Sales and Sales Management Blog

February 5, 2015

Objection? Buying Signal? Maybe Neither–Maybe You’re Being Put Under the Microscope

A few years ago I wrote an article titled “How to Take the Sting Out of the Price Question Early in the Sale.”  In the course of the article I argued that it is natural for a prospect to ask about price–and often to do so too early in the sale, before the seller has had an opportunity to create real value for the prospect—because price is one of the factors prospects use as they seek to qualify the seller and the purchasing opportunity.

In response to that article I received numerous emails and comments from salespeople and sales leaders that they had never thought about the idea that the prospect is qualifying them and their offering at the same time they are trying to qualify the prospect.

Yet the prospect’s qualifying the seller and the seller’s value/solution is the crux of the whole sales process.

We are all familiar with the concepts of qualifying the prospect, investigating needs, developing a solution and creating real value for the prospect, overcoming objections, and the other aspects of making a sale.  All of these concepts are views of the sales process from the seller’s perspective.  These are the constructs that we as sellers tend to concentrate on.

We then view the prospect’s questions as either worrisome objections that are nothing but a smokescreen or are out-n-out buying signals.  For many of us, the questions and actions of the prospect are either those of an enemy or those of someone telling us they are ready to buy.

What if neither of those choices is true?

What if all of those questions and the statements by the prospect, instead of being obstacles to our sale or indications of their desire to consummate the purchase, are simply questions and statements to help them qualify us and our offering? 

What if they are doing the same to us as we are doing to them?

If that is the case, then that means we’re neither dealing with an enemy to be overcome nor are we dealing with someone asking us to close them.  Instead we’re dealing with a human being who wants to know whether or not we’re trustworthy, whether or not our offering is appropriate for them, whether or not we’re wasting their time.

In other words, they are in the process of qualifying us just as much as we’re qualifying them.  When we qualify a prospect we ask questions and probe to discover who we’re dealing with and what we might be able to do for them.  When we’re asking questions we’re not trying to play the ‘gotcha’ game.  Most of us aren’t trying to trap them into a sale.  We’re honestly seeking information that allows us to know whether or not we are in front of a real prospect with a real need that we can help solve in a way that produces real value for them.

The prospect is going through the same process with us.  Whether they are conscious of it or not, they’re trying to determine whether or not we are someone they want to do business with, and then, whether or not our product/service/company presents any real solid worthwhile value for them.

The traditional terms sellers think in—overcoming objections, closing the sale, etc.—tend to set up an adversarial relationship where we are on the lookout for the dreaded objection and the opportunity to pounce with the closing question.

However, if we recognize that the sales process involves both parties qualifying one another and that the qualifying process involves the investigation and questioning of each party, we can relax and begin to address the prospect’s questions for what they really are—a legitimate desire to find out who we are and whether or not we are someone they want to work with.

Go forth and qualify—and let yourself be qualified.  It’s a whole lot more fun to sell when you’re working with a prospect to mutually qualify one another than it is to try to out fox and overcome an adversary.

 

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May 31, 2011

How to Take the Sting Out of the Price Question Early in the Sale

“So, how much will it cost?”

“What would something like this run me?”

“We have a very limited budget.  I don’t want to waste my time.  What’s your fee?”

“Sounds to me like you’re talking about a lot of money.  Before we go any farther I need to know what kind of money we’re looking at.”

We’ve all heard these questions or a million other variations of them.

They always seem to come way too early in the conversation and always at an inopportune time.

The fact is that no matter what you’re selling, the price of your goods and services is always a primary concern to your prospects. Whether you like it or not, price is top of mind with the majority, if not all, of your prospects.  If it isn’t, you might need to question just how serious your prospect is since price is always an important part of the equation when contemplating a purchase.

The fact that prospects are concerned about price isn’t a surprise and it really shouldn’t be a big deal—except it so often comes up before you’ve had any opportunity to establish the value you bring to the table for the prospect, and price without value equals a no sale.

The price question presents you with a serious dilemma:  how do you honestly answer the question of price, yet at the same time save a detailed conversation about price until you have had the opportunity to build the value in your product and service that justifies its price?

The early introduction of the price question seems to put you in a position of having to choose between two rules of selling that appear to be antithetical to one another at this point-1) always answer your prospect’s questions honestly and directly, and 2) never discuss price until you’ve built value in your product or service.

Fortunately, you can honor both rules.

The key to addressing the price question is understanding why the question is asked in the first place.  Many salespeople see the price question as an objection; it isn’t.  It’s an honest question by the prospect who is trying to determine their interest level in your product or service. 

