At the top of this article, you assembled a list detailing each of your product's benefits. That was the fun part. Now you have to look at the other side. What objections might you face in a sales call? Salespeople are like baseball players: Generally, their failures at the plate outnumber their successes. But like good hitters, salespeople raise their average by examining their failures and adjusting the next time they come to bat. Always ask yourself why a particular sale didn't happen. What kinds of remarks have you heard from prospective buyers that kept them from going with your product? These are the objections you weren't able to overcome in your sales effort.
You should be able to put together a list of the six to 10 most common objections that pop up during sales presentations. When you have that list, write down your best responses to each of those objections. Some responses may involve several different elements. Some objections may be hard to respond to in a positive way. You've just got to do your best in formulating your answers.
For instance, if the objection is that a piece of equipment is too slow, maybe you can focus attention on other strong points that more than make up for this: perhaps less downtime, lower error rate, greater ease of operation and therefore less training required, and so on. Until you come up with an adequate response, that objection will continue to kill sales.
Once you've developed your list of responses, you must be ready to use them on the spot. You can't call prospects back in four days to tell them, "You know, I was thinking about that bad reaction you had to the high failure rate of our pumps, and I think you're overemphasizing its importance." You have to have all that sales ammunition with you in the room when you're making the presentation.
Never forget that your job is not just selling the equipment or service. In the minds of the prospective buyers, you're the company, and they're judging the company by your performance. Respond smoothly to an objection, and they'll be impressed with your professionalism (and that of your company). But if you get flustered by an objection, or leave without giving an adequate response, you will create the opposite impression.
If you see the same couple of objections arising time and time again, make the smart move: Eliminate that objection before it arises. Build a preemptive strike against that objection right into the core of your presentation, so your prospects won't be distracted by the thought of an apparent weakness in your product or service. As you're able to refine your presentation based on experience, you'll be able to eliminate a good percentage of the common objections you run into. Only then will your sales effort really begin to take off.
Getting to the Dotted Line
Getting someone to say yes is not always easy. And, as anyone with any sales experience knows, everything can be cordial and positive during the presentation. But once it's time for a decision, once someone has to write a check, things can turn dark.
If you see some reluctance to say yes, get involved in helping them make the decision. An effective way to wrap the sale up--without appearing overly aggressive--is to recap why you're there, the need that the company recognizes, and how your product satisfies that need in all its aspects. If you've done your homework well and made a skilled and informative presentation, you should have left them right at the door of making the decision. Respectfully ask them what's keeping them from making the decision right now: Are there senior people who have to approve the decision? Do they have to evaluate a competitor who's yet to present? Is there something about your product/service that they're unsure of? By the process of elimination, you should be able to trim away the possible reasons for delay.
Of course, many business decisions based on a presentation take some time. More often than not, you simply can't force the decision while you're there. If you're told that's the case, learn when you can expect a decision. Then tell them that you're looking forward to the possibility of working with them, and immediately send them a recap of your presentation with some new material--whatever you can pull together to show that your desire to provide them service is still on your mind.
Some salespeople have had success unlocking a sale with the direct question: "Do you want to purchase this service?" Follow it with silence, and let the prospect take over the conversation.
If you sense a negative decision in the making, suggest that you'll send them a recap of the meeting with your final best offer in a day or two. This will buy you some time to come up with a "Plan B."
Finally, let's assume for a moment that you don't make the sale. Your immediate course of action should be to call your contact, acknowledge the inevitable, and then ask if he or she can help you understand why the contract went to another company. This provides you with a real learning opportunity, in many ways more valuable than (although not, unfortunately, as financially rewarding as) winning the sale. Make it clear you're not disputing the decision or trying gamely to alter it. Mention how you put some work into the presentation, and you'd appreciate the chance to use your loss to improve the way you make the next presentation. Was it price? Was it product issues? Was it a superior presentation by a competitor? Probe to get specifics, which you should write up in a call report for later analysis. If you learn why people don't buy, then take steps to remedy either your presentation or the product itself.
If you do get the contract, your job is just starting in two ways. First, you've got to make arrangements to have the product or service actually delivered. Second, you now have a relationship to tend, new people to learn about and perhaps a new application in which to test your product or service. Congratulations.
Fill Out a Call Report
All salespeople hate to fill out call reports. They often feel they are being checked up on, that no one back at the office has to know the details of how the meeting went. Even sole proprietors hate call reports, and they have no one to report to. There's just something so archival and so seemingly unproductive about them.
In fact, call reports are prime marketing ore for future efforts. Think for a moment of the value you can glean from 200 call reports of recent sales presentations:
- Which companies have been approached, when and by whom
- What products they were exposed to
- Who attended the sales meeting--and who is responsible for purchasing your product
- Why they did or didn't decide on your company (assuming your salesperson followed up properly on a negative decision)
What can you do with this market intelligence?
- Study the successes to see what types of companies you're having better luck with. You can then intensify your efforts to make presentations to more of those companies.
- Study the failures to see what you can do to make your product more appealing to those types of companies. With good, concrete follow-up, you can--over time--enhance your product and alter your presentations for greater success.
- Use the unsuccessful presentations as a source for possible future sales activities. If you lost the ABC account pitch because your trucking firm didn't have enough experienced drivers, you can repitch the account when you get a little bigger.
- You know the people who hold key purchasing authority for your product. Keep them on a low-level direct-mail effort, to keep them informed of what's happening at your company.