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Handling Objections in Today's Tough Environment

What is a consultative sales process? And how can it help you navigate around objections?

As a longtime student in the art of consultative selling, I have little fear of the challenges that the next 12-18 months pose to those of us that make our living by selling "stuff." In fact, in a personally perverse kind of way, I relish the present economic conditions and hope to help many gain the knowledge and expertise they need—not only make it through, but to excel in what many experts are calling the worst economic period since the Great Depression.

While selling has always been challenging, it hasn't always required a developed skill set to succeed. What do I mean by that? There have been times when sales success could be had by tenacious effort or uncanny timing to offer products or services when they are either hot or are available at the lowest price. At times when demand for a particular product or service has been great, a sales professional just had to show up. I am grateful for this market in which success will once again require professionals with skills.

Today, the most successful and accomplished sales professionals are utilizing what is referred to as a consultative sales process. This process engages the sales professional with his or her prospects and clients in a true dialogue—one that uncovers and addresses business needs. Such an approach, if executed well, lets the sales professional maximize both their time and resources and provides the customer with what they want.

So, how does this work?

Let's look at one of the core skills of consultative selling, and one that really defines it as an art form: objection handling. By way of example, let's use the common objection of a child (the prospect) who objects to cleaning their room. The common response we hear is "Why do I have to?" The parent (salesperson) responds, "Because I said so." There is no data to offer with regards to the percentage of time this approach works…but I can tell you that at my house, after a few quality minutes with my kids and a consultative process, those rooms are clean.

Though a simple version of a sale, the point is that there is an effective way to get what you what and have everyone win. Here is what that the discussion might sound like with and without using objection handling skills:

Without objection handling skills

"I noticed that your room is pretty messy and needs some attention."

"Oh Dad, it isn't that messy."

"Yes it is, and it needs to be clean."

"It's not that messy, Dad. I want to watch TV and then go to my friend's house."

"That's great, but your room has to be cleaned. Don't you like having a clean room?"

"I don't care—you can clean it if you want."

"It's not my room. It's yours, so I think you should clean it."

"But…"

This could go on and on without ever coming to agreement. The likely conclusion is, "No more discussion. Go clean your room because I said so."

With Objection Handling Skills

"I think we need to make some time for some house chores."

"What do you mean?"

"I noticed that your room is pretty messy and needs some attention."

"Oh Dad, it isn't that messy."

"It's interesting you say that. Let's go look at it together."

"Oh, come on Dad. I have things to do today."

"Understood—I have lots to do today, too. Let's hurry and take a look so you aren't late. What part of your room would you say isn't messy?"

"Well…"

"If you were to make your bed, put clothes in the hamper, empty your trash, and place books and toys back on the shelf, do you think that would make your room cleaner?"

"Yes."

"Do you see any benefit of having the room cleaner?"

"Well, I guess it would be easier to find stuff, but I don’t really care."

"I know it doesn't feel very important to you. Let me ask you something: How long do you think it would take you to do those tasks?"

"Not long, I guess…about 10 minutes."

"That's what I was thinking, too. You know, having clean rooms is important to your mom and me. And as you said, it would be easier to find your things if the room was cleaned up. How about taking 10 minutes right now so that, when you get home later, your room will be clean for you? That way, Mom and I will also feel good about how the house looks."

"I guess so."

Mastering the Objection

Objection handling as an intellectual concept is easy enough to understand. To earn your Master's in this skill, however, requires a deeper understanding and an ability to execute under pressure. It requires the salesperson to utilize several skills at once: Profiling, questioning and the actual process for handling the objection. Let's take a look at each skill and how they combine to make a compelling argument for whatever it is you are trying to sell.

• Profiling is all about understanding your audience. It allows you to individualize your approach and deliver your "argument" in language that they can relate to. Profiling lets you determine what is important to the prospect so that you can establish value in your offering, whatever it may be.

• The only way to get this valuable profile information is to ask good questions. Effective questioning is all about uncovering what the prospect wants and why they feel the way they do. It is about getting them to verbalize what they care about. Remember that adage about assuming? Well, that definitely applies here. Don't assume that you understand until you hear it first hand; then and only then are you on your way to overcoming that objection.

You may not always get 100 percent of what you want, but using this process and becoming a master in the art of consultative selling will make you laugh in the face of a challenging economic climate—or at a minimum, you can get your kids to clean their rooms.

Robert Keller is managing partner at A Fluent Vision, LLC (a sales infrastructure consultancy) and director of A Fluent Vision Sales Institute, LLC (a New Jersey-licensed vocational sales institute).