Objection Handling in Sales: Everything You Need to Know

December 1, 2020

We get it. Objection handling is tough. Sales objections come in many forms, and it takes experience and a quick wit to get used to them. It’s not just reps fielding sales objections who think so, either. As many as 35% of sales leaders believe objection handling is the biggest challenge their reps face.

We’re here to help you understand how to handle objections like a pro. Some sales objections are representative of a deeper incompatibility between your prospect and your product, true. However, as a sales rep, you’ll encounter some brush-offs which, properly understood, aren’t necessarily deal-breakers. By applying the right objection-handling techniques in these situations, you can take steps to reframe the issue and change your prospect’s mind.

In order to better understand how to counter objections, let’s first try and understand the psyche of the buyer a little better.

Why Do Buyers Object? #

The first step to handling objections is to really understand what drives customers to object in the first place. Often, there’s a motive lurking beneath a customer’s objection, and by being proactive, you can mitigate the true concern. We’ll get to individual sales objections in time. First, we need to understand the fundamental species of objection.

Some of the most common reasons people object that can be proactively handled with the right talk track and resources.

Five Different Kinds of Sales Objections #

1. Lack of Knowledge #

In some cases, prospects object because they lack knowledge about your product or category that is critical to evaluating your solution. When you are already in a sales conversation with such a prospect (which may or may not, in itself, represent poor prospecting), it is your job, as the rep, to ensure that the prospect has the knowledge they need to make an informed buying decision.

The best way to navigate these types of customer objections is by building a “buying guide” with your marketing team. A buying guide will provide a high-level overview of your product and services, as well as answer frequently asked questions. It will include elements of social proof—for example, case studies or testimonials—and also outline the implementation process, including other stakeholders who need to be involved in a decision.

Sometimes, people object because they lack knowledge about their own internal processes, which is often a red flag. You may be selling to someone who does not have the authority to make buying decisions. Sales professionals need to work hard early on to ensure that the prospect understands how to navigate internal processes. The reps need to be able to sell your solution internally and make processes fall in place.

If not, later in the process you will undoubtedly face objections from stakeholders who influence buying decisions at your prospect’s company. It’s all well and good that an enthusiastic sales manager believes that your premium package has everything their sales team needs to excel, but a VP of sales or a company CFO, who has a closer eye on the bottom line, may think otherwise.

2. Specific, Warranted Concern #

Sometimes, a prospect objects because they have a valid concern. For instance, if your prospect is concerned about issues with the GDPR or with general compliance, it’s best to address the objection head-on and acknowledge that you understand why your prospect feels the way they do.

Share a “Plan B” that can be applied if the concern is warranted, or acknowledge that, while your team is working on solving for that objection, you are still further along than any competitors. For every common objection that is warranted, it is critical that you provide sales reps with talking points from marketing or sales enablement because these objections are often the most difficult to handle.

3. Hidden Agenda #

A prospect may also object because they really want to use a different solution. They may talk to you just to prove that they’re doing their due diligence as they clear the way for the purchase of their other, preferred solution.

The best way to handle these “hidden agenda” smoke screens is to be proactive and candid as often as possible. Early on in the process, ask the prospect what other solutions they are considering, if any, and whether their team is debating not adopting a new solution at all. If your prospect is using a competitive solution, ask them if they’re satisfied with it and where, if anywhere, the relationship could stand to improve.

4. Perception Issue #

Perception matters, and don’t we know it! Prospects can sometimes jump into a sales process with preexisting notions and biases about your product or solution. And these may not be in line with reality. For instance, the prospect may come from a background where cloud-based solutions are perceived as a security risk. How do you then sell them SaaS software?

In such scenarios, it is critical that you develop educational resources and talking points that will help change that perception and allay your prospect’s concerns. For example, in the situation above, you would want to highlight why your solution is secure, easy-to-use, credible, and trustworthy.

Early on in the sales cycle, ask your prospect for feedback by saying, “Does our solution meet all of the requirements you have? Do you have any concerns?” Don’t wait for the prospect to tell you, or you might suffer a nasty surprise!

If you actively pursue negative feedback instead of leaving it unsaid, you’ll improve the chances of a closed-won deal (and win the trust of your customer) that much faster.

5. Unclear Communication #

Prospects also make the same mistakes that everyone else does—sometimes they fail to communicate their expectations clearly on a sales call. Or they change what they said, and you get caught with an unexpected objection. Rather than tell you “this isn’t a priority” or “my team is not understanding how we’ll drive ROI/value,” the prospect hedges and the sales cycle drags on.

