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Have it Your Way

Want a formula for overcoming objections? The key is to ask the right questions.

This story appears in the March 2008 issue of Start Up.

One of the biggest challenges you face as a new entrepreneur is overcoming objections. In fact, sometimes it may seem as though the word you hear most often is no. But an objection is really the starting point for meaningful , not the end. The key to transforming no into yes is to uncover the problem at the root of a prospect's objections and pose reasonable, beneficial solutions.
Questions are the most useful tool for overcoming objections. There are two types:

  • Closed-ended questions can be answered with yes, no or a fact. "Who is your present supplier?" is an example of a closed-ended question.
  • Open-ended questions reveal the emotion behind the answers. These are thinking, feeling and finding questions. "What do you like best about your present supplier?" is an example of a question that might help a prospect open up.

Closed-ended questions are conversation starters. They can draw out a reticent person and stimulate inter-action. They're also important for ending a discussion. Open-ended questions, on the other hand, give you the information you need to understand the basis for a prospect's objections.

Suppose you're making a cold call to a business prospect. One of your initial closed-ended questions might be "Are you currently working with an XYZ company like ours?" If the prospect says he's purchasing from your competitor, that's actually great news, because it means he has a need for your product or service and has the budget for it available. Your job is to convince him, possibly through the process of several calls or meetings, to work with you instead.

Ask several open-ended questions to find out what he likes about your competitor as well as some of the challenges he has experienced with them. Never directly criticize your prospect's choice. Instead, relate a case history of how you've solved similar challenges for businesses like his and achieved superior results. Have three or four success stories ready that demonstrate the benefits his company could derive by working with you instead. For example, you could say "Our firm has had several customers, including A, B and C, switch to us after suffering costly product shortages, and thanks to our quicker delivery time, they saved money by stocking less inventory."

Once you've uncovered what a prospect wants most and used case histories to demonstrate how you can provide it, asking a "just suppose" question will help you transform what was initially a negative response into a positive one. For example, imagine you have a prospect who says he's relatively happy with your competitor but would welcome quicker delivery. You might ask: "Just suppose you could get competitive pricing plus delivery in 48 hours instead of weeks. That would solve your inventory problem, wouldn't it?" This combination of a "just suppose" question and the ending "wouldn't it?" will help your prospect respond with a resounding "yes."

Just remember, the next time a prospect says no, be ready with questions that dig deeper and allow you to foster a dialogue that transforms that no into yes.

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