Chapter 7 - Handling Objections

I'm adding this note of caution to each page of my notes because the title is misleading: the author advocates a softer approach to persuasion, but his tactics are often still manipulative. In many instances he proposes a subtler form of manipulation, but one which is still manipulative. I don't expect he has bad intentions, but lacks sufficient knowledge in the areas of rhetoric and psychology to correctly identify and avoid manipulative tactics entirely.

The author reviews the steps he has previously described (creating trust, identifying the problem, promoting the solution, and conveying a sense of urgency) - all of which would be very simple if the people we wish to influence are compliant and malleable.

However, people have their own ideas and are resistant to external efforts to infringe on their lives. The natural reaction to being pushed is to push back - to object, refuse, and resist - so the author intends to devoting this chapter to dealing with resistance.

(EN: Throughout this chapter, I've had a bit of malaise in that the author denies that any objection might be valid. It's likely valuable to do so when offering training, because a green salesman is looking for any excuse to give up on closing the sale - but the problem is that it's egging them into a fight they can't win, which will do greater long-term damage to their self-confidence. It largely goes back to the failure to qualify leads and properly assess a prospective customer before initiating a sales conversation - skip that step, as the author does, and selling is tough - and success is only possible for the unethical. I'll try to refrain from mentioning this again, but it's a constant concern.)

Why People Object

As a sales trainer, the author notes that people have a great deal of "disappointment and fear" about objections, and much of the discomfort in applying influence is the social anxiety of being rejected by others. This can be addressed by taking a rational approach to understanding the reasons people object.

Loose note: bringing objections into the open and dealing with them is essential to success - and he suggests (without citing any source) that the chance of success is decreased by 24% when the other party doesn't offer any objection ... chances are they have an objection but simply are not voicing it.

Reason 1: Fear of change

People defend the status quo - and any suggestion that they do something different, even if it has the potential to be better for them - is upsetting. The way they deal with this fear is to refuse.

Few people will admit having fear of change, but instead will offer or invent some reasons they do not wish to make the change. The author dismisses these as "excuses."

This is not the first time fear of change has been mentioned - it's a significant factor in gaining trust, getting them to recognize the problem, and taking action. The author has also already discussed the solution - rather than telling them about their problems and telling them about your solution, let them tell you about their problems, and guide them to recognize the value of your solution.

People are more open to change when they feel it is their own idea, as the struggle is internal and you become their ally. Otherwise, you become the embodiment of the change itself, and remain their opponent.

Reason 2: No need

Sometimes, it is not an emotional fear of change, but a rational belief that they do not need to change. He suggests (without citing any support) that 79% of people who reject a proposal do not perceive that the issue is serious enough to warrant the cost of addressing it.

The author suggests that this is "the easiest objection to avoid" but is vague about how it can be avoided, stating merely that it "involves the various questioning techniques you have read in the previous chapters."

Reason 3: No hurry

This objection arises when the prospect concedes that he does have a problem and the value of the solution - but he doesn't see the need to do something about it right away.

For many salesman, this is very frustrating because they felt that because they won the first two points, that the sale was "in the bag." And that overconfidence is exactly the problem - the salesman tries to move the prospect to the close of the deal prematurely.

Four Steps To Handling Objections

Another problem in handling objections is lack of preparation. A salesman is overconfident and does not expect the mark to object, which is unrealistic. As a result, he has not prepared for objections and has to scramble to deal with them in an off-the-cuff manner, and does so poorly.

Objections are highly variable - you can predict some of the points in the conversation where an objection might arise, but there's always the objection that was not predicted. So while it's true you can't have a prepared response to every objection, there is a process that can be followed consistently.

Step 1: Clarify

The most important step to handling objections is to make sure that you understand them. Especially when an objection is anticipated, there is the tendency to assume that it is understood - and if you're wrong about the reason, your response will merely offend the prospect.

There is also an assumption that the reasons people are stating are lies and that they are hiding the real reason they are resisting. This is very often true - but to dismiss what they have said and to call them a liar only antagonizes them.

(EN: That's true, but there's a deeper reason: an honest person expects honesty of others, and a dishonest person expects dishonesty from others. So in effect, indicating that you do not trust another person signals them that you are untrustworthy. That's a serious setback.)

It's a common reflex to attempt to overcome an objection by providing more information to turn them around. This is also presumptuous, because you assume that you understand the objection and know what information will be effective in dismissing it. And it's particularly bad when you hammer away randomly at multiple reasons because you don't know which one is right. Unless you have correctly identified the objection, you do not know what information is actually relevant, and may be boring the prospect.

Rather than suggesting that their objection is invalid, probe at the reasons they provide and let them discover it for themselves. In doing so, it's also important to avoid sounding confrontational. The more you fight, the more they will fight back. Do not object to their objection, but seek to understand it.

Step 2: Acknowledge

There is a significant difference between addressing an objection and ignoring it - and while it seems expedient to refuse to acknowledge an objection and carry on as if it didn't exist or is entirely invalid, the objection won't go away simply because you ignore it. A terse dismissal is a sign that you're not paying attention and do not care, which again damages trust.

With that in mind, it's necessary to acknowledge the objection - to how empathy and understanding. Acknowledge that the objection is valid "based on what you know" - and leverage that as a transition in which you will provide additional information.

