2 Reasons Traditional Objection Handling Isn’t Effective (& How to do it Right)

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So, you had a productive call/meeting with a potential client when suddenly they show some hesitation. “I’m not really sure about …,” they say. 

In response, you give some stats from marketing and share a success story, and you both agree to reconnect. But you never do. The reason why: you didn’t overcome their objection. How do I know? I’ve been there. As a sales rep, I’ve mishandled plenty of objections, and as a customer, I’ve seen my objections mishandled as well.


Here’s an Example:

I recently upgraded to a new cell phone. It took two trips to the store and two different sales people. When the first salesperson attempted to close with, “Is that the one you think you’d like?” I wasn’t sure. So I said, “I’m not sure if that will have enough battery time for me.”

He responded with, “Well, the card says it’s got 40 hours on standby, so you should be good for a whole day if you charge it at night. That’s really the top end of what you are going to get anyway.”

“Oh, great,” I thought. “Thanks for reading the card that I just read to myself. Now we both have the same knowledge of this phone, so I can do your job. Geez.”

I decided to wander around some more in a just-browsing mode. Why? For two reasons. One, either he really didn’t understand what specifically concerned me about battery life, or two, he didn’t dig enough to realize I didn’t believe the card based on my previous experience.


The salesperson was guilty of what most of us do: When we hear resistance or an objection, we say something to turn the customer around. But it doesn’t usually work for two reasons:

  1. As a sales rep, we start selling before we clarify their point, many times addressing the wrong objection.
  2. Even if we address the right objection, the customer is not really listening to our response.


The cell phone salesperson had both of these problems. Let’s start with the first one:


We Address the Wrong Objection

When I said, “I’m not sure if that will have enough battery time for me,” what does that really mean? It could mean several things:

  • I talk on the phone all the time, so it won’t last a day.
  • I don’t always have a chance to charge it at night.
  • I’m a heavy GPS and Wi-Fi user.
  • If it goes dead while I’m on the road, it creates a huge problem.
  • My last phone did not have as much battery life as was listed on the spec sheet.
  • I don’t want the battery to go bad in 18 months, and then I’m forced to buy a new phone before my two-year upgrade and waste money.
  • Some combination of the above.
  • None of the above, or … you get the idea.

From looking at the list, it’s clear there are a lot of possible underlying reasons for my general objection about the cell phone’s battery life. A good sales rep selling a good product or service probably has the information to help address any and all of these objections. But which objection should the sales rep address?

Without knowing, it’s a guess. If the rep guesses correctly, the customer might hear something helpful that would influence the decision to buy. But the odds are against guessing correctly. And when we guess wrong, customers might hear what we say but are thinking, “Yeah, but that doesn’t really address the issue. You are not listening. You are not helpful. You just want to make a sale.”

There’s more to handling an objection than just taking a marketing-approved, objection-rebuttal script and tossing it out there. We have to clarify the objection before we know which is the real objection to handle.


Accept & Acknowledge first… 

I believe that most customers don’t like conflict. While I’m sure you can think of a prospect or two who enjoys debating and arguing with sales reps, most people don’t like conflict. When you ask some type of commitment question, conflict-averse people who are hesitant to work with you will give you a soft objection and say something like, “I’m not sure if that will have enough battery time for me.”

To remove any awkwardness in the conversation, accept and acknowledge first. Let customers know it’s OK to have a concern and that it’s a perfectly good and logical reason to hesitate.

“I hear you. Battery life is an important feature to be concerned with.”


Then Clarify

Once a customer knows it’s okay to object, you can get to the heart of the objection.

“What’s the specific requirement you have for battery life for your phone?”

This is your best chance for customers to tell you more about what’s causing the hesitation. Maybe someone they know had a previous bad experience. Maybe they read something or are just unsure, but they don’t want to seem uninformed.

Be sure to listen closely and ask a few clarifying questions if needed. Pay attention. Many times, when given the chance to talk about it more, customers’ concerns may be minimized or disappear entirely. The key is to be genuine in letting customers articulate thoughts instead of just waiting to pounce on them with rebuttals.


Overcome the Stereotype 

Once customers state an objection, they expect the salesperson to overcome the objection with a sales pitch. Experiences with most sales reps have confirmed that expectation to be usually true. As a result, the customer is not receptive to our response and they’re ready for battle.

So as soon as sales reps make a counterpoint, customers will usually fortify their position and become closed to an opposing point of view unless customers realize that you share the goal of arriving at a good decision instead of pushing products.


Drop the Rope®

Remember, customers expect rebuttals and are ready to debate without being receptive to your point. And if you’ve read our other blogs, you’ll remember that your best option is to Drop the Rope and avoid any tug of war or tension. It’s simple: Remind them that it’s their choice. Tell them if that issue is a deal breaker for them, they should not buy – they are the best person to decide among all the options, including not making any purchase. For sure, this will get their attention. And, if you are sincere, as I hope you would be, it will cause them to listen to what you say next.

“If you are not sure about the battery life of this phone, you should hold off.”


Validate the Truth

Now you can begin to provide some of that ‘marketing’ information. Give customers some more information, a success story about a previous customer – a word picture. Just speak the truth. And because of your previous steps, customers should be much more receptive to your point. They’ll actually be listening.


Check your Six

Think like a pilot. Look back to check on your passenger. Don’t make them commit, just make sure they heard you and that your explanation was beneficial. This will help you determine if you’ve been effective or if more discussion is necessary. You need a positive response before asking any type of buying or commitment question. Make it easy for them to say maybe.


Make it a Habit

Make a commitment to part one of objection handling— to clarify the next objections you get. It takes very little practice, and you don’t need any more training. The next time a prospect shows concern about your recommendation:

  • Accept and acknowledge first: “I understand – that’s an important factor.”
  • Then clarify: “What specifically concerns you about ______?”

After you ask them to clarify, let the prospect talk. Ask another clarifying question if needed. Make sure you know the real issue that is causing them to hesitate. The first few times you try this just worry about clarifying – respond however you’d like. After you are comfortable getting customers to give you the real details behind their objections, then work on part two of objection handling – getting them to be receptive and listen to your response.

  1. Drop the Rope: “If you are uncomfortable with our approach to ______, we might not be right for you.” Or “Only you can make that decision.”
  2. Validate the truth: Tell them a story, use a word picture or success story to validate your recommendation.
  3. Check your Six: “Does that help?”


Let’s Go Back to the Cell Phone Store

I did not buy the phone that day. I went home and did some more online research. Then I went back and luckily met a different rep, who must have known how to handle objections. He was helpful.

He joined in complaining with me about cell phone battery life. He agreed that it’s never enough and the specs are for ideal conditions, which never happen to the phone in real life. Then he looked at my old phone and showed me how to shut down a lot of things to help my battery last longer.

Then he compared the specs of the new phone to my old phone. The new one was supposed to last longer and he let me decide that with my new-found knowledge that by simply shutting down some apps, it would be just fine. I bought the phone, and nine months later, I am still happy I did. 

Thanks, Mike (don’t remember your last name).


I hope my cell phone purchase experience helps your efforts. Give it a try. Better yet, replace “customer” with “spouse,” “mom,” “dad,” son,” or “daughter.” Re-read this blog. You may find other ways these steps can benefit you.  Good luck.


What Next?

If you found this blog helpful and want to go deeper into the concepts we covered, you can check out our new book, UnReceptive, at unreceptivebook.com.

As President of ASLAN, Marc is responsible for all day-to-day operations including our sales and marketing efforts and growing our success in helping our clients be Other-Centered®.

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