Objection!

Six Steps To The Sale

As you deal with objections, you must remain confident through all the ups and downs of the prospect's thinking. It took years for me to learn not to ride the same emotional roller coaster as my prospects. Once I noticed that all motivated prospects seemed to show certain tendencies while making a buying decision, I relaxed.

Customers getting ready to make a buying decision follow a six-stage behavior pattern. Depending on the purchase, going through all six stages can take anywhere from 15 minutes to two years.

1. Exploration. When prospects begin researching a product or service, they don't always recognize their exact needs or the available options. In the early stages of the sales process, you are the informer, enabling prospects to explore the possibilities.

Don't get discouraged when they make negative comments. At this point, customers are still investigating, and you must gain their confidence by letting them feel free to make comments and objections. By letting you see how they think, they're giving you the insight to start overturning the foundation of objections on which they're standing.

This is also your opportunity to start driving home a few positive points about your product. When prospects see you answering three or four objections with honest answers, they'll eventually realize you know what you're talking about.

The temptation at this point is to push too hard. The solution? Always have a good supply of prospects in your pipeline. No one sale should ever be so important that it motivates you to push for it this soon.

2. Slight withdrawal. Some prospects react enthusiastically from the outset, but most refrain from showing early excitement. They may not yet be ready to accept a particular part of your sales talk that will influence them more effectively later.

When you sense early withdrawal, remain positive, upbeat and confident, realizing it may be the customer's own ignorance that prompts him or her to say, "This seems like too much money."

Conscientious salespeople, like conscientious lawyers, learn to handle objections from case studies. Use the following fictitious one-The Fly-by-Night Case Study-to help you anticipate and overcome objections. Replace my examples with your own product or service.

Suppose you sell "Detachable Wings" to executives who want to fly out their office windows at a moment's notice. When you made the first sales call, a few of the senior vice presidents let you fly out their 19th-floor executive offices and fly back in, causing great excitement. They all began chattering about the money the company would save in air fares and how convenient it would be to get to work without sitting in traffic.

At the second interview, however, the management team seems slightly withdrawn. "We aren't really sure if we need these detachable wings right now. We are a growing company, and perhaps we should put our money to work by investing in something more sensible."

3. More questions and interest. As long as you keep moving forward with an upbeat sales talk, knocking each objection flat on its face, a customer's interest is heightened, and he or she will start to ask you more questions. A legitimate prospect enjoys challenging the salesperson's knowledge and dedication.

"Will these wings last five years with no overhauls required?"

"Did you say we can get all the senior officers' wings at a 30 percent discount?"

Think of these as "verification questions." I used to have to calm myself down when these questions started coming at me. My mind was rushing ahead with thoughts like "Yippee. You did it, kid. You sold them!"

But I learned the hard way not to jump the gun. Whenever you count your commissions before they are cashed, you get bounced out of the bank. Don't get excited; just respond to the prospect's further probing with calm, confident answers.

4. Deliberate pondering and brainstorming. Now the committee is having a pow-wow about the wings. If you're in on it, shut up and listen. They may be getting jumpy because they're close to making a buying decision. In that case, you may hear meaningless comments and objections one minute and positive acknowledgements the next. Customers are walking contradictions when they reach this level.

"Isn't the lease on our corporate jet almost up?"

"I hope so. I don't want that thing just sitting in the hangar eating up corporate funds."

"Do we need a pilot's license to fly with these things?"

"That does it. I'm not buying these wings because tests make me a nervous wreck. After I passed the bar, I swore I'd never take another exam."

"Do we really need these wings?"

You may be tempted to jump into the discussion. Don't. Let the group work their way out of it themselves. If you've done an impeccable job demonstrating features and benefits, you will get another chance to clarify.

5. More doubt, questions and anxiety. "You told us once, but tell us again-what happens if we break a wing?" You must have the mental toughness to answer questions unemotionally without knowing their outcome.

"Remember I said if you break a wing, you're equipped with a waist pack that has two extra wings. You'll have plenty of time prior to descent to snap one off and replace it."

You are in real trouble if you don't have a logical answer at this point in the sales process. It may indicate to the prospect you have a faulty product or poor product knowledge.

6. Resolving and finalizing doubt. The customers have come full circle on their own, thanks to your expert guidance. You'll now begin to sense the sell. There is a feeling in the air that no stone has been left unturned.

"If we put up the money for these wings and decide within a certain time frame that things aren't working out, can we get our money back?"

This objection might have been covered earlier when you said, "If after 30 days you can't get off the ground, we will refund your money-no questions asked." But when customers are close to a buying decision, they need one last reassurance that no one is going to take advantage of them.

Objections are overcome by salespeople who not only possess a deep passion for and knowledge of their product, but also have the confidence to walk (or fly) away when necessary, allowing the customer to make a final decision. Otherwise, the sale will never get off the ground.

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This article was originally published in the February 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Objection!.

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