I DON’T KNOW YOUR COMPANY
I DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE
I DON’T KNOW YOUR PRODUCT
I DON’T KNOW YOUR SERVICES
I DON’T KNOW YOUR REPUTATION
I DON’T KNOW YOUR PEOPLE
I DON’T KNOW YOUR CUSTOMERS
. . . . . NOW WHAT IS IT YOU WANT TO SELL ME?
This can be some of the thinking going through a prospect’s mind when first meeting the sales person. So let me ask you. Are these objections that have to be overcome or are they concerns that have to be satisfied? For the past 30 successful years I’ve never had to handle/nor overcome objections or close a sale. Now when I say this to sales people and sales trainers, many go into attack mode with statements such as “Obviously you’ve never had to sell” or “Theory is fine but you don’t operate in the real world” or “I don’t think your sales training applies, so I wouldn’t even bother listening to you”. Then comes the justification “Objections are smoke screens, so you have to find the true objection” or “It’s a nonsense saying that by doing great selling work that you’ll never have an objection” or “There are definitively and certainly objections to face. And there are not “some” ways to handle objections. There is only one way” or “There are only two objections in the world a) I can’t see it working for me and b) I can’t afford it” or “Objections are part of the sales process” or “You have to be pretty dumb NOT to understand that something is standing in the way of the sale…that is the OBJECTION we are talking about!”Now I’ve heard all this even before someone has asked me how I don’t have to deal with objections. And this is coming from people who will say that you have to ask questions to find out what the buyer’s needs and wants are.
It’s interesting when I ask “What’s the definition of an objection?” I receive many definitions, including “Objections are a simple request for information” or “Any reason, real or imaginary, or to hesitate or decline giving the actual sales order” or “an expression or feeling of disapproval or opposition; a reason for disagreeing” or “Objections are “facts” ( at least in the mind of the prospect or customer) that need to be dealt with” or “Objections are the catalyst for moving a sale to a conclusion” or “That the prospect voices, or perhaps doesn’t voice, a reason why they will not buy” or “The prospect isn’t really saying ‘No’. Instead he’s saying ‘I’m not convinced yet. Give me some more reasons to buy’” or “I don’t trust you”.Take your pick, just choose the one or two that suit you for there does not seem to be an agreement on the definition. When I ask if anyone has said to a customer or prospect “What’s your objection?” everyone says “No” as it would be too confronting.
And lastly when I ask where this idea of “handling or overcoming objections” originated, I’m so often met with blank stares and indifference. I’ve even been told it doesn’t matter as it works. Or does it? So I did some investigation and this is what I found. John H Patterson was the owner of the National Cash Register and in an effort to improve sales asked his best salesman, and brother-in-law, Joseph H. Crane, to detail what he did that made him successful. Thus came about the NCR script “How to sell a National Cash Register” which became known as ‘The Primer’ (1887). It divided the sale into four steps: approach, proposition, demonstration, and close. It was during the close that any objections were handled/overcome.
Quoting from The Primer. “After you have made your proposition clear and feel sure that the merchant realizes the value of the register, do not ask for an order, take for granted that he will buy. Say to him “Mr. Blank, what color shall I make it?” or “How soon do you want delivery?” … Take out your order blank, fill it out, and handing him your pen say, “Just sign where I have made the cross.” If he objects, find out why, answer his objections and again prepare him for signature….”
The Primer was introduced in June 1887 and contained instructions on what the salesman should say during a sale and what they were to do while saying it. To ensure that the salesmen communicated all the benefits of the register, Patterson gave them scripts to memorize.
This process was reinforced and elaborated on in the following publications where “objections” and “closing” was emphasised more.
“ The Selling Process “ 1920 by Norval A Hawkins Commercial and General Sales Manager for Ford Motor Company
“Selling Life Insurance” 1922 by John Alfred Stevenson based on the “Practical Salesmanship” course he delivered when Director of the School of Life Insurance Salesmanship, Carnegie Institute of Technology.
“The Psychology of Selling Life Insurance” 1922 by Edward Kellogg Strong
Were these propositions incorrect and should we ignore all that they said? Of course not. However, the climate in which they sold was very much different than the one we experience today. Then, the buyer was less sophisticated, communications were not so advanced and avenues for redress were few and far between. These days, do the wrong thing and it can be across the World in minutes and there is much more buyer protection legislation.
Then, the focus was to make the sale and move on. It tended to be linear, a “one off”. The sales approach tended to be somewhat aggressive. Apart from competing with other suppliers this “overcoming objections” smacked of competing with the buyer. Paterson’s approach was tantamount to “win at all costs” and his approach to employees dictatorial.
So are we all still selling cash registers, motor cars or life insurance?
So we forget (or not bother with) from whence came this “Objections” and “Closing”. We regurgitate these messages ad nauseam and in sales bravado chant such asinine statements as “The sale begins when I hear an objection” or “The greatest asset a sales person can have is the ability to handle objections”. Many can’t even agree upon the definition of “objection”.
We also perpetrate this modus operandi because that’s the training I received and it was good enough for me, it will be good enough for you. And if you feel uncomfortable handling/overcoming objections, then you’re not a true sales person. But don’t worry for I have so many ways you can do it, just as my forebears did in the last century and the century before that. Also, I’ll train you on objections, but whatever you do, don’t use that word in front of a customer. In fact, I know you won’t use that word in front of prospects or customers because you’ll feel uneasy doing so. Let’s make it our secrete. I’m a sales trainer, not an educator. Wow! Training people then telling them not to use it in front of the customer or prospect.
