The Discipline to Ask
Asking is the most important discipline in sales. You must ask for what you want, directly, assumptively, assertively, and repeatedly. Asking is the key that unlocks:
- Qualifying information
- Leveling up to decision makers or down to influencers
- Information and data for building your business case
- Next steps
- Buying commitments
In sales, asking is everything. If you fail to ask, you’ll end up carrying a box full of the stuff from your desk to your car on the way to the unemployment line. Your income will suffer. Your career will suffer. Your family will suffer. You will suffer.
When you fail to ask, you fail.
There Is No Silver-Bullet Objection Slayer
For as long as salespeople have been asking buyers to make commitments, buyers have been throwing out objections; and, as long as buyers have been saying no, salespeople have yearned for the secrets to getting past no.
Salespeople are obsessed with shortcuts and silver bullets that will miraculously deliver yeses without the risk of rejection. This is exactly why so many of the questions I get about dealing with objections begin with: “What’s the trick for…,” or “Can you tell me the secret to…,” or “What words can I say that will get them to say yes?”
Let’s get this straight from the get-go. There are no silver-bullet words that will slay objections and stun prospects into submission. Everything in sales begins with and depends on the discipline to ask.
How to Ask
There are three keys to asking
- Ask with confidence and assume you will get what you want.
- Shut up!
- Be prepared to deal with objections.
THE ASSUMPTIVE ASK
Assuming, when you ask, that you will get what you want is a mindset of positive expectation. This mindset manifests itself in your outward body language, voice inflection, tone, and the words you choose. The foundation of the assumptive ask is your belief system and self-talk. When you tell yourself you are going to win and keep telling yourself so, it bolsters your confidence and expectation for success.
When asking for what you want, confidence and enthusiasm are the two most persuasive nonverbal messages. When you lack confidence in yourself, stakeholders tend to lack confidence in you.
You must develop and practice techniques for building and demonstrating relaxed confidence and purposeful enthusiasm even when you feel the opposite. Even if you must fake it because you are shaking in your boots, you must appear relaxed, poised, and confident.
The hardest part of asking is learning to ask and shut up. When you’ve asked for what you want, you’ve put it all out there and left yourself vulnerable to rejection. What happens when you feel vulnerable? You try to protect yourself.
After you ask you must shut up! Despite the alarm bells going off in your adrenaline-soaked mind, despite your pounding heart, sweaty palms, and fear, you must bite your tongue, sit on your hands, put the phone on mute, shut up, and allow your prospect to answer.
BE PREPARED FOR OBJECTIONS
Your ability to handle and get past objections is where the rubber meets the road in sales. It’s were the money is truly made.
You’ll learn a new psychology for turning around objections, a set of frameworks that flex to virtually any sales situation, and proven techniques that work with today’s more informed, in control, and skeptical buyers.
Types of Objections
There are essentially four types of objections you encounter in the sales process
Time is the hardest ask in sales. People are crazy busy and see little value in spending time with salespeople. Through a combination of reflex responses, brush-offs, and objections (RBOs), they do their best to get rid of you. Prospecting objections are the most frequent and feared objections for salespeople, occur at great speed, and can be especially harsh
A red herring is an irrelevant topic or issue that gets introduced into the conversation by a stakeholder and diverts attention from the core agenda. It can be intentional or unintentional (usually the case). A stakeholder, early in the conversation, will throw out a red herring—sometimes to challenge you, sometimes because they don’t know what else to say, sometimes because it’s their habitual behavior pattern, and sometimes because they have a valid concern or question.
Throughout the sales process, you’ll ask stakeholders for next-steps and micro-commitments. These small steps and actions keep your deals moving through the pipe. Likewise, they test the voracity of your stakeholder’s engagement.
Asking for and getting micro-commitments and consistently getting to the next step accelerates pipeline velocity. Deals with forward momentum have a higher probability of a win and a lower chance of stalling.
Buying Commitment Objections
When you ask people to make buying decisions—sign contracts, hand over credit cards, issue POs, switch vendors, and accept your proposal—you are going to get objections.
You’ll deal with price and budget objections, timing objections, status-quo objections, need to talk it over with my boss or committee objections, spouse objections, buying authority objections, competitor objections, need to think it over objections, need and fit objections, and terms and conditions objections, among others.
Objection Turnaround Frameworks
Here is the bad news. If you are looking for a book that is going to tell you exactly what to say, you might want to take this one back for a refund now.
Buying is an emotional experience filled with stress. Stakeholders are overwhelmed by options, misinformation, and the endless “me-too” claims of each salesperson they encounter. They are frustrated with the complicated, cluttered, and at times chaotic sales and buying process. The penalty for making bad choices can be severe.
In many cases the buying process itself is initiated by a trigger event that disrupts the status quo and creates pain, discomfort, dissonance, and the urgency to solve a problem. Yet, even in the face of urgency and dysfunction, people will procrastinate to avoid conflict, change, risk, and the unknown.
They’ll hide behind smoke screens, need to think about it, consider other options, fixate on price rather than value, get other people involved, and avoid you.