Just as you are trying to qualify your prospect, they’re trying to qualify your product or service, as well as qualifying you, and one of the major qualification questions they have is price.  They’re simply asking the question too early, before they have sufficient information to determine whether your product or service justifies the investment.

The easiest way to handle the question is to give the prospect a direct answer and then bridge back to your investigation of their wants and needs to build value.  Depending upon the product or service you’re selling, your answer to price may be specific-“This truck is twenty five six fifty four”-or general-“depending upon your specific needs we find when we do the needs analysis, the complete instillation of the software and training can range from a few thousand dollars on up into the low to mid five figures,” or, “Frankly, Jack, at this point I really don’t know because I don’t know what needs to be done, if anything, but I can tell you that the investment can range from just a few thousand dollars on up.  But it depends upon the scope of the work to be done and we’ve still to determine that.”

Your statement then needs to be immediately followed up with a question to bridge back to investigating their needs to help you build value.

In the truck example above you might then ask, “Will you be pulling a trailer often, or just on occasion?”  In this example your full statement would be, “This truck is twenty five six fifty four.  By the way, will you be pulling a trailer often or just on occasion?”  You’ve answered your prospect’s question, but you then lead them back into a discussion of their needs, which will help you determine what vehicle will best meet their needs, give you information to highlight the features of the truck that will meet those needs, and the benefits of those features that will give value to the price of the truck.

In the software example, the full statement might be something like:  “Well, Nancy, depending upon your specific needs we find when we do the needs analysis and the modules you need, the complete instillation and training of the software can be anywhere from a few thousand dollars on up to the low to mid five figures; by the way, what other applications do you run that our software will have to be integrated with?”  Again, you’ve given an honest answer to the price question since at this point you don’t know what the package will cost.  Instead of trying to answer an impossible question, you’ve given the typical cost range and then followed with a question that will put the conversation back on track of investigating your prospect’s needs, allowing you to gather the information you need to build value in your product before you get into a serious price discussion.

In the third, the consulting example, the full statement might be: “Frankly, Jack, at this point I really don’t know because I don’t know what needs to be done, if anything, but I can tell you that the investment can range from just a few thousand dollars on up.  But it depends on the scope of the work to be done and we’ve still to determine that.  What do you think has been the cost of the shipping department’s logjam that has extended shipping time by almost two days?”

Price questions need not create problems for you or for your prospect.  Price is a natural concern for the prospect, but knowing a price without understanding the real value of the product or service is meaningless.  Your job is to answer your prospect’s question and return the conversation to a point where you can build value for your prospect, so they can appreciate the price in context of value.

If you refuse to answer the price question you run the risk of insulting or angering your prospect-not to mention the damage you do to your credibility and trustworthiness.  But if you begin a serious discussion of price before you’ve had the opportunity to build value, you ask your prospect to make an investment without having a basis to determine whether the investment is justified.

May 5, 2010

Book Review: Crush Price Objections by Tom Reilly

Price.  We salespeople are always thinking price because we think our prospects and clients are always thinking price. But we’re not really thinking about price, we’re fearing price.  We’re always looking for ways to take price out of the equation, which for most of us means trying to figure a way to come in with the lowest price.

Tom Reilly argues in Crush Price Objections: Sales Tactics for Holding Your Ground and Protecting Your Profit
(McGraw Hill: 2010) that not only do we need not fear price, but that for the most part price is an issue only because WE make it an issue.

Reilly opens the book with his “ten realities that shape the landscape of selling a price-sensitive environment.”  Here is a taste of Reilly’s realties:

#1  You Will Hear Price Objections

#2  You Will Lose Business Because of Price

#5  Some Price Objections are Fake

#8  Salespeople Create Their Own Misery

#10  Attitude Drives Behavior

Although I’ve only given half of the 10 realities, you should have an idea of where Reilly is going based on these 5 alone.  Despite the fact that you’ll lose business due to price, you alone are the key to overcoming and successfully selling your products and services without blowing your profit margin. 

Chapter after chapter hits on why we sellers are more often than not the creators of the price objections we hear, or as Reilly puts it, “price objections are self-inflicted wounds.”  To bolster his argument, Reilly gives the results of business-to-business buyer priority studies which have consistently indicated that cost is not only not the top buyer priority, it has never been one of the top 5 issues for buyers in any study his company has done.

OK, so price may not be the killer we sometimes think it is—if we know how to deal with it.  So, how do we deal with it?

Fully 70% of the book is dedicated to giving you the tools, techniques, and strategies necessary to defeat price objections.

Reilly really does take a comprehensive approach to dealing with price objections from helping you to mentally prepare to handle them, to understanding your buyer’s motivation, to questioning techniques to probe for potential price issues, to helping your buyer look beyond the immediate price to the long-term value of your solution.

