Objection Handling Tips

Don Carmichael | DFx London Speaker | Consensus DEMOFEST
Don Carmichael

Why It’s so Much Harder For Presales

Don shook things up on our Scaling Presales Webinar Series when he covered Objection Handling and Why It’s So Much Harder For Presales.

Don is the founder and Chief Presales Evangelist at Winning Skills LTD, and is a Presales coach, trainer, and keynote speaker. In his experience, he says handling objections from customers during demonstrations is possibly the toughest part of Presales.

Most salespeople get some form of objection handling training, usually at the beginning of their career. However, it’s rare for that training to be extended to SEs. Even if they get some objection handling training, it turns out, Presales need a different kind of tool to properly address the types of objections customers bring up. 

Presales professionals handle objections all the time. It’s a very healthy sign. It means the buyer is engaged and thinking about the challenges associated with implementing your solution. For those in Presales, objections carry a much greater burden than they do for salespeople. 

“We, Presales, are presented to Buyers as the technical or business expert; if an objection can be answered by showing the technology or by referencing knowledge of a case study or previous implementation, we’re expected to know it and even be able to show it.”

How do Presales Handle Objections?

“First of all, why do we get objections? In one sense, it’s a very healthy thing to get an objection. It’s a buyer exploring the challenges and the obstacles to change the thinking through the risks. But they’re engaging with us; they’re not doing this privately. They present an objection so they’re surfacing their fears in a good way because now we get to address them in the moment.”

Presales can’t escape dealing with objections because they’ve been introduced as the technical, the business, and the domain expert. You’re supposed to know all the answers; you’re supposed to be able to demo anything.

“Unfortunately, we’ve been introduced to someone who can do it, who does know the answer, and who can demo anything if there’s a way to demo it. Responsibility expectations are much much higher for us and makes things like objections much more difficult for us to handle because we’ve got to think through what would happen.” 

To properly enable buyers, you have to prioritize the most critical objections. You want to practice the best response and make sure you’ve prepared all your supporting materials. Things like support videos, case studies, handouts, and FAQ databases smooth out the buying journey. It’s absolutely worth the time to put lots of effort into creating these materials. 

And once you have a repository of tools, you can send them to your champion to equip them to deal with the most common objections before the demo. If you don’t have any of these materials already, this may represent a slight change from your normal responsibilities – almost something more similar to what marketing does – requiring you to create the content that you can send to your champion ahead of time to enable them to deal with objections.

Most objections shouldn’t be a surprise to you. You should anticipate the objections that are going to come up and have a plan to answer them. Remember, as a sales engineer, you’ve got all of the technical chops, the business knowledge, the domain and value chops, and the communication skills to actually create these materials.

Common Objections You Can Prepare For

There is no one size fits all list of objections that work for every organization, but there are multiple objections that are so common they seem to show up everywhere.

“I can’t possibly know specifically what your top five objections are in your particular technical area, but I can guess the top four.” 

  1. Pricing – In the past, this objection was something Presales could potentially avoid dealing with. SEs would talk about anything with a client until it came to money and then the salesperson would step in to cover pricing. That’s starting to change. 
  2. Pain of change – Customers will have concerns about speed of implementation, learning curves, and all the other disruptions that come with beginning in new software. 
  3. Competition lead objection – This is any objection that was coached by your competitor. You can often tell by the specific language they use. This type of objection tells you a lot about who the customer is engaging with.
  4. Objections based on customer review – Sometimes, current customers will bring up their own objections on customer review sites. These objections are in plain sight as buyers are doing their independent research. You need to be aware of what objections are raised by these sites and have methods in place to address them if they come up.

Handling Objections with PIIITCH

Don created a tool called PIIITCH™ (Pause, Interest, Intent, Implications, Tell and Check), to help SEs deal with objections. If you’re using this process, you can’t use parts of it. You have to use the whole thing.

“It’s a methodology, a process, for handling objections. In the world of buyer enablement, objections are thought of as a good thing. Stressful, but a good thing.”

