Objections are everywhere around us—from anti-vaxxers objecting to being vaccinated to the prospects having objections while buying your product. And as a sales rep or an Account Executive, objection handling is pretty much at the core of your everyday conversations.
Sales objections come in many forms, and handling them isn't easy for sure. According to data from Hubspot, 35% of sales leaders believe that objection handling is one of the biggest challenges reps and AEs face.
At the same time, objections are key to deeply understand your customer psychology and move them towards mutually beneficial goals. If you handle objections well, it feels like both the prospect as well as the salesperson won.
We've put together a set of tips from our experience and observation — and we hope it helps improve your objection handling as immediately as your next sales call.
Let's start with the basics.
What is objection handling?
Objection handling is not converting your customers from "NO" to a "YES." That's a superpower you can achieve only if you are a psychic or a hypnotist. In reality, all sales teams go through a series of "NOs" before getting to a "YES."
Objection handling in sales is identifying the root cause(s) of concern in your customers and navigating them to a solution that is agreeable to both you and them. Sometimes, it's taking them from a flat "NO" to "let me think about it", while other times it's having them say "I can work with that" when they originally said, "I'm not sure about it."
Simply put, objection handling is peeling multiple layers of your customer psychology and helping them see the value in your offer. Some of the common objections you might come across are — your prospect's take on your product features compared to a competitor, pricing, return on investment (ROI), whether your product is the right fit to what they are trying to achieve, etc.
Successful objection handling moves the deal negotiation to closure. Bad handling of objections will either end the negotiation halfway, ruffle up your prospects, and result in a bad brand reputation.
All said, handling objections is a balancing act —you don't need to agree to everything a prospect asks for. For example, there's no point in giving a deep discount to a prospect who doesn't see value in your product and is just focused on squeezing you to a pulp.
If both parties aren't winning —it's a bad deal. Simple as that.
Why is objection handling important?
Objections help build relationships because —prospects come with an opinion about what your product can do for them, even before they get on the discovery call. And there's nothing more dangerous than letting those opinions and objections go unaddressed.
The longer a prospect holds an opinion, the stronger that opinion becomes — and the harder you'll have to fight to overcome it. Done well, handling objections can lead you to great possibilities that can help you tighten your go-to-market (GTM) strategy.
Helps customers understand you better
Objections can be strong signals that tell you the gaps in your product or its positioning. Without a customer raising a flag on your product's capability to integrate with other CRM software—for instance—you wouldn't know that's a need your product has to fill.
At the same time, it's also an opportunity for you to share the ideology behind why a feature is built in a certain way.
For example, at Avoma, we have all our customer-facing conversations accessible to the entire organization and because we believe in transparency and cross-functional collaboration. And since that's our belief system, the default setting for all meetings is "Available organization-wide", and 1:1 calls within the organization are private by default.
When you explain the thought process and the 'whys' —the prospects start seeing the merit in your offering.
Helps you better understand the competitive landscape
One of the common objections that the sales team across all product companies face is —getting compared to the alternatives available. Suppose customers bring up the name of an incumbent or a new entrant in your niche; they will also tell you the reasons why they are evaluating your product despite having taken up trials or demos of the competing products.
It helps you understand what's unique about your product compared to the competition, and at the same time, the kind of customers that are better suited for your product.
Refine your GTM strategy
When you handle customer objections regularly, it forces you to articulate your product capabilities in a way that explains your offerings best. It creates a direct feedback loop with your prospects to understand what makes them tick vs what makes them click.
You can share the insights and feedback internally with your team members so that the learning across the board is faster.
Handling objections will help you develop a hunch for a pattern of concerns customers come up with frequently. You can take the feedback and create social proof around your brand to help them overcome their concerns.
Manage churn before it snowballs
It's good to have prospects who voice their objections. Objections that go undressed during the initial stages of a customer journey can create a chasm in customer experience only for them to churn later.
On the other hand, communicating your brand's stance on pricing, features, or competition can help you set the right expectations upfront. If your prospects say no during the deal stage—it will save you a lot of time and headache. But if you are outspoken about your capabilities, customers will appreciate that and likely form a supportive outlook for your brand.
