One of the many disturbing scenes in the 2000 movie "Boiler Room" is the alpha-salesman-speak of Ben Affleck's character, who concludes:

There is no such thing as a 'no sale' call. A sale is made on every call you make. You either sell the client some stock or he sells you a reason he can't. Either way it's a sale. The question is, who's gonna close, you or him?

If you've taken sales training courses, or read books on improving selling skills chances are you've heard lots about "handling" objections. Usually with objections represented as obstacles to your ability to close a sale.

At the risk of appearing arrogant or even heretical, let me offer a radical suggestion to you; the whole idea of objections is misguided--you need to re-think most of what you've learned.

To start, what are you really thinking when you talk about handling objections?

Most internal monologues fall into one of two categories:

  1. "All right, I'm getting close to closing the sale; I saw the buyer, I've got them to agree on the problem. I've got them hooked on some features and I can see light at the end of the tunnel. All that's left is to jujitsu flip a few objections, and we're home free. Bring it on, let's see what you've got--I can handle your objections!"
  2. The other version probably sounds like this: "Omigosh, it's gone well so far, knock on wood. I hope they don't throw me some curve ball, this is the part I hate. I really want to close this one, if I can just get past the objections."

You may notice the first version sounds optimistic and positive while the second sounds fearful, even defeatist. But what people don't usually notice is how much alike those two versions are.

Both versions envision a battle between buyer and seller--one of whom shall "win" by subduing the other. Think of all the metaphors salespeople use when talking about this situation: Can you hit the curveball? Can you get it back over the net? It's third and goal, can you get the first down? Are you tough enough to go the last round?

This combative way of thinking is baked into most approaches to sales. That's because nearly every sales model is a model of a transaction, not a relationship. Other than the occasional arrow that says "go back to Step B and repeat," the models are the equivalent of a business one-night stand. If closing the deal is all you're looking for, you won't get much customer loyalty or repeat business. Where is it written that you should be your customer's enemy?

Here's the other, better, way to think.

An objection means the buyer cares enough about you and the sale to want to explore it with you. They're telling you about a concern they have, in the hopes you'll help them resolve it. Your enemy is not the customer; your enemy is disengagement. And an objection demonstrates that the customer is very much engaged.

When you get an objection, recognize it as an opportunity. If you and your customer can resolve it, great, you'll get a sale. And if you can't resolves it, well it's almost certainly because it's just not the right thing for your customer just now.

Amazingly, you get even more credit if you back out gracefully when your offer isn't right. Your customer will be surprised, and appreciative. And you'll increase the odds of getting the next sale, and the one after that.

Anyway, people vastly prefer to buy what they need from people they trust. So help them resolve their objections and be secure in knowing you've improved the long-term relationship--and your long-term sales.