This article contains the ‘best of the best’ answers from Jason Stone, Director of Sales for FRONTLINE Selling and Adam Shapiro, President of SalesReformSchool, who conducted a series: The Sales Cycle – From Start to Finish. In this session they answered participant questions about how to overcome the most challenging objections and roadblocks in the B2B sales process. Here is a summary of all the incredible insight they provided!
Objections vs Excuses
Jason: One of the things I think that’s important is to clarify the difference between an objection and an excuse. And I think that it really needs to be identified as best we can before we move forward.
Adam: Objections are legitimate concerns that your prospects are voicing to you that may either keep them from buying from you or appear to keep them from buying from you and you need to deal with them respectfully and directly. We’ll talk about that a lot today. Both excuses and objections do slow down your sales process, and there are things that you confront.
Jason: Excuses are more just invented reasons, if you will. Excuses are typically trivial and vague like, “I will think about it.” And they traditionally lack specificity. So there won’t be a really solid pain point to overcome.
Adam: The objections that my clients and FRONTLINE Selling sales people come up against typically have to do with price, some sort of feature or capability that is either in or not in your products or offerings. Something to do with expectations on whether somebody will work or not, and whether the implementation would be too long or difficult. But there are definite things that come up in these conversations and we need to anticipate them and have a way of dealing with them.
Adam: If you get a vague response from your prospects or your customers, don’t let them off the hook. Ask them some questions to make that vague comment more specific or focused. Another thing is practice your active listening. When you hear an objection, acknowledge that it’s something that is important to your prospect. Ask them questions around it. And then dig into your company’s history, your personal history, stories, any metrics you can use to show how you can overcome those objections.
Now on to our first question!
My prospect thinks we’re too expensive versus the competition, and quite honestly, we are. So what do I say?
Adam: This is a good thing, not a bad thing, that you’re starting to talk about price. Once you hear that you’re too expensive versus your competition, the first thing out of your mouth should be a question, “Oh, does that mean you’ve completed your evaluation, and except for price, you’ve selected us?” Then it’s a good time to not say anything additionally and see what the prospect says. See if there are other things that they haven’t gone through in their evaluation to lead them to either work with you or not. If they say, “Sure, but you guys are the same as …” and they name another competitor, get equal first and then get different. Figure out what it is they like about the prospect. What they like about the competition versus what you have to offer and then use a cost benefit analysis between what you have that justifies your higher price.
Jason: The traditional response has always been focus on value. If you’ve done that, and you should’ve done that throughout your sales cycle, Adam’s right: get equal first and then different. What is the outcome that they hope to achieve? Show how you can get there. Concern with price tends to fade as long as you’re proving that you can position the outcome and you can fulfill it.
Adam: Another way to approach this is by lining up the total cost of ownership between their status quo and your offering or the total cost of ownership of a successful implementation of your solution, vs. how it’s going to be with your competitor. If they’re comparing price, you should know your differentiators and whether the value is in that differentiation.
Jason: Perfect example of this is a software platform that publishes downtime. If they were up 98.9% of the time and the competitors were up 88.9% of the time, this is a huge differentiator. “How much does interrupted service cost you? 10% more interrupted service might cost you the difference in our price versus their price, and that would make sense, right?” Line up the value.
A prospect says “I have an internal team so I could implement the solution by myself.” Is that an excuse or is that an objection?
Jason: That’s an objection. It’s not an excuse because I believe that they believe that. They’re saying it and in their heart of hearts they believe that they can absolutely implement this themselves. Overcoming this particular objection focuses on mitigating risk. There’s a lot of risk in what you don’t know. I’ll take it in an instance of FRONTLINE Selling. We provide supplemental pipeline development, and there’s a lot of folks that don’t have an inside development team. Whether it’s a BDR or SDR, trying to build that yourself on the surface appears very easy. But you have to understand that because there is employee attrition, the shear ratio of folks that you have to hire in order to find one successful person makes it a huge challenge – and a huge risk.