Skills you need to handle objections better
If you are into sales, you might already be dealing with objections regularly and handling them in your way. Here are some practical tips to refine your technique next time you are handling your prospect's objections during a sales call.
1. Anticipate sales objections
The best time to handle objections is not during a sales call—but before your prospects come up with it. Good sales reps wait for prospects to voice their objections so that they can respond to them. Great sales teams proactively seek objections so that they can address them during the discovery call.
But how can you pre-empt objections without psychic powers, right? Thankfully, you can rely on data. Look at the behavioral patterns across all previous sales conversations, not just your calls but the calls of your peers as well.
For example, you can Avoma's powerful conversation intelligence platform, where it automatically categories conversations under specific topics. And so, you can click on 'objection' and listen to the objection raised by the prospect on that particular conversation.
2. Listen intently
I would be Captain Obvious if I stated that you need to practice active listening to be a good salesperson. But it's a reminder worth repeating so that you don't fall into the trap of your cognitive biases over and again.
Active listening is probably the most important skill you need as a salesperson—especially in today's largely remote sales environment. That means you don't have the luxury of "reading the room" or picking up on your customers' micro-expressions unless you have telepathic powers. It's critical to keep an eye on your customers' body language because the non-verbal language makes up for 55% of all our communication.
To compensate for the lack of physical rendezvous with your clients, hone your active listening skills. For example, whenever a customer objects—listen to it intently instead of interrupting them with your response. Don't be upset that customers have objections. Instead, be curious about what they have to say.
Looking at the data from our online meetings, we at Avoma have found that the recommended sales: customer talk ratio is 40%–60%. And if you are talking for more than 60% of the total time on the call, you are probably not listening enough.
On the flip side, don't take everything your customers say at face value. Sometimes, what they say is not how they feel. Steve Jobs famously said, "people don't know what they want until you show it to them."
For instance, most customers who have objections about a product will disguise them behind the common excuses—"it's too costly for us" or "we don't need it." In such scenarios, patiently listen to your customers, process it objectively, and analyze the objection from the standpoint of solving it.
3. Validate your prospect’s concerns
More often than not, salespeople jump the gun by offering a solution in direct response to a customer's objection. That's a hasty and crude way to approach objection handling. To make your customers feel heard, you have to create a cushioning layer between listening to their concerns and articulating your response. It would be best if you first acknowledged their cause of complaint.
There are several ways to validate a prospect's concern. Nod your head to show that you understand and agree with their point of view even if you have a good rebuttal for it. Mirror their body language and the tone of voice to sympathize with them (but don't do it if it feels unnatural).
Chris Voss, former FBI negotiator and author of Never Split the Difference, talks about the importance of repeating back a person's statement if you want to gain their trust at a negotiation table. While sales is far away from the realm of a criminal investigation or hostage negotiation, the technique of unravelling human psychology during a negotiation still applies to the objection handling situations in sales.
Never brush off a prospect's concerns as a non-issue—even if it sounds trivial to you. Instead, acknowledge their concern to confirm that you understood how they are feeling. Validating your prospect's concern is an opportunity for you to establish empathy with your customers and handle objections with maturity.
4. Ask open-ended questions
Asking the right questions is a treasured communication skill in all situations, especially if they involve a conflict of interest between two parties. When handling objections in sales, don't settle with mere "yes" and "no" questions because they aren't deep enough to probe customers' true feelings.
Instead, combine the above-mentioned techniques of listening actively and acknowledging their concern and follow-up with specific, open-ended questions. Here a few examples of open-ended questions that will get you elaborate answers from your prospects:
"You make a fair point. Can you tell us more about what specifically you are worried about?"
"I want to understand more about what you just said, and what your top priorities are at the moment?"
"I'll be happy to help you understand our pricing structure — and for that, can you please share a little bit about your use cases?
And if you are still not convinced that you have gotten to the root problem, continue probing them with follow-up questions that dig deeper —but make sure it feels like a conversation and not an interrogation.
