How to read your buyer’s mind: handling the real objections

Objection handling is taught in every sales school, and we all have to deal with objections throughout our lives – from difficult customers to our nearest and dearest. I learned early on that an expressed objection was often not the real issue, and sometimes the individuals negotiating didn’t even realise what their underlying objection really was.

Often we hear “it’s too expensive”, when the price isn’t the real issue but there is something else worrying the buyer. They want to slow the sales process or buy some time to resolve those other worries.

Buyer’s priorities change during the purchase cycle. This is taught in several sales methodologies, and makes sense when it is explained. However, unless we are aware of this change we are in danger of handling the wrong objection.

Let’s take a simple example to illustrate this. Imagine we are planning to buy a new family car. Budget is important, but specification is more important initially. We need a large car for our growing family, a spacious boot for the dogs and four-wheel drive because our house is on minor road which is not cleared in winter. Our requirements are the number one priority.

Then we look at alternatives. We we check features and options, read reviews, take a test drive and spend most of our time looking at the products that match our requirements. Are the cars reliable? Do they have good reputations? Risk is starting to become important too, but price has been pushed way down the list because we are selecting alternatives within our planned budget anyway.

Finally we have made a decision – a Volvo XC70 in my case. However, I am now about to part with my hard-earned money. Am I doing the right thing? It is a big investment. What if the tax on 4x4s increases in the Budget? Will our dog trash the upholstery? When technology changes, will we still be able to plug in our devices? At this point, lots of worries come to the surface. We need reassurance, not price discounts or additional glitzy options thrown in.

This diagram illustrates the buyer’s changing priorities over time very nicely.

The cycle is very similar in B2B purchases. I have negotiated many large software contracts and met more objections than I can list, but many of them were either about risk or a smokescreen to cover a concern about risk. The best way of uncovering the real reason is to simply ask, and keep gently probing. Price won’t have been a surprise, they will have known the ball-park figure up front. They wouldn’t have invested their time evaluating a solution if it was going to be too expensive. If the objection is about price, use the opportunity to get all the real concerns out onto the negotiating table.

If you can tease out a list of final concerns, it is then worth asking which is the most important. By reading the body language you can usually home in on the real worry, which is very probably – “Am I making the right decision?” If you can find ways to make that a no-brainer “Yes”, then you have an agreement.

Good luck!

Neville Merritt