It’s important that you come to grips with the fact that you are dealing with emotional people who are driven by their subconscious cognitive biases. Objections are inherently emotional, and you must first deal with objections at the emotional level before you can introduce logic.
To be successful in getting past no, you must develop poise, confidence, and emotional control. You will need to master a set of objection frameworks that help you breakthrough resistance, move past objections, and get to yes.
Overcoming Prospecting Objections
Prospecting is essential that you avoid overcomplicating this process. You need turnaround scripts that work for you and sound natural coming from your lips. They need to make you sound authentic, real, and confident. Keep them simple so that they are easy for you to remember and repeat. They don’t need to be perfect, and they won’t work every time; but, you need scripts that give you the highest probability of getting a yes.
Here are some examples:
Prospect: “We used you before and had a bad experience.”
Sales Rep: “Nancy, that’s exactly why I called, because I want to grab a few minutes of your time to learn exactly what happened. How about we get together next Wednesday at 3:00?”
Prospect: “We’re not interested.”
Sales Rep: “You know, that’s what a lot of my clients said until they learned how much I could save them. Look, we don’t even know if my service is a good fit for you, but wouldn’t it make sense to get together anyway and find out? How about Friday at 2:00?”
Prospect: “There’s no way we can afford you.”
Sales Rep: “That’s exactly the same thing my other clients said until they learned how affordable we are. All I want is an opportunity to get to know you a little better and show you how we have helped so many other businesses in your same situation reduce and manage risk without increasing expenses. How about I come by on Tuesday at 11:30?”
Prospect: “We do this in house.”
Sales Reps: “That’s exactly why I called. Most of my clients have in-house programs and they choose to work with me because we complement what they are already doing. I don’t know if we’d even be a good fit for your situation. So why don’t we get together, I’ll show you how I help my other clients in your industry, and we can make a decision from there whether or not it makes sense to keep talking. I’m free Monday at 2:00.”
Overcoming Red Herrings
The term red herring is thought to originate from the practice of dragging a dead fish across a trail to pull hounds off the scent. And this is exactly what happens to salespeople who abandon the objective of their call to chase a red herring.
Red herrings often seem innocuous—just simple statements or questions:
“Look, before we go any further, I need to know that you aren’t too expensive.”
“You need to know that we are not going to sign a long-term contract.”
“Just so you know, we’re not buying anything from you today.
Red herrings are essentially walls that stakeholders erect to protect themselves from being taken advantage of by salespeople. They’re often part of the reflexive buyer script. In some cases, though, red herrings are conscious and direct challenges designed to take you off your game and test your mettle.
When you get a direct challenge from a prospect that revs up the old fight-or-flight response, remain disciplined and manage your emotions and response. Because stakeholders respond in kind, instead of becoming defensive, argumentative, or angry, leverage noncomplementary behavior to flip the script. Respond in a relaxed, calm tone; acknowledge the issue; and take control of the conversation.
rule of thumb with an early objection is to ignore it and not talk about it again unless my stakeholder brings it back up.
Overcoming Micro-Commitment Objections
The good news is micro-commitment objections are rarely harsh and, unless you totally bombed, are rarely outright rejection. They’re usually in the form of:
“My calendar is really full, so why don’t you just call me next week and we’ll set something up.”
“Why don’t you just e-mail your (proposal, prices, information)? I’ll look it over and give you a call.”
demonstrating the value of scheduling the next step. This begins with managing your emotions. You must come off as professional, relaxed, confident—as if agreeing to your next-step request is routine.
To do this, you’ll leverage a three-step process
- Explain value
The purpose of the ledge statement is to give your logical brain the millisecond that it needs to catch up and gain control of the disruptive emotions caused when the stakeholder rejects your next-step request, allowing you to regain your poise.
Ledge statements include:
- “That’s exactly why I asked.”
- “That makes sense.”
- “Many of my clients felt the same way before…”
Turning around micro-commitment objections should be relaxed and routine. After all, what you are asking for is low risk, reasonable, and makes sense. The stakeholder just doesn’t understand why moving to the next step matters.
Once you explain the value in a way that they understand, they’ll agree to the next step. It really is that simple.
Once you’ve explained the value of your micro-commitment request, ask again. Do not wait for the stakeholder to do your job for you. Do not hesitate. Don’t allow an awkward pause. Ask confidently and assumptively for the next step. If you don’t ask, you’ll lose the next step.
Overcoming Buying Commitment Objections
When you ask for the sale and get an objection, disruptive emotions hit you like a ton of bricks. You feel like you’ve been punched in the gut.
It’s easy in this moment to view your stakeholder as an adversary or attempt to prevail in an argument. The outcome, though, pivots on your ability to gain control over your emotions, guide the conversation, and influence your stakeholder’s emotions.
This is accomplished through the Five-Step Buying Commitment Objection
- Isolate and clarify
- Fall back to an alternative
The first step of the buying commitment objection turnaround framework is stepping into the shoes of the person or people who’ve given you the objection and simply relating to them and their point of view, human to human.
Here are some examples:
Buyer: “Your prices are high compared to your competitors’.”