Here’s what I would say; “I get that. We understand that. We get that a lot.” And then go into the mitigation of risk. “If you went to do this yourself, how would you do it? How long would it take you to be successful?” Try to figure out their process and uncover what their mental model is and why they think they can do it.
Adam: If your prospect thinks they can do it themselves, the question becomes, “Hey, do they have the expertise to do it?” And if they think they do, well let’s line up our expertise versus your expertise, and then our successes in doing it before versus your successes doing it. A second approach might be, “Do you have the opportunity to do it yourself?” Early on I realized, “Sure, I can mow my lawn as well a contractor to do it, but I don’t have time to do it because we have three young kids and I want someone else to do it. I can bet I have a better use of my time elsewhere.”
Say a prospect has had bad experiences with similar products and services. Is that an objection or is that an excuse and how do you deal with it?
Adam: I think it’s an excuse because I still have the underlying problem. We call these “burn victims”. They’ve been burned before by people like you. It’s very common in the software or SaaS industry for buyers to say, “Yeah, we tried to implement that software. It didn’t work.” Or the previous regime bought that software, it sat on the shelf somewhere and we ended up spending a lot of money for a lot of nothing. Go back to the original question. Why are we here? What are the goals or objectives that the prospect is trying to accomplish or reach, and what are the challenges and issues that’ll keep me from getting there? Yes, we can provide it. You don’t trust me. But how are you going to do it yourself?
Acknowledge first that being a burn victim is a realistic, real and a reasonable emotion to have. “Yeah, I get it. Totally understand. We have a lot of customers who came to us after being burned before by others like us.”
Ask some questions. “So what happened?” Don’t just gloss over the fact that they’ve been burned before. It’s as if you’re not even listening to them and you don’t care. What happened? Tell me what happened before because we don’t want to make those mistakes with you when we implement our offering.
Acknowledge the emotion in the situation, ask clarifying questions, give feedback, and ask if you can share how you handle it so you don’t repeat the same mistakes again.
So, what about the prospect who tells you that we do not sign long-term contracts.
Jason: Understand the hesitation. First and foremost, the biggest thing is to understand what it is about long-term contracts that turns them off. This is an excuse if it’s just thrown out there but it’s an objection if it’s company policy. You may talk to the decision maker who says, “We’re not authorized to sign long-term contracts.” We deal with this a lot. So how do we handle it? We do quarterly or bi-annual contracts. If it’s not policy, then it may just be this person doesn’t want to commit. So find out why that is. It may be that the whole reason they are not signing a long-term contract is because they’ve been burned before. Then you have to overcome two objections.
Adam: There’s nothing wrong with this objection. This is very similar to too expensive objection. I want to hear this … objection, because you’re at least are thinking about us. “So, we’re ready to move forward as long as we can figure out the terms of the relationship?”
It now becomes part of a negotiation: “So all things considered, are you saying that once we figure out how long our term of contract is, we’re moving forward?” That’s fantastic. Get an agreement on that before you move forward on negotiating the terms of your relationship.
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If you’re a sales rep, and you’re speaking with a key player who tells you that they need a little bit more time because they need to talk to their team, how would you handle that?
Jason: We’ve all heard the statement of the saying, “Don’t kill the messenger.” So, don’t put that weight on them. Try and shoulder that responsibility yourself by taking something off of their plate. You want accountability for this. I’ve had numerous times where I’ve said, “Look, I’ll take this to so-and-so…” and one of the best things a rep ever said to me was, “I believe that you can deliver the message. I don’t believe you can deliver the value.”
I loved the straightforwardness. I said, “You’re probably right because I’ve got 75 other things I’m doing and this is a sliver of what I’m trying to do. I’m not solely responsible or myopically focused on this, and you’re right.” And we set up a series of calls to get in front of other key players.
