When a Prospect Raises Objections, These Austin Reps Advise Going Off-Script

August 10, 2020
salesperson closing a sale
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Ask any successful rep about the mindset they bring to their job and they’ll often tell you they’re not a salesperson: they’re a problem-solver.

Taking this approach, they say, goes a long way when prospects raise objections like technical incompatibility, pricing concerns or a hesitancy to enter a lengthy contract.

“Your No. 1 job is to listen,” Gabrielle Hartman, director of business development at local tech company Kompyte, said.

That means avoiding the impulse to despair, and going the extra mile to understand their concerns. Rope in engineering and product teams if necessary, but also know when to back out.

In cases where it’s clear your employer’s product isn’t a good match, Medallia Sales Development Rep Caitlin Lott said it’s important to end the conversation in a positive manner.

“A negative interaction with you or your company builds a bigger wall,” Lott added.

And as Redgate Software Sales Manager James King has learned, it’s important for reps to encourage these objections early in the sales process. This, he explained, allows salespeople to focus their limited time and resources on the deals most likely to close.

“If you come across an objection late in the sales process,” he said, “you probably haven’t asked the right questions, spoken to the right person or understood the situation correctly.”

 

Caitlin Lott
Sales Development Representative

A cold call comes out of the blue, and can be awkward. As Caitlin Lott — who works as a SDR for customer experience platform builder Medallia — has learned, sometimes acknowledging that fact can help reps move conversations beyond that initial point of hesitation. Lott also finds it’s helpful to acknowledge more significant points of friction or resistance, too. This, she says, often reveals new opportunities to move forward.

 

What strategies have you found to be most effective when handling objections from prospective customers?

I’ve found that the most effective approach for handling an objection always begins with acknowledging the objection. If you try to skip over the objection or dismiss it, you will quickly be shut down. Once you acknowledge the resistance in a genuine manner, you create an opportunity to find a step forward that is mutually beneficial. However, you must ensure you provide value for continuing the conversation rather than simply making an ask of them. Another successful strategy I use during calls is to acknowledge the fact that I am calling them out of the blue. By acknowledging this fact and quickly showing value in why I am calling, they are more receptive and appreciate the candor.

 

What strategies have you found to be ineffective or counterproductive when dealing with objections?

In my experience, minimizing the objection in a dismissive manner can result in a quick end to the conversation. Rather than shutting it down, acknowledge it as a good question or state that you want to understand and ask them to elaborate. If you can keep the conversation flowing in an organic way, you open yourself to opportunities of alignment. However, if a prospect is completely uninterested and quickly backing out, know when to thank them for their time and end the conversation in a positive manner. A negative interaction with you or your company builds a bigger wall.

 

Share an example of a time when you successfully overcame an objection. What were the keys to your success?

One of my successful cold calls came when I invited a vice president to our annual conference, which was being held virtually. This was a key account and I truly felt this prospect could benefit from learning about our solutions. When I reached her over the phone, I could tell she was busy and she told me as much. I quickly pivoted and said that I wanted to be respectful of her time and provide the most value, so I offered to make her a tailored itinerary with the sessions that were directly applicable to her role. She agreed that sounded very helpful and signed up for the conference the next morning. I believe that my understanding of her tight schedule and willingness to accommodate and provide value helped break down the initial apprehension and find alignment.

 

Gabrielle Hartman
Director of Business Development

While many sales teams have scripts ready to help reps handle routine questions, Kompyte Director of Business Development Gabrielle Hartman said an objection should not be confused with a question. In other words: don’t offer a scripted response to a genuine objection. She shared an example of how the competitor monitoring platform was able to win a key account using a formula designed to understand and address a prospect’s unique issues or objections. 

 

What strategies have you found to be most effective when handling objections from prospective customers?

Every objection has the potential to be complex. It’s our job to actively listen to peel back the layers and understand the true intention and need of the prospect. SPIN questioning methodology is a powerful tool sellers can use to map the evaluation process and help guide a prospect to make a decision on your offering. An essential part of Kompyte onboarding is learning how to prepare and execute SPIN: situation, problem, issue/implication and need/payoff questions.

The basic premise is to ask questions, let a prospect tell you their issues and then show how you can meet those needs. Your role will transform from seller to problem-solver, and your No.1 job is to listen. We found senior sellers who master this investigative method are less likely to face objections, and when they do arise, they’re able to address the objection in the best way from the perspective of a problem-solver.