5. Reframe the problem
In design thinking, there is a framework known as "How Might We" (HMW) questions—a technique that helps professional teams reframe a problem to arrive at new possibilities and better solutions. It helps people break out of their rational thinking patterns and look at a problem from a fresh pair of eyes. Salespeople can apply this technique to adjust the customers' perceptions about a problem.
Here's how the HMW framework works: take the problem that a prospect is expressing and fit it into a template question of HMW…? For instance, if the customer says that your product doesn't check all the boxes for them, ask them—"HMW make our product better to meet your requirements?"
The answer will encourage your prospects to be specific about their expectations and see the problem in a new light. It's simple behavioral economics that helps both parties arrive at a more logical agreement.
In response, you can either offer them neutral solutions (e.g., "May I suggest that you look at X and Y products to achieve those goals?") or come back with a counter-offer to satisfy their concern.
But I would suggest always focusing on building long term trust over short term gains. And to that effect, it's ok to even suggest your competitor's product if you feel that's a better fit in the customer's interest.
By the way—you don't always have to give them your response right away. Help prospects shift their perception while buying yourself time to make a better offer.
6. Show them the social proof
Most sales objections are rooted in the prospect's perceptions. But when you make marginal tweaks to your negotiation, the customers are often quick to change their minds. Social proof is often a great frame of reference to help you do that.
Think of social proof as something that you might encounter when you are travelling abroad. After a full day of touring the city's landmarks, you decide to break for a good meal at a local restaurant. You stand at a busy crossroad looking at two restaurants in the same block. The first one looks good but aloof, while the second one is brimming with patrons queuing outside for their turn.
Which restaurant will you choose?
Unless you are a rebel by nature, you will most likely choose the second one, even if it means you have to curb your appetite for some time. That's the power of social proof—people buy from brands that draw crowds.
Remember what we discussed about taking customers' feedback to create social proof around your brand? Social proof not only helps you address objections before they arise but also convinces on-the-fence customers to make up their minds. And if the proof happens to come from a set of people and logos they already know, it doubles their trust in your brand.
For example, if someone was buying your product for the customer success use case —wouldn't they love to see a testimonial like this?
And more importantly, make sure your social proofs don't feel like something your marketing team put up. Prospects trust customers. So keep it real.
7. Give them alternatives
Objection handling extends beyond the techniques of asking questions and shifting perceptions. Sometimes, it's about giving your customers choices to help them make informed decisions.
For example, if a prospect has objections about the limitations of your product, give them the alternative to schedule a demo session with a product expert. If they have questions about regulatory compliances, bring in experts from the legal team to clarify their doubts. If they think a subscription plan is too pricey, give them a discount on the annual subscription.
However, don't give in to price negotiations—unless you have a good reason for it. People need to see value in your product — that's primary.
Customers who expect too much of a bargain for your product are often not a good fit in the long term. Haggling on your product prices also sets the wrong precedent for others in your team. Instead of lowballing your offer, give your customers viable alternatives as a chance to see things differently without diminishing the value of your product.
8. Follow up on objections
There is a good chance that the B2B prospects you are dealing with have a buying group to consult with before committing to a contract. A diligent follow-up can work wonders in such cases—given that you have addressed all their objections effectively.
So it's best if you use an automated note taking software that not only transcribes your meeting but also takes notes with action items to follow up on.
Following up with prospects also shows that you were genuine about addressing their objections and are professional enough to reach out for another round of discussion. Check with them to understand if there are other areas they still have questions about or schedule a call to talk to other stakeholders in their team.
Remember that sales is a series of NOs before getting to a YES. Most B2B sales teams follow up on an average of five times to successfully close a deal.
Unfortunately, 94% of salespeople don't follow up with prospects after the fourth time. You can easily be in the top 6% if you follow up with customers with a legitimate need for your product.
The idea of handling objections is to transform a conflicting situation into a joint problem-solution exercise. However, objection handling doesn't always result in an amicable resolution. In such cases, it's ok to take NO for an answer.
Alternatively, you must be confident to say NO to a certain set of prospects who don't fit your bill. Handling objections is an opportunity to set a standard for qualifying good prospects and filtering out bad customer fit.