Selling Skills: Using Customer Objections
April 6, 2015 by Bill Rosenthal

I recently did a Google search on "sales overcome objections," and I got 485,000 hits. But it was a trick question. I wasn't trying to trick Google, of course. I was trying to get an idea of how many sales gurus think that the way to handle customer objections is to "overcome" them. In our Socratic Selling Skills® program, we teach participants to treat an objection, not as an obstacle, but as a resource.

An objection is a reason the customer gives for not signing the order now: “It’s too expensive.” “The warranty’s not long enough.” Or even, “I don’t like it in blue.” Note that when the customer makes an objection, it is an interaction with the product, which may mean you’re on your way to closing. An objection is not a rejection. A customer would not raise an objection if she weren’t engaged. If you have the selling skills, you welcome objections because they advance the sales process.

In the Socratic Selling Skills program, we teach that a customer’s objection may not be an objection at all. It can be a request for more information, a plea for support in assuming the risk of purchasing, a test of your firmness, a set-up for a negotiating position, or any number of other things. You need to probe to find out what it means. 

You’re selling a great product, of course, and this may tempt you to be dismissive of customer concerns:

Customer: “This contract is too expensive.”

Salesperson: “It’s much more cost-effective than the one being offered by our competitor.”

Customer: “I still think its overpriced.”

Salesperson: “The included support package alone is worth the cost of the contract.”

Don’t give in to the temptation. Objecting to a customer’s objection belittles the customer’s concerns. No matter what the objection is, you should repeat it to show the customer you’ve heard it, then probe to see what’s behind it with a simple question: “Why do you say that?”

Here’s the same conversation, this time with salesperson who has Socratic selling skills:

Customer: “This contract is too expensive.”

Salesperson: “Expensive. Why do you say that?”

Customer: “I can’t budget $10,000 up front.”

This salesperson now has something to work with. In this case, it’s not the overall expense that concerns the customer. It’s the up-front payment.

The salesperson who doesn’t probe an objection will never learn if it’s more than it appears to be. If it is truly just a concern about up-front payments (and you need to probe to make sure of that), you may be able to find a way to work with that – through financing, changing the payment schedule, moving the delivery date, working with the customer’s budget calendar, or some other approach to the problem. In any case, the objection has changed from being an obstacle to the sale to being a problem to be solved. Solving a problem is easier than talking somebody into something. If you and the customer can work together on solving the problem, that’s even better. But if you treat the objection as an obstacle, you’re unlikely to ever get to the problem-solving stage. You’re just trying to change a customer’s belief. Good luck with that.

To a professional with real selling skills, any opportunity for communication is an opportunity to continue the sales process.