decoding-prospectsHave you ever been on a sales call during which your prospect says something that makes you want to ask, "And that means ... what?" I've got plenty of examples to relay what I'm talking about.

Your prospect tells you they need a quicker response time than your product can provide. They tell you you’re too expensive. They say the product doesn’t have all the features they need. They complain the user interface is “too complicated.” They tell you they need more leads and opportunities and greater client engagement.

But what does it mean when your prospect says they need quicker response times? How do they define "quicker"?

What does it mean when your prospect says your product is “too expensive?” How much less expensive do they want it to be? Exactly what price are they looking for?

What does it mean when your prospect says they need better leads? What do they consider to be a "better" lead?

Most salespeople start and stop with these vague, non-descript, and undefined objections. The problem? None of this tells you anything. It doesn’t get you any closer to meeting the customer's or prospect's needs. It provides nothing that a salesperson can use to progress the sale.

So, another question arises: How can you take these qualitative terms and turn them into quantitative, actionable items?

Understand Prospects, Then Consult Them

It’s the salesperson's job to be a consultant for the prospect or customer. Consultants initiate change. They challenge, provoke, train, and educate. Consultants are change agents, and in order to have change, a defined current state and end state are required.

In other words, sales has to have a benchmark to work with. No benchmark, no sale.

As salespeople, we need to recognize when a customer or prospect isn't being clear -- and we need to spring into action right then and there. How can you do this? Well, it's simple: You need to make your customer or prospect provide clarification for their answers.

Let them know they need to throw out specific numbers, time frames, and criteria so that you can help them. Make the customer or prospect tell you what exactly it is they require.

The next time a prospect tells you they don’t believe your product can do it because it’s not fast enough, ask them how fast they need it to be. The next time a client says the UI is too complicated, ask what a simpler UI looks like and how they define “too complicated.” The next time your customer says they need to see more leads, ask them how many more leads is enough.

Clear Definitions Means You Can Provide Answers

It’s not what our customers tell us that’s so important, but rather how they define what it is they are telling us.

As salespeople, nothing should go undefined. We need to understand exactly what our customers mean when they tell us what they are thinking. Too slow for you can be too fast for them. Too expensive to them can be cheap to you. More for them can be not enough for you. We all have our own expectations and definitions, and assuming they align is just plain foolish.

Don’t assume you have any idea what your customer or prospect wants or is thinking -- instead, just ask them. You’ll save everyone a lot of time and energy.

Have you experienced prospects or customers who don't know how to specifically relay their wants and needs? Share your story in the comments.

Jim Keenan is a sales and leadership coach with over 15 years of experience in sales leadership and leading teams to be highly productive sales organizations. You can follow him at @asalesguy and read more on his blog.

Image credit: Véronique Debord-Lazaro

Originally published Oct 1, 2013 8:00:00 AM, updated October 01 2013


Objection Handling