Step 3: Respond

After acknowledging the objection, transition to a response. Generally, a response involves providing additional information for the prospect to consider - and to let him consider it for himself and change his own mind without losing face.

The way in which you respond depends on the nature of the objection. The author insists there are only two "real" types - misunderstandings and drawbacks.

Misunderstandings are easier to deal with - you merely need to clarify. And you should present it in exactly that manner: do not say the other person is wrong or has misunderstood you, but concede that it is your mistake and that you did not explain clearly or accurately enough.

The author suggests a feel-felt-found method of correcting someone's interpretation of the information:

(EN: There's one danger in this technique, in that some people are offended when you suggest or even imply that they are acting on emotions rather than logic. You will need to read a person better to understand if this will be offensive - but if so, the same process can be used, just change "feel-felt" to "think-thought" and address the rational rather than emotional underpinnings of the objection.)

(EN: A second note is that this process assumes that there is an error in the way in which the prospect is interpreting the information - which is only one of several possible problems in analysis. There may be a problem of insufficient information, or additional information they have from other sources, or suspicion at the validity of the information, etc. It's necessary to study the cognitive process to identify the cause of misinterpretation ... and my sense is that the reason the author deals with "feelings" is he has little understanding of cognitive psychology.)

The author also assumes that this technique is "graceful" because you are not directly suggesting that the other person is wrong, but implying it by using "other people" as an example. (EN: which is manipulative in that is does not address the argument directly, but leverages the need for social validation - to make a person feel that they are inferior or abnormal if they do not agree with these alleged "other people." If a person has a psychological vulnerability, low self-esteem, or a need for approval, then this exploits those weaknesses.)

The second type of objection the author acknowledges is the "drawback," in which the prospect is attentive to the side effects and insufficiencies of the solution you are proposing.

The author obliquely suggests the "imperfect world" approach - in which you suggest that perfection is impossible and therefore an imperfect solution should be acceptable. For example, the car or house a person presently owns likely has many features they enjoy, but a few problems - and they were likely aware it wasn't perfect when they bought it.

(EN: This also manipulates people by leveraging the psychology of validation. Because you made a compromise in the past, then you are poisoned forever and must accept the same compromise as a means of validating that your past choice was correct. Refusing to accept the same compromise means that you are flawed.)

Another approach is getting the other party to consider their priorities and to recognize the relative importance of the drawbacks. Going back to the car example, a person may balk at purchasing a vehicle that meets their needs perfectly but they don't like the color. This is, or ought to be, an area in which they should be willing to compromise, recognizing it's not that important.

The author does pause to consider ethics for a change ... you must make sure that the solution you are proposing addresses their most important criteria, and the things you are dismissing as negligible really are not important at all. Once the prospect buys, their experience must bear out that the thing that you dismissed really was unimportant, or you will lose any chance of a future sale.

Step 4: Confirm

Finally, confirm that the objection has been laid to rest. While a salesman is often eager to move on and quick to assume he's done enough to address the objection, it's not gone until the prospect feels it has been sufficiently addressed - and they will not be ready to close the deal until it has.

It is best and easiest to explicitly confirm the objection has been addressed. "Have I addressed your concern?" or "Are you still feeling hesitant about this?" will elicit a clear response - and you will know whether you can move forward or need to keep working at it.

The author notes that people will often give false cues that the objection has been addressed - which is to say that a salesman who is eager to dismiss an objection will interpret a conversational signal as a confirmation (people say "yes" or "I see" or "That sounds right" as a means to show they are listening). So confirmation should be explicit - and it's better to do it twice than not at all.

Random Stuff

Having wrapped up his process for handling objections, the author rattles on a while about other topics:

Consider any question the prospect asks to be an objection. It can be a mild objection that is easily dismissed, but it is still an objection. Asking "does it come in blue?" is the equivalent of stating "I object to buying it in any other color" and is addressed by stating "it does come in blue" or convincing them the color isn't important. More complicated or sensitive questions may require a more intensive approach to overcome the objection that they imply.

The author rants a bit about saying "I'm sorry" in a sales situation when an objection arises. It's appropriate to apologize when you are genuinely at fault, but many people overuse that phrase in situations where they are not at fault - and it creates the perception that there is a problem that they are not able to overcome, and can only apologize for their failure. His sense is that "sorry" is an "empty, useless word" and that those who use it fail to address the real concern.

The Ultimate Nemesis: "It Costs Too Much!"

Price is the most frequent objection prospects raise to purchasing a solution.

Oddly, he shifts to the discussion of the total cost of ownership - which is often something that salesman want the customer to ignore because it doesn't work out in their favor. But sometimes, it does work out, and that can be an advantage.

His example is one of an electric toothbrush - which costs twenty times as much as a manual one. His dental hygienist sold him on the concept by describing how effective it is, pointing out that the additional cost of the item will save him the cost of dental care because it is much more effective at cleaning his teeth.

(EN: This isn't the total cost of ownership, but the opportunity cost of non-ownership. The TCO would include the price of the brush, replacement heads, the electricity cost to power it, etc., which is much higher than the purchase price over time. The OC is the cost that is incurred if the solution is not implemented and other costs arise as a consequence, which ideally is lower than the TCO.)

(EN: Also, this does not address the problem of product cost - and the fact that the benefits of a product are often non-monetary when selling to consumers. As such, the author doesn't really have a good tactic for countering the cost objection in most situations it arises.)