Imagine in any other profession, people being trained on fundamental matters, not knowing the origins, having no clear definition and not caring. Little wonder then, that sales people can be seen as “flim-flam” individuals. Little wonder that we can be seen as shallow. Little wonder that we don’t even want to call ourselves sales people. Please give me any other title than sales person. Marketing Executive would be nice. Consultant sounds good. What about Business Development Manager? Ooooh, Yes please, can I have Manager in the title? Area Manager I can live with. I don’t have an aversion to a title if it gets you in the door, but please when I ask you what you do please don’t bullsh*t me and be ashamed to call yourself a salesperson. When you call on me please tell me you are there to sell me something. Imagine an engineer or doctor, when asked, being ashamed to say what they do. What would we think of them?
So why have I for over 30 years not had to handle or overcome objections? Simple. I refuse to acknowledge that the other party has objections unless I have caused it. It will be my actions that will cause people to object. Let me explain, using a social situation. I’m invited to a social function. I certainly don’t go there thinking people will object to what I have to say. What I have are concerns and I recognise that the people I meet will have concerns. They may be apprehensive or tentative when meeting me as I am meeting them. If I am rude or obnoxious, that is when they will object. And who caused the objection? Not them. Now let’s consider a sales situation. To say a buyer has an objection is like shooting yourself in the foot then blaming someone else. It is sellers who cause objections not buyers. Overcoming or handling objections is a thing of the past. Overcoming objections should not be considered when selling and delivering excellent customer service and relationship selling. Overcoming objections has been seen as a competition between buyer and seller, with the seller “armed” with techniques to “parry” the buyer’s “thrusts” and wear down resistance. Some way to build a relationship.
.Also when we “overcome objections” who are we satisfying? Us or the customer?
By definition the word “objection” is a statement or other expression offered in opposition. Thus, when we perceive the customer as “having an objection” we automatically consider them opposing us. This is contrary to working with the customer to ensure they are satisfied. For a customer to have an objection, i.e. oppose us, it must have been something we have said and done or something which our organisation has done. So we are trying to overcome an objection which, generally, we have caused. It is simpler and less aggressive to recognise that customers have concerns throughout the buying and delivery process. Customers have concerns about trust and value, before and when dealing with us. The best sales people work hard to discover and satisfy these concerns to the benefit of all parties.
By acknowledging that concerns exist within the buyer (e.g. “Will the seller understand what I want and help me?”) and the seller (e.g. “Have I fully explained the benefits of the products of their choice?”) we can work together and exchange information for best results. It’s now O.K. for the buyer and the seller to seek out concerns and express them. Satisfying concerns is the pro-active and assertive approach. Overcoming objections is the re-active and aggressive approach. We all wish to own, we all wish to invest, but we hesitate to buy. We often have resistance to buying and changing our habits.
Are we making the right decision?
Is it really necessary?
Will there be something better, shortly?
What will others think?
Will the benefits outweigh the price?
When we have to purchase we sometimes have reservations and uncertainties; our customers are no different. Concerns are a natural part of the buying/selling process and should be welcomed as such. If your customer has no questions or expressed any concerns, then have you effectively communicated? It is better to have a questioning customer prior to the sale, than a complaining customer later.
What is a concern? It is a matter that relates to or affects the parties involved. It is a point that may cause doubt and uneasiness. It is an expression of interest in or importance regarding the topic being discussed. Why are people concerned? People have concerns when they think that their needs will not be satisfied or will be delayed. They have concerns when they think their expectations will not be met. When people perceive that events are not taking the course they planned or thought they would take, they become uneasy.
By acknowledging concerns, own and the other party’s, I don’t have to compete and like any relationship it allows a freer exchange of information and the reaching of agreement in an assertive manner. How do I handle concerns? I ask “There’s something concerning you, what is it?” I also have concerns. For example, if they wish me to drop the price I can say “That concerns me because what you are asking would mean us not delivering everything we said we could and would” A buyer asking about the price is not an objection, it is a legitimate business question.
A number of you will, no doubt, be saying that I’m playing with semantics or “splitting hairs”. Not at all, what I’ve done is to reframe the way I was trained from handling/overcoming objections to satisfying concerns. My focus is to put the client at the centre of the relationship and therefore to build a relationship for ongoing mutual reward and profitability rather than compete with the other party. There’s enough competition in the market place without me having to introduce more. Selling and buying does not have to be adversarial. Reframing is simply changing the meaning of an event or experience. Think about it. How much easier is it to work with the customer satisfying concerns rather than compete by handling/overcoming objections? How much easier is it to train people on the obvious that both parties will have concerns (as in any relationship) rather than this “objection handling” only known to the seller? Now you can train them on words they can use in front of a prospect. How much easier is it to coach sales people by asking “What were his concerns?” rather than “What objections did he have?” How much easier is it to obtain the other party’s concerns at the beginning merely by asking “Obviously you have some questions and concerns, so may we start with those?” Or should we wait for the buyer to raise an “objection”. In stead of a one-way street of selling to the buyer we can have a two-way highway of matching the buyer understanding and process with the selling process. From a buyer’s perspective, they do not have objections (unless caused by the seller). How do I know this? Because in B2B I’ve been a buyer. What I’ve had, and still do, are some questions to be answered and concerns satisfied. The way the sales person treats me will lower or heighten my concerns. And I’m sure you are no different when you buy.
Am I alone in this refining and updating of outdated selling practises? No! Check out the works of Gill Wagner, Neil Rackham, Dr Michael Hewitt-Gleeson, Anthony J. Alexandra, Michael T Bosworth and Keith M. Eades. In this age do you still want to compete with your buyers or would you sooner co-operate?
This is the twenty first century and sales techniques formulated in the 19th Century need a bit of an update as does “closing” which I haven’t done for 30 years. But that’s for another time.
By: Gerald Richards