Pause

This step is about managing your flight, fight, or freeze response. We’re all human and our bodys’ automatic reaction is to protect us from threat and danger. Objections are a stressful situation, so give yourself time to manage your emotions and calm down before responding. 

Don’t take the objection personally. These are never personal objections. They’re common things customers think about when considering a new solution. Give yourself time and space to think before you react. 

Be silent, don’t interrupt them. Give the customer a chance to speak first and they may volunteer some additional information. If you leave a gap, the person who brought up the objection might add on a bit more interpretation to their objection. If you’re lucky, someone else from the client will add their perspective to the situation, especially if that objection has multiple layers. 

How long you pause depends on multiple factors. The most common recommendation is pausing for 3 to 5 seconds. That might work for some situations, but it actually depends on geography and the personality of the customer. There’s a lot of geographies and cultures where you could get away with closer to 8 seconds. 

You may have to do some testing to figure out what works best. Try pausing with a colleague and see for yourself how long it takes before the conversation gets weird. Get used to pausing even if it’s uncomfortable. Learn to be comfortable in silence. It’s really important that you do. 

Interest

Show interest in what they’ve just said. Be genuinely curious about what they’ve said, show empathy, practice active listening, and be willing to learn more. Don’t jump straight into what you think the answer is. You want to start a conversation that could be as simple as saying, “That’s interesting. Can you tell me more about this?”

This is where you should break out your empathy and listening skills to dig deeper. Find out what they actually said and the context of this question. This will help set the stage for the next steps of this process. 

When you’re empathetic and genuine, you can learn so much. Don’t fight back against an objection because you won’t win. The client will entrench themselves further into their opinion. It’s all about understanding the objection. Where is the customer coming from; what’s their perspective? 

There are some interesting and important techniques that some people use at this stage like mirroring. Mirroring can show comfort, trust, and build rapport. Another technique is to repeat back the keywords from the objection. If the customer has an objection about how complicated the software looks, say, “Can you tell me more about why it looks complicated?” 

Be mindful that you’re not simply parroting back exactly what the customer said. If all you do is just echo the objection back, you’re not adding any value to the conversation. Using the exact words back to them can lose rapport and trust for the buyer. 

It does work, but the challenge with this is it takes a lot of training, a lot of work shopping, and coaching to be really comfortable with these techniques so it’s not obvious what you’re doing. It’s better to speak naturally and remember this stage is about showing empathy and being genuinely curious about the client’s situation and viewpoint.

Intent

Intent is all about digging beneath the objection and figuring what the customer is really asking. Many people haven’t fully thought through the objection, so you can use this as an opportunity to guide the conversations to figure out the real issue they’re attempting to solve.

The real problem here is figuring out who’s asking the question, what’s their position in the company, is this somebody who’s going to be a user, and determining what their perspective is. Is this someone who would be using this tool or someone higher up the organization who’s thinking about training needs? 

Trying to see through their eyes and use that to help guide you to what they want as a response. Each different level will have different value propositions and personal priorities. Their personal value proposition might be, “Do I still finish my day at 5:00 PM to pick the kids up from kindergarten?” 

Implications

Implications is where the conversation changes from being something that a salesperson could use to a proper technical selling. This is the part of PIIITCH that’s the hardest; this is where you need to think about 100 miles an hour faster than you’re talking or listening. 

This stage is unique for people in a technical selling role because implications are all about what you can do to resolve the objections, what will happen next, and what you can offer? This doesn’t mean you simply counter or answer the objection. This is what you should be thinking about the whole time from the point they said the objection through the other stages.

Depending on how you answer the objection, the customer may want you to demo that concept right away. You have to be careful with this. Some people think if you can demo something, you should every time. There are scenarios where you should, but it depends on how that demo will affect the rest of the meeting and agenda. 

You should be respectful of your customer’s time and never let a demo overrun. You have to allow time for next steps at the end of the discussion to create the sales velocity. You should also only demo things that are pertinent to the personas who are in that meeting. It doesn’t make sense to review user centric information when you don’t have user stakeholders on the call. People are going to lose interest. 

