How to use better stories to overcome sales objections

During the sales process, the prospect may – and usually does – mention obstacles to getting the deal done. Reasons they might not want to do the deal. They might say “It’s too expensive,” or “your competitor has feature X that you don’t have, and we really need feature X.”

This is a normal part of the sales process. These are called “objections” and the process for getting through them is objection handling.

Objection handling is an important skill for sales people. But if that skill is augmented with great product knowledge (provided by product managers) sales take off.

Prospects may have all kinds of objections, and not all have to do with the product. A prospect might be concerned that your company might go out of business, or that there won’t be enough skilled consultants to handle their implementation needs, just to give two examples. But in this article, I focus on handling objections related to the product.

Why do prospects have objections?

To a large degree it’s not because they are mean or terrible people. There are two reasons. First, objections are used as a negotiating tactic. The prospect might want a better deal, or more services, or just to keep the sales person off balance. And having a few good objections gives the prospect leverage in the negotiation.

But the other reason, and the focus of this article, is that the prospect is working to reduce the risk of making the wrong decision.

The cost of making a wrong decision, especially when buying a business application or service, is very high. There’s the monetary cost – usually substantial for an enterprise application or system. And the change management cost of moving an organization to a new system – your system – is likely to be very high as well. If the new system – your system – doesn’t work, and doesn’t deliver the business value expected, there’s no good outcome for the prospect. At best the prospect has egg on their face. More likely, they don’t get promoted, or they even get fired. And since the business results aren’t there, the business suffers.

So, prospects do everything they can to reduce those risks.

  • They diversify their search. They look at lots of different ways of achieving the solution, including your product and the products of your competitors.
  • Sometimes they try to implement a solution themselves.
  • They might postpone the decision. After all, a known bad (the current situation) is sometimes better than an unknown bad (a new application that doesn’t work).
  • They do ROI calculations and other modeling to make sure the problem is worth solving, and that the solution is cost-effective (assuming it works).
  • They will try to get the solution for less money – this is the negotiating part – which reduces their financial risk.

But the risk mitigation we’re concerned about in this article is their product-related buying objections, and how to get the prospect past them.

The All-Important Initial Condition

There is an ethical consideration at the outset in the objection handling process. It applies to the whole selling process. And that is that you must have a good faith belief that your solution will actually benefit the prospect.

Don’t be the person who makes any promise necessary to get the business, when your solution isn’t actually a good fit for the prospect. And don’t enable your sales people to do that either!

That said, let’s get down to brass tacks.

Reducing the perception of risk

From a rational standpoint, we have one main goal when responding to a prospect’s objections – to reduce their perception of risk.

Better product knowledge, and being able to show how customers are using the product to solve their real world problems, goes a long way toward addressing these objections. If you can talk about a customer who has faced a similar problem as the prospect’s, and solved it with your solution that gives you a strong, persuasive story for reducing perceived risk.

Likewise, showing the prospect a demo of your product that shows how it addresses their specific needs is great for reducing perceived risk.

Prepping to handle objections

You can predict many product-related objections in advance. These types of objections come up in almost any sales situation. They include:

  • Competitive gaps.
  • Missing features.
  • Questions like “How does your product handle situation X?”

You can sometimes preempt objections like these upfront. Asking good questions during discovery (see the previous article) and doing a good prospect-focused demo will help reduce objections. But they’re always likely to come up.

How do you prepare the sales team for these kinds of objections? The best way is to give the sales people true stories they can tell about how other customers have been successful. For each of the expected objections, you prepare various stories based on the experiences your customers have with your product and on your various design and implementation decisions. And of course, if you have amazing features that are differentiating, you want to have stories about them as well.

Stories for objection handling

There are three key story types to develop:

  • Stories that show why a particular objection turns out to be not that important to real customers. (“You wanted feature X, but our customers who also wanted feature X have found they don’t miss it.”)
  • Stories that explain why you made a particular design decision, such as choosing not to implement a feature that a competitor has. (“Our competitors have Feature Y, but we decided that instead of putting a lot of effort into Y – which has limited use – we would focus on the much more important area of Z.”)
  • Stories that explain why a particular feature that you do have is so much more important than what the competitor offers. (“I know you’re considering one of our competitors, but make sure you ask them about how their customers handle ABC with their product. We have several customers who switched from them to us because of our support for ABC.”)

Three things you can do today

  1. Make a list of the features that you have in common with competitors – the table stakes. Generally, you won’t spend too much time talking about these or demonstrating them – everyone has them. However, if you have a table stakes feature that you do much better than competitors, develop stories about that one – about how customers are benefiting, or that industry analysts are very impressed with your implementation, and so on.
  2. Make a list of the things you do that competitors don’t (or that most competitors don’t). Develop stories about how customers chose you because of one of these features or are using this feature to enable something valuable. Perhaps they switched from a competitor because of this feature.
  3. Make a list of the features and capabilities that competitors have that you don’t. Develop reasons and stories of why you chose not to provide those or why customers don’t really get value from them. Stories about why customers choose you despite you not having those features are particularly compelling.

This brief article has just touched the surface of objection handling. I hope it’s given you some ideas and techniques for getting started helping your sales team achieve and crush their quotas!

Do you provide objection handling tools for your sales people? I’d love to hear about what you’ve done in the comments.

About the author

Your host and author, Nils Davis, is a long-time product manager, consultant, trainer, and coach. He is the author of The Secret Product Manager Handbook, many blog posts, a series of video trainings on product management, and the occasional grilled pizza.

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    • Thanks for your comment! I’m interested to hear more about how the topics in this article align or complement your work on brand strategy – could be some synergy there!

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