In sales, we are confronted with objections, pretexts, and conditions day in and day out. “Sales 101,” I hear you say. True. But my point is: Do you really know how to distinguish these three? Even more importantly, are you able to identify them in a negotiation? And do you know how to react in each case? I believe that this is where many sales professionals can up their game.
Understanding the Differences
A condition is an objective, measurable, reasonable, and understandable factor that describes the demands made on your offer. If you're building a house and the building code for your subdivision only allows for black roof tiles, then despite the many shades of red tiling your hardware store carries, you simply won’t buy any from them, not even if they’re giving them out for free. The condition is: Roof tiles must be black.
A pretext is an emotional reaction from your customer regarding your offer. Out of fear or diplomacy she employs a contrived argument to reject your offer. Every pretext is an objection in disguise. For example, your customer may claim that she currently does not have the budget to buy your product. If this is a pretext, then there are other motives at work. If, in fact, it isn’t really a question of budget, then the customer will come up with yet another pretext as soon as you try to address the first one by offering financing or leasing options, for example.
An objection is a subjective argument against your offer. It can arise from information about the product, or it is an indication that the offer is incomplete, missing, or misconstrued. But one thing is clear: A customer who raises an objection is in no way a customer that you are about to lose. On the contrary: An objection is proof for the fact that the customer is considering your offer. Whomever considers an offer is showing interest, and eliciting interest is half the battle.
How to Deal With Conditions and Pretexts
As far as conditions are concerned, you will not be able to make any significant changes. A customer who is looking to buy a tour bus will not buy a convertible even from the best salesperson around, unless perhaps as a second car.
Pretexts cannot be neutralised, and you shouldn’t attempt to do so. A customer who employs a pretext is doing so as a defence mechanism. If you should try to strip the customer of this pretext, you will leave her exposed and embarrassed. Use a series of questions instead to find out what the underlying objection really is.
The easiest way is to start a question such as, “Assuming budget was not an issue, then you would...”
Allow the incomplete question to hover noncommittally for a moment, and the ball will now be in your customer’s court. She might then play the ball right back, saying, “Then I wouldn’t buy it either.”
To which you would say, “Then there must be another reason for this, and that is...”
Finally, the customer shows her hand: “Well, it’s that your product doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to its durability.”
And there you have it. That's how you manage to coax out the real objection without embarrassing the customer. Objections are something you can work with.
Objection Handling: Play Where the Puck is Going to Be
Here comes the hard truth: Objection handling is a lot of work. It is something you learn as you would a foreign language. It takes weeks, months, or even years. A top sales professional learns his terms, expressions, phrases, and arguments by heart.
Starting out as a young salesman I thought my gift of gab would see me through this process naturally. I thought, “I’m my own person, and I can rely on my own ways of doing this.” Wrong. There is just no way around learning and memorising these techniques.
But don’t be misled: The goal here is not to cram in as many phrases as you can and reel them off to your customer. Rather, the aim is to enrich your sales arsenal to such an extent that with any customer, in any possible situation, confronted with any imaginable objection, you are armed with two or three fitting and well-suited answers at your fingertips. Fitting and well-suited here means relative to the situation, the customer, and your own personality.
It's just like former NHL player and head coach Wayne Gretzky used to say, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”
By Martin Limbeck, international sales authority and sought-after keynote speaker, dubbed 'The Porsche of Sales.' With his best-in-class German Sales Engineering approach, he helps sales professionals seal more deals. Martin has trained and inspired audiences in twenty-one countries for more than twenty years. The Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) has been honoured as Top Speaker of the Year 2014, International Speaker of the Year 2012, and Trainer of the Year 2011 and 2008. He teaches at Reutlingen European School of Business, Steinbeis University Berlin, and St. Gallen University, and is the author of several bestsellers, including NO Is Short for Next Opportunity: How Top Sales Professionals Think.