Reilly argues that to successfully deal with price objections, one must have an operating philosophy from which to work and to create a price philosophy, you have to work from a set of principles that will guide you in dealing with pricing issues. He then lays out a set of 15 price principles.  A smattering:

#1  Someone Else’s Opinion Does Not Make Your Price High

#3  No One But You Cuts Your Price

#7  Preparation Is the Key to Your Success

#9  Never Assume Your Price Is Too High: Maybe the Competition Is Desperate

#12  First, Buyers Test Your Price, Then They Test Your Resolve

#14  Salespeople Cut Price Because They Can

These principles, along with the other 9, are the framework within which you determine how to address price.

Although having an overarching philosophy founded on a set of principles for handling price objections sounds great, there is still the very practical issue of HOW to deal with an objection. 

Reilly doesn’t leave you hanging. He sets out a four step method of dealing with objections as they arise:

1) clarify the objection
2) classify the objection
3) decide how you will respond
4) respond to the money objection.

According to Reilly, price objections can be classified as price-based money objections, cost-based money objections, value-based money objections, game-based money objections, and procedural-based money objections.  Understanding what type of objection you’re dealing with is key to understanding how to deal with it.  A third of the book is devoted to laying out strategies to deal with each of the above five money objections.

If you’re dealing in the business-to-business realm and finding price to be a thorn in your side, get Crush Price Objections—it really will help you hold the line more often, even if you deal in a product or service that is becoming commoditized. 

If you sell to consumers don’t think this isn’t going to help you also because it will.  Many of the same strategies used in business-to-business sales are just as applicable to consumer sales.

Don’t continue to let price objections destroy your pipeline and/or your profitability. 

Crush Price Objections: Sales Tactics for Holding Your Ground and Protecting Your Profit

April 28, 2010

Snakes, Scorpions, Gila Monsters and Objections: Handled Correctly None of These are Deadly

Living in the desert means living with some pretty nasty neighbors such as rattlesnakes and scorpions, and although they aren’t in my desert, not that far away is another desert resident, the Gila Monster.  All of these are venomous, and although rare for the scorpion and Gila Monster, under the right circumstances they can kill a human.  Fortunately, for us who live with these creatures there are specific actions we can take to prevent them from harming us and our families. 

Also present in my desert—and in your area, no matter what area you work in—are objections to our efforts to sell.  Like snakes, scorpions and Gila Monsters, objections are also venomous; but unlike the scorpion and Gila Monster whose bite is seldom lethal, objections are mass murders, killing tens of thousands–probably millions–of sales every single day.

Despite the fact that objections are deadly for such a massive number of sales, like the poisonous creatures above, objections need not be deadly if we simply learn how to prevent them from harming our sales.

A few lessons from how we handle poisonous creatures can be easily and successfully applied to handling objections:

  1. Keep the objections away.  Our primary defense against our venomous neighbors is to anticipate the environment that would attract them and to then create an environment that would discourage their presence.  We keep our lawns mown and gardens weeded not just so our home looks good, but to prevent unwanted creatures from having a place to hide.  They hate being out in the open where they can be easily spotted and attacked by their enemies.

    We do the same with objections by creating an environment that discourages them.  We anticipate the typical objections we get and weave into our presentation the answer to the objection before it is asked.  Just as we whack down weeds before they become problem areas where a snake or Gila Monster can hide, we whack down objections before they have a chance to grow into an issue of real consequence.

  2. Don’t let the objection linger.  Once we notice there is a problem—we spot a rattlesnake or a scorpion nest—we take immediate action.  We don’t let it stick around.  Our question is never “do we address it” but “how do we address it.”  Do we need to call in a professional or can we handle it ourselves?  Do we need to kill it or find a way to move it somewhere where it—and we—can live safely? 

    An objection demands we do the same—acknowledge its presence and take immediate action.  And just as we must decide how best to deal with our unwanted neighbor, we must decide how most effectively to handle the objection.  Do we answer it fully now or explain that we will address it later at a more appropriate time?  Whether we address it now or move it to a later time, we must let the prospect know we understand the objection and that we will in fact address it fully.  If we let it linger without acknowledging it, we may as well take its poison and inject it directly into our veins. 

  3. Address the objection and probe for others.  When we find an unwanted visitor around our home, we not only have to eradicate it but we have to do a thorough search to make sure there aren’t any more around.  At times we may be tempted to reassure ourselves that the one scorpion was all there were and we don’t have to bother with a detailed search.  If we don’t make sure we got them all, we’re only setting ourselves up for a whole boatload of trouble a little later. 

    It’s the same with objections.  To bastardize Woody Allen in Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, “these things usually travel in groups.” (ASIDE FOR MY YOUTH READERS (those under 50): the scene is a giant boob running amuck, squirting milk at everyone in its path. When Allen finally manages to trap it in a giant bra, he warns his companion to be careful because “these things usually travel in pairs.”)  Like the giant boob, objections seldom travel alone.  Probe to uncover and address objections because if you don’t, they’ll likely drown you when you least expect it.

  4. Recognize objections for what they are.  Not all lizards or snakes are poisonous.  Just because it slithers or is cold blooded doesn’t mean it is lethal.  Some of the creatures that have some resemblance to a rattlesnake or Gila Monster are beneficial and welcome in our yards.  We have to be able to differentiate between those creatures that are harmful and those that are beneficial.

    The same goes for objections because not all objections are the same.  There are certainly legitimate objections, but there are also some objections that are designed to stall or just wrangle a lower price.  We must be able to determine which objections are real and which are designed to obstruct or stall.  Asking questions so that you really understand both the objection and the reason for the objection will guide you in determining whether the objection is real or designed to stall or obstruct.

  5. Address objections honestly.  OK, OK, the analogy breaks down at this point.  We really don’t come clean with the rattlesnake that we’re about to kill it, nor do we have a heart to heart conversation with the scorpions, warning them that if they don’t move we’re going to spray their nest with poison; not because we’re heartless, but simply because we find them too similar to our children—lousy listeners, so what’s the use?

            When it comes to objections, however, we must deal with them openly, honestly, and fully.  For many of us the
            temptation is to try to hide or even deny the truth—whatever it takes to make a sale.  But doing so ultimately
           only creates an unhappy, unsatisfied client likely to tell a great many about our dishonest and unethical
           practices.

          As with all things in sales, honesty is the only real policy.  Yes, on occasion it may mean losing a sale.  But the
          lost sales will pale in comparison to loyalty and word of mouth gained by giving your clients what they seldom
         get—straightforward, honest guidance from a seller.

Objections don’t have to kill your sales, you just need to handle them way you’d handle any deadly critter—find ‘em and eradicate ‘em.  Better yet, make your presentation a place where objections can’t hide and grow.

March 2, 2010

Guest Article: “All Price Objections Are Different,” by Tom Reilly

Filed under: Objections,sales,selling — Paul McCord @ 3:01 pm
Tags: , , ,

ALL PRICE OBJECTIONS ARE DIFFERENT
by Tom Reilly

To paraphrase a famous quote from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, “All price objections are equal, but some price objections are more equal than others.” Price objections come in all shapes and sizes. No two price objections are the same.

“I can buy this cheaper from a competitor.”

“I don’t have the budget for your idea.”

“I must put this out on bid.”

On the surface, price sounds like the issue, but each of these is a different type of sales objection. Without thinking through the true nature of the objection, salespeople are left with canned responses that sound like they just returned from sales training—clever but uninspiring.

The best way to deal with any objection is to drill down on the motivation behind the objection. Ask the question, “Why?” There must be a hundred ways to ask this question. For example, you could ask,

“When you say we’re higher, could you be more specific.”

“How does your budget limit you here?”

“Please tell me about your buying process?”

Asking “why” simply means digging for the root cause of the objection. You must dig for the motive to mine the answer. The first objection, “I can buy it cheaper somewhere else,” is more likely a differentiation objection. The buyer is really saying, “Why should I pay a nickel more for your product when I don’t see a dime’s worth of difference.” Treating this objection as a differentiation objection versus a price objection means revisiting what makes your value outstanding among your peers. You get to tell your story again and hold the line on your price.

The second objection, “I don’t have the budget for your idea,” is not necessarily a price objection, it is a budget objection. The buyer does not have the money to buy your product. The problem is that the buyer’s budget is too low, not that your price is too high. Just because someone lacks the funding to buy your product does not mean your price is wrong. Maybe their budgeting process is messed up. Can you help the buyer find the money?

The third objection, “I must put this out on bid,” is not a price objection at this point. It is a procedural objection. The buyer is limited in how he or she can make buying decisions. It could be a company mandate that all purchases like your product must be bid. If it is a governmental agency, you can plan to hear this procedural objection. One way to deal with this is to ask the buyer what he hopes to accomplish with a bid that he cannot get from working with you one-on-one. Another idea is to become part of their bidding strategy. Get your product specified. Help write the specs.

The next time you hear what sounds like a price objection, drill down. Probe deeper to identify the root cause of the objection. Once you discover the why of the objection, the what is easier to deal with.

Tom Reilly is a professional speaker and author. His newest book, Crush Price Objections (McGraw-Hill, 2010) teaches salespeople how to persist when buyers resist. You may contact Tom through his website

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