Mismanaging Objectionsby Alice Alessandri and Alberto Aleo
We have reached the fourth appointment with the misadventures of our Nightmare Salespeople. This time we want to discuss how NOT to handle objections, i.e. requests for further information that may sometimes appear as customer disapproval, after we have presented our offer. “Are you sure that the information you provided is correct?”, “My friend bought it and was really disappointed!”, “No, I’m sorry, but I heard that’s not true …” are some of the questions and reactions that, if handled badly, can block the negotiation. This is most likely to occur if we failed to be effective at the presentation stage explained in the previous post. Managing objections is a very delicate moment, the stage at which the difference between an ethical and a nightmare salesperson is most evident. Let’s look at the typical errors that you may make.
Too much, too soon
A typical mistake that nightmare salespeople make when dealing with objections, is to fall victim to their personal prejudices and fears. By focusing on their own desire for confirmation or anticipating possible weak points, they may forget about the actual person with whom they are dealing. The astonished customers will find themselves attacked for opinions they have not expressed, or receive a premature or exaggerated response at the first sign of indecision. This happened with the car dealer who, after presenting the model we were interested in, became upset when we asked, “What colours are available?”. Perhaps he feared a negative reaction, but ours was a simple and legitimate question. As a nightmare salesperson, his aggression impeded him from correctly assessing the situation; indeed, he made things worse by adding “Now don’t start making too many difficulties, eh! I already said this car is only available in black.” He was afraid we would have a problem about the colour and to be on the safe side, he tried to stop us raising any objections; what he did not know is that we would have happily chosen black. At that point, however, we no longer liked the seller.
A quick method to ensure that an objection will degenerate into an argument, is by trying to convince the customer that your viewpoint is the only correct one, namely that you are the custodian of absolute truths. This attitude often causes salespeople to deny the evidence or to modify it, to avoid accepting that the customer may be right in raising such an objection. A few months ago, we received a call from a service centre informing us that some spare parts had come in for our vacuum cleaner. We thus went to the store, only to discover that the spare parts had not yet arrived. The customer service clerk, to whom we complained about our wasted journey, answered “It’s impossible you got a call from us, we never ring customers about such things.” We were left speechless, and returned home empty-handed. Just a few days later, the clerk called us again:
“Good morning, your spare parts have arrived”
“Are you sure? Because last time we came all the way to the store for nothing”
“Impossible, we never call our customers!”
“So how should I interpret this call?”
Her answer? She put the phone down on us!
That’s your own problem
Another incorrect technique used by many nightmare salespeople when trying to counter or respond to objections, is to inform customers in detail about issues in which they have no interest. If you strive too hard to explain why it is not possible to satisfy certain requests, you end up eliminating any possible solution. The salesperson’s hope is that the customer will say “you’re right, my request is unreasonable” or “oh dear, there’s really nothing you can do”. Perhaps some customers will react kindly to your dilemma, but if you find no solution they will not make a purchase, and generally you have bored them with unnecessary details. A clear example of this mistaken technique was a very long email sent from a computer company to its customers to explain why it would no longer deliver within 24 hours. The mail started with details about the company’s relationship with suppliers, then moved on to warehouse management before discussing trade union problems, and it concluded with a hypothetical dialogue in which a customer’s request for prompt delivery was counterargued. Result: most customers realized that, indeed, the company could no longer deliver on time and thus changed supplier. Too bad that this outcome had not been foreseen! In fact, the company turned to us because inexplicably this awareness campaign, which should have reduced objections, had actually reduced the company’s sales and customer base.
Customer objections may be of different types, and the techniques for handling them must vary in accordance. Remember in any case that a customer who raises an objection is a good customer. Their questions, even when they are presented aggressively, often indicate that there is a genuine interest or a need for reassurance that we might interpret as “I want to go with you, but I still have some doubts, please help me understand.” If you look at objections in this way, you are bound to avoid statements such as “it never happened” or “you’re wrong: all our customers are satisfied” – responses that will instantly bring you into conflict. Anticipating objections, choosing attack as the best form of defence, or foreseeing negative outcomes, will only worsen your ability to handle objections. Instead, reassure your customers by putting yourself in their position; this is the only way you can advance in the circle of trust and progress towards a positive conclusion of the deal.
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