You: “I get how you might feel that way. They sometimes do seem a little higher than our competitors’, and no one wants to pay more than they should.”
Buyer: “I’m worried that you don’t have enough capacity to take on our business.”
You: “That’s a valid concern, and if I were in your shoes, I’d be asking the same question.”
Buyer: “We’re not going to be your biggest customer; how do I know that you won’t forget about us as soon as we sign the contract?”
You: “It sounds like this has happened to you before. You should never have to feel like your business isn’t important.”
Buyer: “I’m going to need to think about this a little more before moving forward.”
You: “I get that. With a big decision like this, it makes sense to take some time to think it over, so you know you’re doing the right thing.”
The most destructive behavior when dealing with objections is the pump and pounce. This is the tendency to pounce on the first objection on the table without knowing if it is the only objection, the real objection, or the most important objection.
Isolating reveals the true and pressing concern. For example, sometimes when you isolate, you’ll find that the first objection was just a smokescreen:
You: “With a decision this important, it certainly makes sense that you take time to consider all of the ramifications. Other than this, though, what else is bothering you about our proposal?”
Buyer: “I just heard from our current vendor that we are facing a significant cost to make a change. Your proposal is already more than what we are paying with them, and I’m not sure I can justify to my boss why making a change is worth it.”
Stakeholders are not always clear or straightforward with objections. Sometimes they express a concern one way—“your price is too high”—but mean something else—“the subscription for the software is reasonable, but I don’t see value in the professional services fee for setting it up.”
In other situations, they want to avoid conflict, so they throw out an objection they feel will shut you down and end the conversation quickly: “I need to think about it” or “We’re going to take a little more time to explore all of our options.”
Never, ever assume you know what your stakeholder means; always clarify. When you assume, you lose context. You sometimes introduce an objection that didn’t previously exist. You make mountains out of molehills. Or, you miss the real objection altogether.
Here are some examples of clarifying questions:
“I’m just curious. When you say our prices are too high, what does that mean from your standpoint?”
“What are some of the things your boss is going to want to know before she can move forward?”
“When you say you’re concerned about our delivery times, how do you mean?”
people are naturally averse to risk, cling to the status quo, and avoid change—even when it is in their best interest to change.
It would be easy to just tell your stakeholders that they are acting on emotion rather than logic; but alas, you cannot argue other people into believing that they are wrong. You cannot talk a person out of an objection or concern. People choose to accept your proposal and do business with you for their reasons, not yours.
Minimizing is the process of reducing the emotional size of your stakeholder’s objection while maximizing the value of your proposal by reminding them of their pain, desires, wants, needs, and opportunities, reminding them of what they have already agreed to (the yeses you’ve collected) and showing them a brighter future.
Here is an example of minimizing after the buyer asks for more time to think about it:
You: “You explained that you need to have your Phoenix office online no later than April. Did I get that right?”
Buyer: “Yes, that’s the commitment we gave the Board.”
You: “You also told me that you needed a comprehensive communication system in place on day one. Your number-one worry was making sure your vendor of choice had the capacity to get everything in place and tested on time.” [Pause to allow him to fill in the silence.]
Buyer: “Absolutely. We cannot miss this deadline. Everything needs to be in place, including getting video conferencing set up in every conference room.”
You: “I walked you through a plan that you said was the most comprehensive you’d reviewed yet.”
Buyer: (Nods in approval.)
You: “I remember you saying that we were the only company that delivered exactly what you asked for.”
Buyer: “That’s true, but I just need a couple of more weeks to evaluate everything.”
You: “I totally get that. With no room for error, you’ve got to get this right. Here’s what worries me though. It’s going to take 60 days to get this project fully implemented. We’ll need a team of 10 people to complete the project on time.
“Once we agree to move forward, it’s going to take around 30 days to pull the team together, and we’ll need to order the equipment as soon as possible to avoid backorders that could complicate installation.
“Tomorrow, we are exactly 90 days out from your deadline, and we’ll still need go through the legal offices on both sides with the agreement. If you take two weeks to evaluate, I don’t see how we’ll be able to commit to the plan I gave you. Would it be possible to push your installation deadline out by two or three weeks?”
Buyer: (Rubs his temple and shakes his head.) “No. This deadline is unmovable.”
You: “This means we can’t afford to push this off one more day. We’ve given you an implementation plan you agree is the best for your project. You agreed that our equipment met your quality standards, and when your users piloted our software, they rated it higher than other platforms you tested. All the ducks are in a row, and we will make your deadline. Is there any reason not to move forward?”
Buyer: “You make good points. I guess not. What’s our next step?”
Once you’ve minimized your stakeholder’s objection, you must ask again for their commitment. Don’t hesitate. Don’t wait for them to do the work for you. Ask confidently and assumptively for what you want.
You: “Based on these numbers, it doesn’t make sense to wait, so why don’t we go ahead and get this started?”
Buyer: “I agree. What are our next steps?”
If you wait for your stakeholder to do the job for you, the status quo will come crawling back in, and you’ll end up with another “I want to think about it.”