When we talk about objection handling in sales, it is often focused on the later stages of the buying cycle, usually during negotiations. We focus on pricing and timing issues -- the types of objections that prevent a deal from closing.
A crucial yet overlooked aspect of objection handling occurs at the very beginning of the buying process, during prospecting. Sales reps who do their own prospecting and sales development reps encounter a myriad of objections in their attempts to connect with and qualify prospects.
Prospecting is hard. You are typically barging in on someone, so you'll hear objections such as, “I’m too busy, call back next quarter,” “Just send me some information,” “We don’t have budget outlined for this,” and so on. The good news is you will begin to identify a set of common objections during prospecting. The key to success is to be prepared to overcome them and move prospects to the next step.
The vast majority of objections heard during prospecting are knee-jerk reactions from busy people who don’t yet see the value in working with you. Nearly all objections at the prospecting phase of the sales process fit into one of two categories:
- I don’t understand the value and I’m too busy to think about it.
- I’m not ready for a buying conversation.
Here's how to avoid and/or overcome these objections.
First, articulate value early and concisely. You can mitigate the value objection by simply respecting the prospect’s time and explaining what you want early in your outreach. Every email, voicemail, and phone interaction should lead with an assurance that you won’t take much time, followed by a short (30 seconds or less, or one to two sentences), buyer-centric, and customized value proposition. For more on the quick value prop, check out this post.
Second, don’t sell the product, sell the next step. It does not matter if the prospect is ready for a buying conversation yet. How could they be? It's possible they've only just learned about you and your product from this call. Don’t get into a discussion of the product yet. If they ask a product question, recommend that you show them in the next meeting.
The Top 5 Prospecting Objections
Here are the five most common objections prospectors face, along with some very simple approaches to responding to them.
1) The Brush-Off
What this sounds like: "Just send me some information."
This objection varies in intent depending on when it comes up in your call with a prospect. If it comes up before you have had the chance to deliver your value proposition and explain who you are and what you do, it’s very clearly a brush-off. If it comes afterward, but before you’ve had the chance to ask qualification questions, there may be interest, but the prospect isn’t yet willing to talk about it further.
If it comes at the end of your call, after you’ve gone through both your value prop and qualification, the prospect may have decided this isn’t valuable somewhere along the way. No matter where it comes up in the call, it’s the SDR’s duty to uncover what is really going on: Do they not yet understand the value, or are they not ready for a buying conversation? Why not?
Responses: There are a few potential responses to this one, depending on what stage the call is in.
- Before you've delivered the value proposition: "Can we take 30 seconds now for me to explain what we do, and you can then decide if it’s worth a follow-up?"
- Before qualification: "Can I ask you a couple questions now to better understand how we might help?"
- After qualification: "Typically, people find it more valuable to see how this works in a demo."
What this sounds like: "We already work with Competitor X."
This is where it’s important to know why you are unique, and be able to explain that value clearly. Your prospect just heard, “Hi, we do X” and thought, “Oh, we have a vendor for that, we’re good.” Your prospects are busy -- they don’t want to fix things that aren’t broken. It is your duty to change their mindset, and explain why they need the specific value you provide.
Response: "At this point, we aren’t asking you to rip anything out. A lot of our customers used to or still use Competitor X. We’d just like the opportunity to show you how we are different and how we have provided additional value to our customers. We can present some use cases of other companies like yours who work with us and with Competitor X. When is a good time to schedule a follow up call?"
What this sounds like: "Call me back in a quarter."
Prospects are busy. They will push anything off to tomorrow because today is swamped. Don’t let them! You have a solution they needed yesterday. Reassure them that this is not a buying conversation. You just want to show them what you do, and see if there’s value for them.
Response: "Of course. If it really is bad timing, I’m happy to do that. However, I would still like to set up a five-minute call to show you what we are doing and how we might help. That way, if it’s not interesting, we don’t have to worry about me chasing you next quarter, but if it is, we'll have more to talk about then. When is a good day/time for us to chat?"
What this sounds like: "We don’t have budget for this."
If budget is an important part of your qualified lead definition (e.g. traditional BANT) this may be a stopping point. Even with BANT however, it is important to dig a bit further to understand what not having budget means. Can they not afford it? Has your buyer burned through her personal budget for the year? Could your buyer find the money elsewhere if you show enough value? In most cases, the prospect doesn’t need to have a budget at this stage of the process, and SDRs should leverage this fact to overcome this objection.
Response: "That’s okay. We don’t expect you to buy anything right now. We’d just like the opportunity to share what we are doing and see if it’s valuable to your company. Can we schedule a follow up call over the next couple days?”
5) Getting in the Weeds
What this sounds like: "Does your product do X, Y, and Z?"
This isn’t so much an objection as an obstacle to closing a call with a prospect and getting them to the next appointment, (e.g., a demo, or a discovery call with the sales rep). However, it is one of the most common obstacles that prevent an SDR from converting the lead to an SQL. Not only does getting in the weeds waste time, you also run the potential of devolving into a features/benefits conversation. The good news is this generally means the prospect is interested. Use this fact to end the conversation and set up the next appointment.
Response: "I am glad you asked that. I think it will be helpful to set up a time where we can answer this question and others with a specialist. When is a good day/time for us to talk?”
When No Means No
Prospects often don’t give you a chance to explain the value you think you can provide. They are too busy, and have too little faith in the hordes of SDRs and sales reps that reach out to them on a daily basis. Unfortunately, they have learned through experience that these knee-jerk objections are the best defense against people wasting their time. This forces salespeople to be more assertive and persistent.
That said, at a certain point no means no. The responses to the common objections above give you a way to pierce through the reactionary objections prospects give without thinking. However, if you have said your piece and the prospect still objects, let it go. Nobody is going to buy against their will. Get as clear as you can on the objection and try to determine what your prospect is really concerned about, but don’t push past the prospect’s point of comfort. Rule of thumb: if the prospect says an objection twice, it’s real. No means no.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in March 2015 and has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy.