No thank you. No way. Not happening. Absolutely not. As if.
There are plenty of ways to say "not interested." There are also plenty of things worth turning down—your sales pitch shouldn't be one of them.
And yet, no's are inevitable. Objections are part of the process, according to Linda Bishop, president of Atlanta-based Thought Transformation. "Rational people do not automatically agree to everything they are asked," she said. "And buyers are rational."
The key is to keep the conversation going: Establish a relationship, listen and give as much thought to the prospect as to the product. Below, Bishop and Gregg Emmer, vice president and chief marketing officer of Kaeser & Blair Inc., Batavia, Ohio, share their techniques for turning an initial objection into a sale that benefits both parties.
1. Ask questions, and listen to the answers.
The conversation doesn't have to end at "no." In fact, it shouldn't. View the objection as an opportunity to learn more about the prospect's needs, an excuse to ask questions and a chance to fill in the blanks-not as a setback.
"I have [learned], and taught many others, that an objection is a request for more information," Emmer explained. "It helps you focus on the specific area the client still has questions about, and avoids time wasted on covering areas that are already accepted by the client."
Ignore the instinct to get confrontational at the word "no." Prospects are real people and should be treated as such, Bishop reminded. "You should be curious, not confrontational," she said. "To overcome objections, you must persuade the buyer to change their mind. Change will only happen if the sales professional understands why the buyer decided to decline."
Different prospects will have different concerns so your approach may vary. As a general rule, take the time to understand a prospect's objection by means of individual inquiry. "When you're selling, it is easier than anybody ever wants to believe to make other people feel angry, stupid or think you are dismissing their perspective," Bishop pointed out. "So, with that in mind, ask questions. Collect information so you can respond intelligently, instead of instantly."
If you start to notice a pattern among objections, practice your response ahead of time so you'll be better prepared, Bishop suggested. "Write down the questions you want to ask. Think of the information the client needs to change their mind," she said. "No one in the major leagues wins the World Series without practice. No sales professional wins big orders without practice, either."
2. Stop selling the product, start selling the outcome.
It may sound counterintuitive, but take the focus off of the product. Put the attention on prospects, their needs and their desired outcome, Emmer suggested.
"Sales in general take on an adversarial relationship," Emmer said. "You want to sell and the client wants to resist being sold." So instead, help the buyer buy—and help the buyer buy your product. "Nobody wakes up and thinks, 'I want to buy some coffee mugs today,'" Emmer continued. "They may be troubled about employee turnover, customer loyalty or any one of hundreds of other business thoughts. It takes the sales professional to help the client understand how they can reach the objective by working together rather than working against each other."
Determine what the prospect wants, whether it be gaining more customers, improving employee performance or introducing a new service, and show how your product can produce that outcome—how it can become an investment for the future rather than a purchase.
Emmer explained the idea further. "Asking, 'Would you like to see your business do better this year than last year?' normally would get a 'yes' answer. Asking, 'Would increased productivity from your employees be valuable to your business?' might also work," he said. "The point is that you need to sell the outcome, not the product."
You can also sell the outcome by helping to solve a problem. "A prospect that simply says, 'We don't use those things' might get a reply from me, like, 'That's exactly why I'm here—your competitors do [use those things] and they are taking business away from you.'"
3. Be patient, not passive.
When early responses indicate an objection or a concern, it can be difficult to stay positive about a prospect. But by asking questions and taking the time to help the buyer buy your product, you're establishing a stronger relationship, even when it feels like they're dragging their feet.
"I found a statistic a few years ago that said one in five customers are looking for a new source on a daily basis," Emmer recalled. "So the averages dictate that for every five sales calls you make, you will get one new account. Another statistic suggests that it takes three to five contacts with a prospect before they commit to their first transaction with you."
But don't limit the communication to phone and email. Take advantage of face-to-face visits and lunch meetings to reassure prospects about their concerns in person.
"Today with many people believing that everything can be done through electronic communication, like social media and websites, the sales professional that actually sees a client once in a while will see much greater success, build stronger relationships and encounter fewer objections when presenting ideas for clients," Emmer said.
Bishop also understands that your patience—and presence—is critical in overcoming sales objections. "Very often, I see salespeople who think a sale should take place quicker than it actually does," she acknowledged. "Keep in mind the average sales call is only 30 minutes long. If you have only seen someone twice, and spent an hour with them, they may want to 'date you' a little longer before they commit to buying."