 

Transform the counters into valuable conversational points.”

What strategies have you found to be ineffective or counterproductive when dealing with objections?

Reading from a script to address an objection has proven to be terribly ineffective, not to mention cringeworthy. The good news is that we’ve all been there, and improving is a training plan away. Objection shouldn’t be confused with questions, and therefore shouldn’t be addressed with a script. Scripts are valuable training resources that have a time and place. When a prospect shares an objection, they are giving us a peak behind the curtain to their greatest buying concern. Addressing it properly can be your greatest opportunity to win a client over.

If you’re countering objections with something closer to a script, here’s what I recommend: transform the counters into valuable conversational points. A great way to get ready for these conversations is role-playing with your team. When faced with an objection, set a rule not to answer until you’ve asked at least two questions. Prepare these questions, but they should remain dynamic and conversationally driven.

 

Share an example of a time when you successfully overcame an objection. What were the keys to your success?

During final conversations, a high MMR account opened up and let us know that the decision had come down to us and our top competitor.

She didn’t need to tell me this; I had identified this moment would come during the sales process questioning, and it allowed me to proactively gather the information I would need for this discussion.

Next, I needed to subdue the knee-jerk instinct to address the objection head on. My response started by acknowledging my prospect’s need to make a well-informed decision. After all, this person was overworked and feared not meeting her goals. My main objective was now to help her address these concerns on her own using SPIN, and the best field for this competitive encounter would be by phone. We had a productive call, running through each problem she was facing and positioning our partnership to solve those needs. Without needing to counter, she decided we were a better fit. Competitive wins are the sweetest.

 

Cooper Herrera
Senior Inside Sales Manager

At web app security company Invicti Security, Senior Inside Sales Manager Cooper Herrera stressed that overcoming objections is not a one-size-fits-all proposition: reflexively offering price cuts and technical assistance won’t necessarily solve every objection, and might actually do more harm than good. The company has recently landed a couple of deals which Herrera said would not have happened without his reps going the extra mile to truly understand and address the root of an objection.

 

What strategies have you found to be most effective when handling objections from prospective customers?

The main concepts I instruct my teams to use for overcoming objections are simple: listening, understanding and addressing. Listening to your customer’s objection and understanding the “why” behind the objection are key first steps in formulating a plan to overcome any objections. Once you understand why the customer has this objection, the next key step is to clearly address it. If you attempt to vaguely address the objection through general closing tools available to you — like general pricing incentive or technical assistance — you are more likely to miss the mark for your customer and jeopardize full buy-in. When my team truly understands the reason for an objection, we are able to save time by concentrating our efforts on a creative solution that addresses the customer’s concern and increases our chances of closing the sale.

 

What strategies have you found to be ineffective or counterproductive when dealing with objections?

Immediately responding with a pricing incentive or offering general technical assistance have proven to be very ineffective. Every time a price reduction is offered off the bat to address an objection, we always end up still having to truly address the objection — and honor the reduced pricing. In some cases, additional pricing incentives are sought by the customer after this simply because we have devalued our solution. In the end, we still have to go back, listen and address the objection. The result is less revenue for our organization and more time and effort spent on that one project that is less likely to close.

 

Share an example of a time when you successfully overcame an objection. What were the keys to your success?

Two most recent examples include one situation where we had to get creative with the contract terms and some customization from our support and engineering teams. In the first example, we had a customer that was fully bought in on our solution but was constrained by strict requirements for funding. After uncovering the “why” behind this objection, we were actually able to get creative with the contract to not only close the sale but also increase the revenue as well.

In the second example, our technology was having a difficult time in the customer’s environment due to some architectural specifics within their application. We had multiple calls with our support and engineering team but it seemed we weren’t getting anywhere. Finally, we ran a call with all parties involved to better understand the architecture and specific data they were looking for out of our platform. Once we had that information, we were able to put our heads together internally and focus on a common, customized goal that we were able to achieve and earn the customer’s business. Both of these projects had major risk of not happening, but did — and both had very different solutions to earning the business.

 

With nearly two decades in the business, James King has learned that successful salesmanship comes from a partnership mindset, rather than simply trying to sell something — anything — right now. As a sales manager for Redgate Software, which builds products that encourage DevOps best practices, King cited building good relationships over the long-term as the most valuable thing reps can do for their business — and their commissions.

 

What strategies have you found to be most effective when handling objections from prospective customers?

