Every so often, you need a good dose of encouragement when it comes to handling sales objections. If you're a regular reader of my column, you know I believe that the most meaningful encouragement comes from those in the trenches--the walking wounded who are willing to share their war stories.
This month's war heroes are three entrepreneurial moms I met while being interviewed on a talk show. Owners of EKA Productions LLC, Jill Luedtke, 42, Kim Anton, 39, and Tracey Hornbuckle, 34, are producers of award-winning children's videos in San Diego. Studying their strategies for getting their products into stores is almost like taking a graduate course in handling objections.
Danielle Kennedy presents sales and marketing seminars and keynote addresses worldwide and is the author of seven sales books as well as audio and video sales training programs. Check local bookstores for her book, Seven Figure Selling (Berkley Press). Write to her in care of Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614.
I Know I Can, I Know I Can
Overcoming objections in the marketplace starts with a "we can do it" attitude. This became Luedtke, Anton and Hornbuckle's rallying cry as they built their business.
The three longtime friends left corporate positions about two years ago to become stay-at-home moms. While vacationing together in 1996, an idea for a business struck them. Their kids were playing on a farm with a calf named Wilbur and were mimicking his "mooing" sound. This led the kids to mimic other animals on the farm, which seemed to be a great learning experience for them.
Upon returning home, Luedtke, Anton and Hornbuckle researched the market and found very few entertaining educational videos for the diaper set. After what they'd seen on the farm, they thought they had a great concept to fill this niche. Hence the birth of EKA Productions LLC, which now produces high-quality educational children's videos such as "Wilbur Teaches Parts of the Body," "Wilbur Sings the Classics" and the 1998 Parenting Magazine Video Magic Award winner, "Wilbur Visits the Farm."
At first, even with high-quality products, getting their videos into stores was anything but easy. They had to overcome one objection after another from wary retailers. But their perseverance paid off: Last year, the company's sales reached $110,000. And the trio expects to see sales of about $225,000 this year.
Here are five lessons you can learn from these objection-fighting entrepreneurs:
1. Objections come with the sales territory. They are merely a form of buyer resistance, so get used to coping with them on a daily basis. "We called on a major department store four times, each time being rejected, before they agreed to carry our videos," says Anton.
There is no way around objections before closing a sale. Remind yourself of this inescapable fact often enough, and eventually you'll take it for granted and cut out all the time-wasting dramatic reactions that deplete your energy. Objections aren't punishments--quit making yourself suffer.
2. Give up the belief that you're not tough enough to deal with a "no." Many people assume that good salespeople have ice water running through their veins--tough types who are unaffected by a continuous stream of "nos" uttered from prospects' lips. Maybe you thought this was true when you began trying to find new customers. In reality, salespeople may cringe at hearing those rejections, but their ironclad will and passionate belief in their product or service helps them persevere. Luedtke, Anton and Hornbuckle's examples teach us how to handle objections by simply not taking "no" for an answer from those we are destined to serve.
3. Objections are merely problems waiting for creative solutions. EKA's owners are the first to admit that an irrepressibly good attitude helps, but you'd better have some creative solutions up your sleeve to solve your customers' problems.
The partners' creativity finally got their product on a major department store's shelves after being rejected several times. "Space was the big problem," says Anton. It was the stumbling block that came up every time she called on the store's buyer.
The store was so full of inventory, there was no space for EKA to set up a monitor and play its videos. "I asked if we could tag on to other displays," says Anton. "Then I noticed they had a monitor in the children's shoe department. Could we use it for `Wilbur'? The children's shoe department buyer loved the idea. A cow slipper display centering around `Wilbur Visits the Farm' was a fresh idea they were ready to implement."
Jot down a recent objection someone threw your way. Then let your creativity flow: Write down the first solution that comes to your mind, then the second, and so on. You may be surprised at the solutions you come up with.
4. Listen for the "real" objection. Sometimes an entrepreneur takes an objection so personally, all he or she hears is "They don't like my product." With this attitude, you won't be able to solve your prospect's problem because you won't hear the real objection.
Here's an example of listening objectively: When EKA prospected a giant toy store chain, Luedtke began by calling on the store after the completion of EKA's first video. Three months later, she got a message from the buyer saying the store did not plan to carry the video.
Luedtke called the woman back to ask her what she didn't like about the video. "She admitted she had never watched it," says Luedtke, "so I told her no one who had actually seen the video had ever turned us down."
Intrigued, the buyer watched the video. The actual reason for her initial rejection of EKA's product was soon revealed. "We were too new a company with only one product, and that turned out to be the real objection," Luedtke says. "I guess initially the woman figured we were housewives pursuing a hobby, but I told her what our future [plans were]. By December, we would be able to submit a whole series to her, and she agreed to watch them." By August 1997, the store placed a big order for the videos.
Apply this lesson by recalling a recent objection. Are you sure you listened for the real reason the customer rejected your product or service? And if so, did you answer the specific objection?
5. Exposure overcomes objections. Promote constantly. As you grow, get as much press and kudos as you can from satisfied customers. All that exposure will overcome objections from those hard-to-land accounts.
EKA ultimately wants Wilbur to have his own national television show. The partners prospected a TV production company for quite a while, but to no avail. "Their production person kept telling us she had no time to watch our video," says Luedtke. "But I asked her to please review it before turning it down."
After the woman realized the video was from EKA Productions, she remembered she'd been asked by her firm to track the company down because of an article her supervisor read about "Wilbur" in a respected publication. At press time, EKA was still negotiating with TV producers about the proposed "Wilbur" show. As EKA realized, it pays to keep promoting--even in the face of rejection.
Fledgling entrepreneurs in particular need to remember that many of the objections you receive early on come up because you are new and still building an identity in the marketplace. As your visibility increases, be sure you go back to those who initially told you "no" so they can rethink their position based on your growing strength in the marketplace.
Luedtke, Anton and Hornbuckle are proof that with persistence and creativity, companies have the power to turn objections into affection. Try the tips these enthusiastic entrepreneurs have shared, and you could be on the path to sales success.
EKA Productions LLC, (619) 794-0866, http://www.wilbursworld.com