You can still address these objections when they come up, but you should find creative ways to handle them outside of the meeting. Think through what you already have prepared to counter the objection. You might say something like, “I know your time is precious. Can I send you a 90 second automated demo that explains all this in an email later this afternoon? I’d be very happy to handle any questions you might have after you’ve seen it.” 

Tell 

Tell is how you respond to the objection now you’ve gone through the other stages. What’s going to happen next, what can you offer, what resources do you have, and what do you have time to cover right now? 

There are some really interesting techniques you can use at this stage. One is called “Feel Felt Land.” You frame the response in a way that shows you understand how they feel. In essence, “Many of our other customers felt the same way, but what they found was this.” 

Don’t get caught using the words “feel, felt, found” since many people know this technique and could lose trust if the language feels forced. Instead, say, “What other customers realized was minimal training was needed. Our customers say the user interface is actually quite intuitive and there is a pop-up mini video help at each stage. Almost all our customers were up and running and being productive within an hour or so.” 

Check

Finally, you absolutely must check you actually answered the question. Do not move on until you’ve checked and receive a positive answer. This is missing from quite a few objection handling techniques. If there’s any doubt that you have answered a question, stop, apologize, and go back to the interest stage. That’s the point of checking. Use phrases like, “Perhaps I wasn’t listening carefully enough and didn’t understand exactly what you were saying. Can you explain your question again?”

If after the second time going back to interest and working your way through again you still haven’t answered the question, just stop. At that point, there’s been some kind of communication issue that won’t be resolved in the time remaining in your meeting. Perhaps set up a one to one call or offer to send other material to help clarify things after the meeting.

Presales Objection Handling in Action

To illustrate how this technique looks in practice, we put together a script showing an SE handling a simple objection. In this scenario, the customer is Head of Business Transformation at an energy company and runs a large IT department. 

The Customer: Can I stop you there? That looks really complicated to me.  

*pause for 5 seconds*

SE: That’s a really important question. Can you please tell me a little bit more about that? 

The Customer: I personally haven’t used tools like this before, so I’m a little bit worried about the complexity. There’s just an awful lot going on on that screen. 

SE: I understand. Can I ask, is your major concern how long it will take your team to be productive using the schema builder? 

The Customer: Right. To get a workable return on investment, we need to be up running and productive as soon as possible. We have a long backlog of developments we need to build out on our platform. 

SE: I completely understand. Yes, this is urgent. Yes, you need people to be productive as soon as possible, so I understand how you feel about this. Many of our other customers felt the same way when they first saw this schema builder, but what they found was that the user interface is really intuitive. And the fact that it’s integrated into the platform meant that it was a huge improvement on their current data modeling tools. You know, they had multiple tools to do the same thing, so we have our world famous trailhead training courses. There’s context sensitive help inside the tool and even mini pop up videos at each stage. Almost all of our customers were up and running and being productive within an hour or so. I’m just thinking, and we’ve got a video where a couple of our customers talk about the training experience and how long it took them to master the tools. Could I send that video to you straight after this meeting?

The Customer: Yeah, that would be great! 

SE: So did I answer the question? 

The Customer: It did thank you. 

After the objection was first raised, the SE paused, showed interest, and took time to understand the customer’s intent. While this was happening, the SE was thinking about what resources they have, what other customers felt the same way, what constructive answer could they make. They were also thinking about  the customer’s position at their company. They’re not going to be a user of this tool, so the intent there must be something else. The SE explored that and discovered the real concern is actually more to do with the training investment. Once the SE was done with their explanation, they asked if that fully answered their question before moving on.

Using this method, you’ll be able to anticipate common objections and have content built to deal with them before they come up. Crowdsource this responsibility. Do an internal poll to figure out your top five objections, go through existing content to see if you have materials already built to handle them, then feed those your champions well before any meetings. Remember, the champion can only sell as well as you prepare them to sell.