Objections

Yes is the New No.


Nobody says no anymore.  But then again, nobody really has to.

Much of the lore and literature of sales has the seller managing the objection, tenaciously staying in the conversation and turning the no into a yes.  But most sellers today wouldn’t even recognize this kind of mano-a-mano customer interaction.

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First, most buyers effectively use technology to keep the seller at a distance until the time and circumstances of their choosing (like the very last minute when they need you to quote a price).  They hide behind RFPs, email, voicemail and other means of high tech cloaking.  If this was combat, the buyer would be operating a drone, far from the battlefield.  Most sellers have rather mildly accepted the terms of this new relationship and are paying the price for it now.

But even when they do get face-to-face or voice-to-voice time with the customer, sellers end up taking no for an answer … because the no sounds like a yes.

This is really exciting stuff.  We look forward to working with you guysTranslation:  I say this to everybody.  It’s a lot easier than arguing over merits or suitability. And you probably won’t ask too many questions. No one does.

We’re getting budget and direction soon and we’ll make sure you get the RFP.  Translation:  Sure, we’d send an RFP to a ham sandwich.  It doesn’t even cost us a stamp.  Knock yourself out slugger. You’ll never know if we’ve never read it.  In the meantime, ignorance is bliss.

Be sure and see my agency with this.  Translation:  If it was really something I cared about, I’d stay with the deal.  Let them be the bad guys.  There’s zero upside in me rejecting you directly.  I might need you someday.

Let’s get a master services agreement in place. Translation:  That should keep you occupied for a while. We pass out MSAs like free thumb drives. I’m not going to bother telling you that it won’t move a single dollar and that the hard work is all still ahead and it’s all on you.

Will you send me a proposal on this?  Translation: This is the 21st century version of ‘send me your media kit’ and ‘I’ll keep your information on file.’  I’ll ignore it later.

There’s zero upside for any customer to communicate a negative outcome.  At best, they’re inviting an argument and at worst they’re causing their team more work.  You’ve got to ask and then ask again.  You’ve got to stay in the conversation just as it’s starting to get uncomfortable.

Yes is the new no.  And you can’t take yes for an answer.

 


It’s Not You, It’s Them.


Often the most profoundly true things about sales are deceptively simple.  Yet they can seem maddeningly elusive.  Like this one:

The answer to why they should buy from you can’t be about you.  It has to be about them.

Sure, we all believe in customer-centricity and starting with the needs of the customer and all that.  We just don’t act on it.

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When a customer won’t see us, or when they raise an objection or say that we’re not right for their needs, the first reaction of most sellers is to say something else about their own company.  If they’re not buying us it must be because they just don’t know enough about us!  We then tax our internal research and marketing teams for more stats and slides and research tables that amount to a collective “Are too!”

The answer to why they should buy from you can’t be about you.  It has to be about them.

This is a point in the sales process when we need to fight our own impulses to answer the objection or win the argument.  If it’s the late stage of a transactional sale, it’s too late for this to work anyway.  They’ve made up their minds and telling them they’re wrong or that they’re making a mistake will only piss them off and ruin your next chance.  Instead, it’s time to ask yourself a couple of important questions:

What is truly unique about this customer’s business or marketing situation that we can really help them with? How can we not just win some of the business but actually make their situation better?

Instead of telling yet another fragmented version of your own story, you’re telling theirs.  You’re offering them a meaningful, thoughtful exception to or extension of their own strategy.  It’s a better response to being told you’re not getting the business.  And it’s a better basis on which to pursue it in the first place.

The answer to why they should buy from you can’t be about you.  It has to be about them.


Objection! Objection!


Technologies and publishing models change.  But sales objections are forever.  And this post from December 2014 is evergreen.

Objection ObjectionA couple of years ago in this space, I wrote about objections that we hear from buyers. More accurately, the post was about the statements that sound sort of like objections that we hear from non-buyers – those who have no intention of doing business with us, and who frankly just don’t want to face another option or have another conversation. I call these Scarecrow Objections.

This morning I want to add another bit of language to the canon: Objection of Interest. I’ve just started using this term in sales workshops and it’s proving valuable. An Objection of Interest is a (1) legitimate question or issue that’s (2) raised by a customer genuinely interested in a commercial relationship with you and (3) has the authority and means to advance the deal.   An Objection of Interest is like the bridge to a sale: if you can cross this, we can continue down the path together.

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The Scarecrow Objection, on the other hand, is not a bridge at all. It’s a parachute that allows a disinterested or non-qualified buyer to eject from the conversation. They’re not going to volunteer the fact that they’re not really interested: why would they? So they ask us rote questions about minute differences in technology or policy. Or they tell us they need a case study to prove a point. And sometimes they simply put us off with vague promises of later consideration – an RFP which leads nowhere, a buying cycle that never materializes.

