A 9-Step Method for Handling Prospect Objections

Pascal Landshoft
Pascal Landshoft



"Your product is just too expensive for us."

"It's really more than we need."

"I don't think it's the right time to take on this project."

Ever hear one of these objections from a prospect? If you've been in sales for any amount of time, you most certainly have. Learning how to properly address objections is a fundamental skill for selling success.

Using what I've learned from sales books, training, and real life experience, I've formulated the following nine step method to handle objections. Each of these steps can be used on its own but are most powerful in combination. The next time an objection comes your way, use these tools to avoid paralysis and keep the deal moving forward.

Step #1: Clarify the objection.

First, make sure that you understand the objection of the client and the context it's coming from. Do not accept it at face value as it usually ties into a bigger picture which you might not understand quite yet. Think like a journalist, and ask them to further explain their point with "Who?", What?", When?", Where?", Why?", or "How?"

Objections are one of the best opportunities to learn more about your prospect -- embrace them as such. It will take practice to stay calm and composed when someone scrutinizes you and your company, but acquiring this cool will pay off in the long term and set you apart from other sellers.

Step #2: Show empathy.

Based on the prospect's clarification, show empathy with an appropriate adjective. I stopped responding to objections with "I can understand that you feel ... " because this can come back to you as "How would you know how I feel?" I've now replaced this phrase with "I can understand that this can be...frustrating/frightening/irritating/important ... "

Do not agree with the client's objection, but show your interest in the matter and demonstrate that you'd like to help as much as you are able.

Step #3: Determine if the objection is a misunderstanding or a disadvantage.

Depending on the clarifying information the prospect has given, you should now know if the objection is a misunderstanding or a disadvantage. A misunderstanding is when the prospect is mistaken or missing information -- for example, they looked at the wrong option for their needs and therefore think the product is overpriced. A disadvantage is a feature of your offering that clearly does not meet the criteria of the client. For instance, the buyer is looking for screws with a length of 10mm and you only offer up to 5mm. If you are not sure which category the objection falls into, go back and clarify further before moving on.

Step #4: If it is a misunderstanding, fill in knowledge gaps.

Here the knowledgeable seller has an advantage over the rep who is less familiar with the product. The former will be more apt to correctly identify a misunderstanding and deliver coherent and precise information to resolve the objection. This is especially helpful in multilayered, complex project sales.

To correct the prospect's perception without putting them on the defensive, use the phrase, "I think we do not have all the necessary information yet. What would you say if I told you ... "

Step #5: If it is a disadvantage, determine whether it is a nice to have or a have to have.

If the objection is in fact a disadvantage, product knowledge is helpful, but must be combined with negotiation skills. Ask your client if the need is a must have or a nice to have. This will help you decide if you can resolve the issue, or if the time has come to disqualify the opportunity in your client's and your own best interest.

Step #6: If it is a must have, check its priority in relation to other must haves.

The purpose of this step is to make the client assess the bigger picture and decide how important solving the issue truly is. Ask the prospect, "How would you rank these features/decision criteria to each other in importance? What else is important to you?"

Their response will enable you to discover further must haves which you might not be aware of. Ranking the criteria against each other and connecting them to the client's larger goals (which by now you should have discovered) will make it a lot easier for both parties to decide how to proceed.

Step #7: Admit the disadvantage.

At this point, I will usually say, "I admit, we are not the ideal fit for you and your needs."

This might not jibe with every salesperson's style as it means admitting to weakness. But if presented sincerely and honestly, I've found this statement to be very powerful -- especially when your solution and the competition's are perceived at the same level. Every solution has its weaknesses, and admitting to flaws sets the stage for a long-term strategic relationship because the prospect knows they can trust you. For me, addressing shortcomings openly rather than glossing over them has led to superior results.

Step # 8: Remind the prospect of other evaluation criteria and summarize.

After you admit to the product's disadvantage, you can rebound with a summary of the evaluation criteria. Review all the information you have acquired and weigh the disadvantage against other decision criteria, or push it from the agenda if the prospect indicated the feature was merely a nice to have. Remember that if a new objection or criterion should come up during this stage, you must return to step one and clarify.

Step #9: Secure agreement from the buyer to move on.

Here are some suggested phrases to accomplish this depending on the information you uncovered:

"If I do X, can we agree that this point is resolved?" 

"Do we agree this was a misunderstanding, and my explanation has enabled you to move on?"

"Do we agree this is a lower priority/nice to have and does not play a role in your decision?"

"Do we agree that based on this, we are not a good fit and won't pursue further evaluation?"

Your phrasing does not have to sound this official, but you get the idea.

While it's hard to admit to a disadvantage that disqualifies you for the business, do not be afraid to go down that road. One of two things will happen, and neither is bad. Either you will have saved you and your client time in debating and assessing a solution which ultimately would not help them, or the client will opt to continue the process anyway, saying something along the lines of, "I think you are a good fit apart from this, and I would like to keep going."

No matter which of the above questions you ask, make sure that you hear a "yes" in response before moving on. Otherwise the objection has not been handled. And if it's not resolved, it will come back to bite you later. 

 Editor's note: This post first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse, and is republished here with permission.

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