This shouldn’t be a last minute surprise. This should be something that has been identified. You should know the other key players. You know that there will be other people that need to be presented this solution. So, why not try to identify that up front and ask if is there anyone else that needs to be involved in these conversations?
How do I handle request for excessive extra calls with this additional decision maker? So for example, they keep delaying their decision until we have one more call with this person. So you’re in a long cycle here.
Adam: When you feel you’re getting jerked around, you have to identify ‘when is it over?’ And putting that stake in the ground and asking your prospect, “Help me understand when we will start implementing our offering to get you the value you need to help you reach your goals and objectives and overcome the challenges and issues that are facing your company.” And we go backwards and document everybody that we need to talk to to get this done. We hear sales reps being told, “Well, now you need to do this. Well, now you need to do that.” And they’re being led around by their noses. And that’s got to stop.
Adam: When it gets to be too much, it’s okay to say, “It doesn’t seem like you’re going to be buying from me anytime soon because you keep on saying, ‘I need to talk to extra people or have another conversation with you about something having to do with our offering.’” And go negative. It’s hard. It’s very hard to say, “I really don’t believe you’re ever going to buy from me because you keep on asking for extra information from me. Tell me how we get this done.”
Jason: A wise man (Adam) once told me that stop being the poodle with the skirt.
Don’t be the poodle jumping through the hoop of fire. The absence of no doesn’t mean yes.
This viewer said, “I have a good promising deal that seems to be losing steam with the lengthy delays with summer vacation and such, and before the vacation there was a board meeting. So, it’s really just stalling out a little bit. What are some strategies to deal with that?
Adam: Inexperienced buyers are okay with, “Hey, call me next week.” Then they get busy and now it’s two weeks, three weeks down the road. Vacations, life, other things get in the way. See if the person that you’re talking to has someone to manage their schedule and work with them. If they don’t, if they manage their own schedule, start throwing out some ideas on dates and times, or even send them a meeting invitation. They’ll either accept it or decline it. It doesn’t mean they don’t like you, or you’re being rude.
Jason: Look at your original timeline, the urgency of implementation, and let that decide your aggressiveness and delivery. Even if you know about an extended vacation or absence, stay relevant because the last thing you want to have to do is start from scratch. This is a perfect opportunity to engage socially. Engage on LinkedIn or Twitter, or share relevant articles and certainly about the industry or vertical, but most importantly about your company. Share any new articles being produced or new blog posts or if you’ve won an award or you’ve been mentioned somewhere.
This question addresses the dreaded ‘ghosting’. You’ve got a good deal, things are going, and then it just goes dark.
Adam: It’s really hard to fight the urge to think that the person who ghosts you is just rude. And you think you would never do that to someone, but things come up in life. Not only do things come up in life, this person might not even be in this job anymore. So you need to understand, how long has it been? Has it been an hour? You’re not ghosted. Has it been a day? You’re not ghosted. Has it been a month? You’re ghosted.
I suggest you have ready a stale proposal letter, which says, “Hey, all conversations we’ve had before, I’m sorry. I must not understand you enough and what your goals and objectives, challenges, and issues. So, I am rescinding my proposal to you, but I would like to schedule a refocus meeting.” This person may have won the lottery and they’re no longer there. (I don’t like to say hit by a bus!) Well, call someone else at that company. Call the main line, or call that person who you would perceive to be their manager or boss and say, “Hey, I haven’t heard from so-and-so in a while. What’s going on?” Maybe you’ll get some answers.
If you’re worried about looking like a pest, remember- they haven’t talked, contacted you, or responded to your emails in over a month and you’re worried about that they might not like you for going over their head and seeing what’s going on? You probably weren’t getting that deal anyway before. At least now you would know.
Jason: Every deal has a sell by date. And and if you’ve surpassed that date, then be as aggressive as you want. The ‘downside’ is that you get it out of your funnel and your sales leader will be extremely thankful that this something’s no longer sitting out there aging!
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