My advice is to measure any objection or issue you hear from a potential customer against the 1-2-3 test outlined above. If you think it fails to meet two of the three standards (or if it does not meet the second one alone) then you’re looking at a Scarecrow Objection.   Do not waste time and energy uncovering facts or chasing down details and case studies: those are hours of your life you’ll never get back. Instead, simply qualify the objection: “If we could successfully solve that issue, would you then make the recommendation to fully invest with us?” On rare occasions, you’ll transform a Scarecrow into a legitimate Objection of Interest and create a new opportunity to sell. More often your “buyer” will show her true colors and the conversation will melt into a puddle of non-commitment.  I hope these ideas help you avoid the costly, pointless exercise of debating with a Scarecrow.


Bridge or Parachute?


A couple of years ago in this space, I wrote about objections that we hear from buyers. More accurately, the post was about the statements that sound sort of like objections that we hear from non-buyers – those who have no intention of doing business with us, and who frankly just don’t want to face another option or have another conversation. I call these Scarecrow Objections.

This morning I want to add another bit of language to the canon: Objection of Interest. I’ve just started using this term in sales workshops and it’s proving valuable. An Objection of Interest is a (1) legitimate question or issue that’s (2) raised by a customer genuinely interested in a commercial relationship with you and (3) has the authority and means to advance the deal.   An Objection of Interest is like the bridge to a sale: if you can cross this, we can continue down the path together.

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The Scarecrow Objection, on the other hand, is not a bridge at all. It’s a parachute that allows a disinterested or non-qualified buyer to eject from the conversation. They’re not going to volunteer the fact that they’re not really interested: why would they? So they ask us rote questions about minute differences in technology or policy. Or they tell us they need a case study to prove a point. And sometimes they simply put us off with vague promises of later consideration – an RFP which leads nowhere, a buying cycle that never materializes.

My advice is to measure any objection or issue you hear from a potential customer against the 1-2-3 test outlined above. If you think it fails to meet two of the three standards (or if it does not meet the second one alone) then you’re looking at a Scarecrow Objection.   Do not waste time and energy uncovering facts or chasing down details and case studies: those are hours of your life you’ll never get back. Instead, simply qualify the objection: “If we could successfully solve that issue, would you then make the recommendation to fully invest with us?” On rare occasions, you’ll transform a Scarecrow into a legitimate Objection of Interest and create a new opportunity to sell. More often your “buyer” will show her true colors and the conversation will melt into a puddle of non-commitment.

I’ll talk more in a future post about how to open, pre-close and collaborate with the customer when you’re facing a legitimate Objection of Interest. (If you want to hear sooner, drop me a note.) But in the meantime, I feel good in helping you avoid the costly, pointless exercise of debating with a Scarecrow.


Suffering is Optional.


Man Sitting In ValleyEveryone who spends time in sales ends up hitting the wall eventually.  Things feel stuck:  prospects don’t seem to be listening and buyers definitely aren’t buying.  The seller feels as if he’s swimming through Jell-O.  It’s at this point that I’m often brought in to work with sales teams.  Perhaps you’re in that place even as you’re reading this?

Any sales situation is really just an extended set of variables:  (1) price, (2) included features and services, (3) decision maker, (4) value rationale and (5) available funds.  It’s pretty much impossible to change an outcome – to unstick an account or a deal – without changing one or more of the variables.

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But when facing the wall, far too many frustrated sellers choose struggle over change; under stress, they cling ever more tightly to the familiar moves, the known patterns.  The solution, they irrationally believe, is in simply working harder; putting more of your back into it.  But this makes as much sense as repeating the same English words more loudly and clearly to someone who speaks German or Farsi and expecting them to suddenly comprehend.

OK, so what I’ve written so far is only mostly true.  Sometimes a pressured seller will try to change variables 1 and 2.  Slashing price or throwing armloads of “added value” at the deal might open things up a bit.  But the effect is shallow, temporary, unfulfilling and ultimately unprofitable.  You may convince your company to provide more goods and services for less money, but you’ve also trained your buyer that either (a) your deal wasn’t worth your initial asking price or (b) you’ll go even lower next time.

No, it’s variables 3, 4 and 5 that you really need to change.

(3) Decision Maker:  Whether out of fear or habit, the seller often sticks with the same non-responsive buyer relationship.  Bringing new decision makers into the mix seems hard, and dangerous.  But only by putting in the work and taking the risk does she shift this variable and open the account.

(4) Value Rationale:  Too often we go into the sales discovery process without a strong point of view on the value we deliver and – more importantly – how to measure it.  Instead we simply ask the buyer about their metrics and ROI yardstick and dance to their tune.  But there’s nothing wrong with telling a customer “we’ve both been looking at this the wrong way.”  Heck, I’d argue that you’re doing them a service.

(5) Available Funds:  The dirty little secret is that lack of available budget has never prevented a qualified decision maker from buying something he really wants to buy.  When you hear “our budget’s gone” it means “we just didn’t want your product badly enough.”  Suggest alternative budgets or build an argument for going back to ask for a budget increase.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Pressure is inevitable.  Suffering is optional.  And if you’re the one changing the variables in your deals, you’ll suffer a whole lot less.