Three Data-Backed Objection-Handling Techniques Top Reps Use #

We analyzed >85,000 sales rep responses to competitor mentions and around 10,000 responses to topics that were deemed “problems and issues” by using the Chorus.ai Conversation Intelligence Platform. We wanted to learn what top reps were doing differently when it came to handling objections.

Specifically, we looked at topics like:

  • The pause between the customer’s utterance and the beginning of a rep’s response
  • The initial response (first utterance) and whether it contained a question
  • The speech rate change compared with the speaker’s average rate in the call

Through our analysis, we found that top sales professionals handled objections by being well-prepared, knowledgeable, confident, calm, and consistent.

When we compared the objection-handling capabilities of top reps with others, we found:

  • Top reps responded up to 50% faster than other reps. Responding right away seems to indicate preknowledge or experience dealing with that specific objection successfully in the past. A quick response also demonstrated calm reassurance in product capability more than a pregnant pause can.
  • However, top reps did not change their speech rate while responding to an objection. They spoke just as fast as they’d have spoken otherwise. A faster speech rate may be perceived as a lack of confidence and a desire to quickly move on to the next topic. On the other hand, a slower-than-normal speech rate may be perceived as an attempt to come up with an answer on the spot (as opposed to knowing the right response).
  • Top reps also addressed objections head-on. In 80% of the cases, the rep took a good 32 seconds, on average, to answer an objection before asking a follow-up question. So a tight objection-specific talk track is seen as an effective response by the prospect (after which they’re happy to provide more details). Following up on an objection with an immediate question does not seem to be a best practice.

Six Objection-Handling Skills for Responding to Objections #

Outside of being calm, confident, and well-prepared, there are six other common strategies you can use to handle objections:

Gratitude #

Thank the prospect for sharing their concerns and communicating candidly with you. You want to encourage this behavior, particularly if the concern revolves around a price objection or an issue with your feature packaging. These problems may take more time to resolve than is available for the call.

Example: “I really appreciate you being upfront about this. And I’m happy to inform you that we work successfully with other customers with similar challenges.”

Empathy #

Empathy is one of those sales tips that just keeps on giving, regardless of whether or not you’re handling sales objections. Let the prospect know you understand how they could feel the way they do, even if you disagree with the objection, so you don’t appear combative. An empathetic approach also increases trust and can yield positive results at all stages of the sales process.

Example: “Let me first say that I completely understand where you’re coming from. Jack Dowson of Acme Inc. said something very similar last week.”

Discovery #

When necessary, ask questions to better understand the objection and what’s motivating it. The more open-ended questions you ask at the right junctures during a call, the more you can engage your prospect, and the more you’ll find out their needs and pain points.

Example: “Just so I have the right response or solution for you, can you tell me a little bit more about those conversion issues you just mentioned?”

Confirmation #

Another way to dig deeper into the objection is to state your understanding of it and confirm that you are hearing the prospect correctly. This helps mix empathy and discovery and is a form of active listening, which also builds trust.

Example: “I think I understand where you are coming from. Your concern is that your prior experience with automation solutions did not yield the ROI you were expecting, is that right?"

Value #

Numbers count—in more ways than one. A great way to counter sales objections is to show demonstrable value through support materials or a revised offer. It can be a blunt or even showy way of batting back an objection, but it’s undeniably effective, particularly if your prospect seems undecided on your product’s value or potential ROI.

Example: “Do you think your executive team would consider our product if we showed you how you could add $100,000 to your top line within three months?”

Proof #

An ROI model is great, but customer proof or an actual instance of how your product has secured ROI for another customer is even better. Leverage the power of case studies, testimonials, social proof, and client references to approach the objection from a third-party point of view. There is no more convincing a defense against objections than showing off how your product has worked before.

Example: What would you think if I organized a call with Jack Dowson of Acme Inc., who could explain how they used our solution to add $100,000 to their top line in three months?

8 Top Objections and Suggested Responses #

There are several common objections that you will undoubtedly face in the sales process. Trying to create a cheat sheet with every possible eventuality on it is bound to hinder you more than help. However, having a solid response to some of the most common objections can be very useful indeed.

Here are eight of the most frequent objections picked up by Chorus’s advanced AI solution. We have also added suggested talk tracks for handling the objections.