In 17 years in sales, I’ve always avoided seeing sales as selling to people and instead looked at it as helping them. Once you have that mindset, you can talk more openly about the problem they’re trying to solve. The more open you can be, the more you understand the bigger picture, the more likely you are to know whether you can help them. Years ago, Miller Heiman taught me that it’s not about winning every opportunity, but qualifying well and quickly disqualifying early on if you don’t have a solid fit so you can focus your efforts more productively. That said, if you come across an objection late in the sales process, you probably haven’t asked the right questions, spoken to the right person or understood the situation correctly.

 

The companies actively doing the right thing will be remembered as people to do business with for years to come...”

What strategies have you found to be ineffective or counterproductive when dealing with objections?

I think the most counterproductive thing you can do with an objection is to try and fight it. If, for example, the customer says the timing isn’t right because other projects are taking priority, or the budget is required elsewhere, trying to talk them out of it isn’t going to make you look good. If you know you’re a great fit, then keep in contact for when the timing is right or the budget is available. They’ll remember you positively for it and you’ll find you have a much more open relationship and better communication.

The current situation with COVID-19 is a good example of this. At best, most businesses have had to freeze projects or hold onto their cash. Having empathy and understanding for the incredibly difficult decisions they’re having to make — and doing everything you can to support them — will continue to build your relationship and trust. The companies actively doing the right thing will be remembered as people to do business with for years to come, and the companies just trying to make as much money as possible will be seen as toxic.

 

Share an example of a time when you successfully overcame an objection. What were the keys to your success?

In many cases it usually boils down to something that wasn’t the right fit, either financially or technically. However, I have lost count of how many times getting the customer to open up has clarified that we were going to cost them less than they anticipated. When it comes to the technical side, I’ve also had a lot of success with listening, learning and seeing if we can fix their problems. In one case, a significant deal with a large global tax consultancy had some deal-breaking features missing. Fortunately for me, we have a world class development team and we figured out we could build the features we lacked quite quickly.

The customer made it clear the decision had been made, and I said I respected their decision but if they would spare 10 minutes to check we were on the right track, it would help other people going forward. We spent an hour on the phone and 24 hours later, the customer sent me a purchase order. They told me we impressed them by acting on their feedback, and never pushing them or making them feel uncomfortable. The key is be honest, genuinely curious, open and an active listener.

 

Guy Koussa
Retention Manager

Retention Manager Guy Koussa sells marketing services on behalf of OutboundEngine, a deal that requires a year-long contract that can sound long to prospective clients. Koussa has a step-by-step formula he follows when encountering these kinds of objections, punctuated by questions and paraphrasing the prospect’s concerns in a way that helps him better understand them. 

 

What strategies have you found to be most effective when handling objections from prospective customers?

The No. 1 thing I do is treat any objection — whether it’s clear or not — as a question. Maintaining composure when hearing something that might go against your end goal will ensure a neutral sentiment toward the objection from both parties involved. Most of the time, our job is to uncover hidden objections. Typically, consumers have been conditioned not to voice their true objections and to mask them with false objections in fear that the salesperson will always have an answer, therefore disarming them from their ability to say “no” and dropping their walls. Consumers are far more educated on the sales process nowadays, which is where question-based selling excels when it comes to uncovering true objections.

To further understand how to handle an objection, it helps to break it down into four components. First, empathize with the source of their question and agree that you see their point of view. Then, identify the issue by clearly paraphrasing and restating it to the client (and end with a confirmation question). Isolate the objection from any other objection or value statements of the product, and confirm with another question. Close up by restating the value of the product and how it addresses their objections. Also, use storytelling.

 

Treat the objection as brand new every time you hear it.”

What strategies have you found to be ineffective or counterproductive when dealing with objections?

Pivoting, arguing, deflecting or avoiding the objection tends to be detrimental to a sale. Typically, inexperienced sales professionals tend to pivot and deflect in fear of losing their deal. Remember that even though you handle a specific objection a thousand times per month, your client doesn’t. You should treat the objection as brand new every time you hear it.

 

Share an example of a time when you successfully overcame an objection. What were the keys to your success?

The most frequent objection we receive is about the initial 12-month contract. This usually stems from past experiences gone bad. First, we must isolate the problem and dissociate the past experience from the present conversation. Then, we build value in why a contract is required. We are able to isolate the objection and build value using storytelling on how successful clients are heavily invested in their marketing on a daily basis, and it’s not something they can simply pawn off on someone else to do with zero involvement on their part.

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