing as if you're dying for the sale.

When the customer finishes speaking, be empathetic. First show that you understand the concern, then begin dealing with the objection. If it's price, agree that while initially, it may seem high, it's not when you consider how the product or service saves time, cuts costs, helps expand their business and so on. Don't sound like you're reading a script; mix the figures and the anecdotes. Personalize it to the prospect's business. Show clients you know their needs. As always, stress the benefits.

Sierra Madre, California, mother-and-daughter team Carol Evans and Kimberly Thomas recently started a homebased errand-running service. For a sliding fee, they do everything from picking up dry cleaning to house-sitting or taking pets to the veterinarian. Yet their sales and marketing efforts focus on how their services can ease the burden for single parents, dual-career families, people who travel often and so on. There's a big difference between offering to help a harried parent with chores and obligations and saying you'll pick up dry cleaning for 15 bucks.

Here are some tips to consider when dealing with objections:

  • Politely ask the customer to explain the objection in more detail. During the explanation, you or the client may find an answer to the objection. "It costs too much" may turn out to be "I'd need to spread out the payments." "It's not something I need" can become "I'll give it a 30-day trial." Make certain you know exactly what the objection is before you try to overcome it.
  • Stress what the client likes. If the objection comes as you're near closing--say, for example, the delivery process takes longer than the customer requires--go back to what he or she liked. Go over the quality, price, color or whatever attributes the prospect is sold on. This brings back the customer's positive feeling about the product or service, and makes the objection seem less important.
  • Compromise. Obviously, price is negotiable. If objections lie elsewhere, make them negotiable, too. If delivery is the problem, ask whether shipments arriving aweek sooner would make the difference. If the worry is service, offer your home phone number (as opposed to just your home office number). The product seems too complicated? Volunteer to personally install it and tutor the prospect--something you normally don't do. Rather than just combating their words with yours, look for the solution.
  • Ask for less. A classic objection is that the prospect is happy with his or her current supplier. Harder to argue against: The prospect does business with a competitor--and it's his sister-in-law. You're probably not going to take all their business away from these competitors. Instead, ask for a part of it. Tell the individual you're not asking them to drop their current supplier, but you want a chance to prove you're good--maybe even better. Point out that it can be smart to have more than one company supplying a product or service. Remember, it's never a good idea to knock a competitor.
  • Concede the point. Sometimes you won't be able to contest the objection. In that case, go around it: "Yes, there's another very fine desktop publisher in town. They do good work at a good price. I'm good, too, and I can get you what you need faster for the same price. Let me prove it to you."
  • Give in. Sometimes the objection can't be overcome. But unless it's a one-time sale, you're looking to build a long-term relationship. Understand that the client isn't currently in a position to make a purchase or that your service doesn't match their present needs. Let the prospect know you'd like to help him or her in the future, and stay in touch. Be the person the prospect remembers because you would take "no" for an answer--at least initially.

However, sometimes a prospect is unreasonable. Maybe he or she wants you to cut your price in half. In that case, walk away. Be professional, thank the individual for his or her time, but walk.

  • Always finish addressing the objection by asking "Does that answer your concern?" This does two things: One, it lets you know whether you've satisfactorily answered the objection. If you haven't and don't ask, the person may have decided to forget the sale. Two, it moves the process along. You've finished with the objection, and you're ready to move on from there.
  • Don't tell prospects they're wrong, even if they are. Always be polite, even if the objection seems insulting. The objection may seem stupid, but no good will come from arguing with customers.

Bill Kelley is a business writer in Arcadia, California.

Setting The Tone

Want to be more effective on the phone? Follow these tips:

  • Never type on your keyboard, open mail or read e-mail when you're on the phone. This is the equivalent of talking to one person while looking at another.
  • Be prepared. If you're going to call a prospect or client, have a clearly defined plan and goal in mind before picking up the phone.
  • Don't leave "cute" messages on people's voice mail. Unlike a conversation, you won't be there to explain it if the message falls flat. It also sounds unprofessional.
  • Keep it short and stay focused. Always be prepared to politely steer the conversation back to the reason for the call.
  • Learn to be quiet. Don't let the call become a one-sided pitch. Be a good listener.

Trade Wins

Going to your first trade show can be either a rewarding business experience, or a tremendous waste of time. Being prepared--especially for your first show--is the key to making sure it's profitable for you.

The most important decision is whether to go. If you don't have specific goals, forget it. You must decide exactly what you hope to accomplish. For example, commit to introducing yourself to two dozen new prospects, or speaking to vendors who can help you with a specific problem. Don't view it as a working vacation. Trade shows require work, and hard work at that.

If you do find the right show, heed the following tips:

  • Have a written plan. Whatever your goals, put them in writing. Be flexible, but don't assume you can decide how to spend your time once you get to the show. The show's management will have plenty of pre-show material. Look at it carefully, then write down your plan.
  • Take notes. One reason you may be attending is to determine whether you want to exhibit at this show in the future. If that's the case, take notes. See what displays, booths and other elements catch your eye. Make note of the successful literature. Write down the total attendance figures and busiest days, and get a breakdown of what types of businesses and people are at the show. (This information is available from the show's organizers.)

Even if you don't plan on exhibiting in the future, keep a pen and paper handy. Take notes on the people you meet, and write down information about the companies you notice.

  • Follow up. Within two weeks, write a note to everyone you met, whether that person is a prospect, supplier, client or anyone else you may contact for business in the future.
  • Wear sensible shoes. No kidding. Do it, or you'll spend the entire trade show waiting for it to end.

For The Record

Even the world's best marketing strategy won't work for you if it's not well-planned, and the best way to do that is to develop a customized work sheet for each client. Here's how to start:

1. List each company's top executives, products, and services. Make sure your marketing effort is aimed at the right individual.

2. Describe the products or services that you think best apply to each client. This is not a sales forecast but rather a listing of products you think can best help his or her business.

3. Make a list of your competitors. Include their products and any marketing programs they have. If they use fliers, advertisements and so on, list them and, if possible, the dates they appeared.

4. Write down the marketing plan you've use for each client. If you send anyone literature, be sure to include the date and result. Was a purchase made? Was there a request for more information? Did someone call? If no action was taken, note that, too.

5. Keep track of your marketing costs per client or prospect.

Only You

Unless your product or service is one-of-a-kind, you've got competition. To beat them, you have to make sure you're the key company, the one your customers turn to above all others. How do you do that if you're new and small? Try these strategies:

  • Use your size. You're new, small and aggressive. Be more flexible than your competitors. Be willing to break self-imposed rules. ("We need 24 hours to fill large orders.") Promise personal attention--since you are the company, this shouldn't be difficult.
  • Service. Serve the customer above everything else. In the overwhelming majority of cases, service, not price, makes the difference in getting an order and keeping a client for the long term.
  • Stay in touch. In an age when even the smallest business can have cell phones, pagers, voice mail, fax machines and e-mail, there's no excuse for not being on call for your customers. That doesn't mean you can't have a life. It just means you can respond to inquiries with little delay.
  • Sacrifice. Take the occasional hit on profit, lose a little sleep, do a little more without always sending an invoice. If you help a customer once or twice without looking for a check in return, you'll be remembered. When it comes time for that customer to place the next order, you'll undoubtedly top the list.

Contact Sources

Errands by Evans, (626) 355-9193, KThomas@mail.unihealth.org