Objection 1. “Your price is too high.” or “We don’t have budget for this.” #

Price objections come up for a variety of reasons. They can mean that you did not qualify your prospect’s budget well enough early on, or that you haven’t demonstrated enough value for the cost.

They can also be a sign that your prospect is not educated about how to purchase in your category, or that another person is blocking the deal internally, perhaps because they want to use that budget for their own priorities or don’t fully understand how your solution will drive a return.

Either way, the best way to handle a pricing objection (and any objection) is to first share a point of view or story. Respond with confidence that your pricing strategy is well-researched, in line with market pricing, and justified. For example, you could explain the components that make up your price and the costs that you incur as a business to support customers. Follow that up with a question so you can dig deeper into the objection and, at the same time, steer the conversation toward value.

Questions to Ask:

  • “Can you tell me a little bit more about why you feel the price is too high? What price were you expecting?”
  • “Do you see price being a major obstacle in the process?”
  • “What would need to happen to make the offering worth the price I quoted you?”
  • “How do you think this price compares to the value you will get from it within X months?”

If the real challenge is that the prospect doesn’t understand the value you provide, or another person in the decision-making process is pushing back, there are several things you can do.

Best Practices:

  • Set up an alignment call to walk everyone through each line item and how it justifies the cost so that the prospect is clear on the entire value of your offer.
  • Use an ROI calculator to prove the top-line value, or create a business case to jointly make the case.
  • Demonstrate the cost of doing nothing at all.
  • Share educational materials about how to measure success in your category.
  • Share testimonials and case studies.
  • Connect the prospect with a client who can share their experience by phone.

Objection 2.“I don’t believe this will work for us.” #

That clearly signals that the prospect doesn’t believe this solution can work or that there is a major hurdle that cannot be crossed. You can handle this objection by using an anecdote from another customer who felt the same way and hesitated, but a customer who ultimately came on and saw quick results. Alternatively, think of other people at your company that the prospect can talk to in order to get past their objection.

Question to Ask:

  • To further clarify this objection, ask, “Why?” and “What would need to happen to change that?”

If you uncover that the prospect is really more concerned that your solution won’t work at all, try the following.

Best Practices:

  • Jointly make a business case, and walk through it on an alignment call
  • Demonstrate the cost of doing nothing at all.
  • Walkthrough a buying guide so the prospect is more comfortable with the next steps in the process and how to measure success.
  • Share testimonials and case studies.
  • Connect the prospect with a client who can share their experience by phone.
  • Connect the prospect internally to a subject-matter expert.
  • Reframe the offer and start smaller.

When all else fails, establish when it will be a better time to talk about implementing your solution, and recognize that not everyone will be ready yet. Ensure that you or your marketing team nurtures this prospect until you want to get back in touch with them again. Keep the relationship alive by adding value even when you are not in an active buying process with them.

Objection 3. “This is not a priority.” or “This is not a good time.” #

While somewhat similar to the last objection, this objection often signals that you may be speaking to a prospect who doesn’t have the authority to reprioritize projects.

When the reality is the first scenario, you need to find creative ways to get in front of more senior decision-makers without “going around” your prospect.

There are several ways to do this without annoying your current prospect.

Best Practices:

  • Ask your champion to introduce you, and say you’d love to help jointly make the business case together or host an educational workshop for the larger team.
  • Have your CEO or sales leader reach out.
  • Get personally connected through someone in your network.
  • Meet them at a conference or an event.
  • Engage with them on social media or by referencing their thought leadership, as might have been expressed in previous interviews or articles.

When all else fails, this is one objection that can often signal you need to focus on other prospects. Sometimes, your best move is to qualify a prospect out so you can focus on opportunities that are more likely to convert.

Objection 4. “I’ll buy from you if you add ‘X’ feature.” #

Sometimes, prospects are looking for a solution that is different from what you currently offer. That’s okay, but it’s critical that your team align on what types of product changes you will and will not pursue in a given time frame.

First, consider using an anecdote from another customer who felt they needed that feature but ultimately was able to drive results without it. Once you are able to establish that others have successfully found their way past this objection, you can dig deeper into the prospect’s specific situation.

Questions to Ask:

  • “Why is this feature so necessary to you right now?”
  • “How would you use a feature like this?”
  • “Do you think we could still provide value to you without providing this feature?”
  • “If we can’t provide this feature, what alternatives would you consider?”

