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Tough Sell

Take no for an answer? No sirree!

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.

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