Handling objections and tough questions – it’s useful to distinguish

Handling objections and tough questions

Sales training programs usually spend time introducing models for handling objections and drilling sales reps on ways to handle the most common ones heard in their sale.

In addition to objections sales reps also face tough questions from customers who are simply skeptical. So, how can sales reps effectively handle these tough questions? Recently we came across an article by Steve Martin containing some good ideas about that – we added some of our own.

  • Clarify the question first. Just like when handling an objection, make sure you’re clear as to what the actual question is before answering it. The best ways to do this is to rephrase the question and repeat it back to the customer for verification before answering. Another technique is to ask the customer for more explanation before answering the question. Without clarification, we’ve seen too many sales reps answer a different question than asked because they really didn’t understand what the customer was asking.
  • Share your credibility. Integrate into your answer that you have had experience tackling this question before.  Customers want to do business with a company that has knowledge about the challenges the customer is facing, not just the products being sold. Stories, metaphors, and analogies allow sales reps to communicate that expertise and experience by example – in an understandable, interesting, and persuasive manner.
  • Don’t make assumptions. Leave the buzzwords at the door – you can’t assume the customer is familiar with them. And if there are multiple people involved in the sales call, briefly provide the necessary background so everyone understands your perspective.
  • It’s also how you say it. It’s not just what you say when answering a question, it’s how you say it, too. Sales reps should remain positive and not confrontational. It’s okay to disagree with someone – but not to be disagreeable.

As Martin notes, every question customers ask has an ulterior motive. They may want to validate a bias, throw you off track or simply get some information. That’s why you shouldn’t be too eager to answer or say yes to every question you are asked.

The first step is to quickly theorize why the question was asked. Then formulate your response strategy to demonstrate your industry and business expertise in order to command respect. Most importantly, maintain your composure at all times.  In many cases if time is taken you can prepare your answers in advance to protect yourself from uncomfortable questions about your products, company, and competitors. It is just as important to plan how to answer what will be asked, as it is to plan what you want to say.

Although many of the ideas for handling tough questions are similar to those for handling objectives, the customer’s motives are not identical – it is useful to distinguish.

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©2012 Sales Horizons, LLC

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About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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