Best Practices:

  • When a product request is necessary and expected, you can handle this objection by clearly communicating a timeline. Or you could do it by asking the prospect to provide support in getting that feature built alongside you, such as development resources, additional payment, or contributions to a product council.
  • However, if the product request is a distraction, it’s better to share a POV with your prospect on why they do not actually need this feature or how they can get it otherwise through a recommended partner.
  • Use social proof, such as case-study videos and testimonials, to highlight the fact that others with similar challenges were able to drive the results they needed with your product as-is.
  • Be careful to avoid handling this objection by just saying yes to every request rather than developing a scalable road map and qualification process.

Objection 5. “We’re already working with X competitor” #

There are several ways to read this objection. The first is that the prospect may be working with a competitor and is happy with them. Often, your prospect is the one who brought your competitor in, and you should not forget that.

The second is that they are unhappy but are currently under contract and not able to spend more now on your solution. There are multiple ways to respond to such an objection.

If your prospect is already using another vendor and is happy with them, you need to identify an area where you can uniquely offer something the competitor cannot compliment their offering.

Sample Response 1. (Comparative)

  • "That's good to hear. [Competitor] is a great company. In fact, we run into them in our sales cycle every now and then. Companies that choose to transfer on to our platform often find that our product makes accomplishing [X goal] much easier because it has [unique benefit #1] and [unique benefit #2]."

Alternatively, you can send a quick point of view on questions to ask that vendor, highlighting some of the vendor’s shortcomings when compared with your offering.

Sample Response 2. (Proof)

  • "At this point, I'm not asking you to rip anything out. I'd just like the opportunity to show you how we're different and how we've provided additional value to our customers. I can present some use cases of other companies, such as [names of customers], that considered both of us but chose to work with our company.”

If the prospect engages further, you can potentially pull together a proposal to show how you would approach their business differently and drive better results through your solution. For instance, customers who might be weighing using both Chorus.ai and one of our competitors might be interested to know about Chorus’s superior data provision and its integrations (with Zoom and Salesforce!)

If you have a case study or testimonial from another client who made the switch, share it, or connect the two by phone. In order to provide a better response, consider asking some follow-up questions.

Questions to Ask:

  • “What are they providing for you currently? Are you happy with their products and services?”
  • “What types of results are you seeing with them?”
  • “Could anything be going better?”
  • “What do you like best about working with them?”
  • “Have they ever let you down?”
  • “Will you evaluate other partners in the future, and, if so, when does that process begin?”

If you uncover that there is no near-term opportunity to unseat a competitor, continue to educate your prospect and share your unique market positioning while focusing on other accounts.

Objection 6. “We’re going with X competitor instead.” #

While unfortunate, sometimes in the sales process you find out that your prospect has selected a competitor. If they have not yet signed a contract, it’s time to go to work on this objection immediately.

First, use an anecdote from another customer who either switched from that vendor to your solution or went with that vendor and later regretted it.

If you don’t have an example like this, use these questions.

Questions to Ask:

  • “I sincerely appreciate your feedback because it helps us improve our offering. Can you please tell me who you are going with instead and what motivated the decision to select them over us?”
  • “Is there any way we could change our offer that would lead you to select us over them?”
  • “How do you think the postsale experience will be with them?”

Once you learn a little bit more, it’s critical that you do the following.

Best Practices:

  • Send a quick point of view on questions to ask that vendor that will highlight some of their shortcomings when compared with your offering.
  • Share an anecdote about a customer who tried that vendor and regretted it or recommitted to your solution.
  • Offer to connect the prospect with a reference, and share case studies/testimonials.
  • Resubmit a better offer, and walk their team through the proposal.
  • Find an opportunity to network in person.

Often this is the time to bring in an executive, a sales engineer, the head of analytics, or another member of the team to support you.

Objection 7. “Just email me more information.” #

Prospects who ask you to email them more information are either really busy or, more likely than not, not convinced that this is a priority right now. This is often the case on cold calls.

This is one scenario in which you may want to follow up with a question sooner than with other objections. Before you send anything, use these questions to understand what would most intrigue the prospect.

Questions to Ask:

  • “Sure thing! What information will be useful to you?”
  • “Sure thing! Out of curiosity, do you want more information just for learning purposes and to have it on file, or do you want to seriously evaluate using a solution like ours?”
  • “If I send you this information and you read through it, what’s the likelihood that you will want to reconnect to talk about our solution?”
  • “Is there someone else on your team I should be connecting with who would make decisions about our solution?”

Objection 8. “I will need to sell this internally to others.” #

It’s a great sign when your prospect clearly communicates with you about the process. However, you don’t typically want your prospect to sell your solution to others on their own, because this can sometimes lead to misalignment or things getting lost in translation, especially if your offering is complex.

To handle this objection, it’s critical that you get the prospect on board with working with you as a team so that you can set them up for success. So, first, explain why they need to work with you to sell it internally and how you can do most of the heavy lifting for them while they continue to own the relationships internally. Once you have them convinced they need your help, find out more about who and what they need help with.

Questions to Ask:

  • “Who else needs to be convinced?”
  • “Can I help you make the case during an alignment call?”
  • “What materials do you need to be successful?”
  • “Would it help if we jointly presented the business case?”
  • “What materials do you need to sell this successfully?”
  • “What red flags can you anticipate, or what things might stand in our way?”

When No Means No #

Sometimes, no just means no, and it’s time to move on. However, before you do, it’s important to learn as much as you can from the experience, especially if the loss was a particularly painful one in a category you are trying to own, or it was a strategic account.

Questions to Ask:

  • “I’d love to understand where our offering fell short so we can improve it.”
  • “I’d love to understand where I could have improved my process as your account executive.”

You can ask these questions on a call and then reprise them in your closed-lost follow-up. Use this feedback to brainstorm with your team about new ways to deliver or show value. Share insights with marketing that help them understand how the market is thinking about the problem you’re trying to solve. Consider ideas to improve the sales narrative and materials.

How Other Functions Can Support Sales in Objection Handling #

It’s naive to think that successful sellers are just naturals at handling objections. The reality is that successful sellers are often the ones who were best trained and supported by other functions and roles with things like sales collateral, talk tracks, and feedback. It truly takes a village to handle all of the objections your sellers will face.

And almost every team at your organization has a role to play.

Product Marketing and Sales Enablement #

Marketing and sales enablement needs to lead trainings and create materials that help sales handle objections. They should be responsible for owning the talk tracks the team uses and ensuring that everyone is aligned. At Chorus, our team also builds playlists of recorded calls to help the sales team hear how to handle some of the most common objections. You should always be measuring to learn with your call-recording data.

Pushing the boat out even further on this: is your digital marketing and branding reflecting the success of your product in a way that might head off potential objections before you even get on a call? Are you communicating social proof, client testimonials, and success metrics in your literature and on your site?

Customer Success #

Customer success specialists should work hard to uncover potential case studies, testimonials, and client references that can be used. They should contribute to content that highlights best practices.

Product Management #

Product should support objections with trainings and a clear product road map so the team can “sell the future vision” without overpromising. Product should be willing to join necessary calls, especially when a deal is at risk due to a feature or functionality.

Sales Ops #

The data and analytics team should work hard to help reps make an ROI case and measure the effectiveness of the product. They should build credibility through thought leadership and, when necessary, by joining calls to dispel concerns about ROI or value.

Executive Team #

Many companies assign an executive sponsor to major deals so that they can handle objections with people at the top or continue to make the prospect feel special. Executives play a big role in building trust when handling objections, and their presence can especially demonstrate a commitment to key prospects in highly competitive deals.

Nothing You Can’t Handle #

It’s important to remember that objection handling is not an indictment of your abilities as a sales professional—it’s part of the sales process. Indeed, it’s a fundamental part of the sales process. Your product is new, it’s innovative, and it promises to bring an untold value increase. You can’t expect your prospect to know all about it already or not want to be careful with their money, especially in a post-COVID-19 economy.

Think of objection handling as a puzzle with multiple stages. First, uncover the “why” motivating the objection, and then approach it with confidence, head-on, by sharing details of your product’s performance or some other anecdotal proof of its effectiveness (e.g. social proof).

Once you’ve batted away the lead objection, look for more. Use discovery-phase, open-ended questions to not only understand the original objection better but also surface additional objections. Back your business case up with value and reference points, and leave your prospect without a doubt in their mind about your product’s worth.

Of course, there will be times where prospecting has gone awry, budgetary circumstances change, or a competitor is just better placed to offer your prospect a deal that they prefer. That’s okay. The secret to objection handling is to trust in your product’s worth. It’s what your prospect needs. All you need to do is show it.

Want more cutting edge sales insights to beat the post-pandemic downturn? Tune in to Chorus’s Weekly Briefing series for the freshest and best hot-takes from top industry leaders.

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