How many of the following have you heard when presenting your products and services to a prospect?

  • “I’m just shopping around / I’m going to talk with some other financial advisers”
  • “I’m happy with my current financial adviser”
  • “I’m too busy to talk to you”
  • “I’ve already taken care of that”
  • “I want to think it over”
  • “Call me back in six months”
  • “Leave me some literature”
  • “I’ll have to talk to my wife/lawyer/accountant/other financial adviser/dog/imaginary friend Harvey, the seven-foot invisible rabbit”
  • “Sorry, I’m not interested”

Objections are the sales profession’s version of death and taxes. They’re inevitable, nobody likes them, but nobody’s figured out a way to prevent them from cropping up. You’ve heard all of these and more besides. How do you respond to them?

  • Do you fold up your tent and quit?
  • Do you argue with the prospect and—inevitably—lose the business?
  • Do you flounder, not knowing the appropriate response?
  • Do you offer a scripted response from a training manual, and then flounder because the prospect isn’t following your script?

Nobody likes rejection and no sales professional likes losing a sale. And so, even experienced professionals don’t always handle objections appropriately, even common ones they’ve heard dozens of times before.

That’s why there is a mountain of materials out there on overcoming objections. If you read all the books, take all the seminars, order all the training kits, and one thing is certain: you’ll be so busy you’ll never have time to go out and experience—and answer—an objection in the real world.

And it’s not as if that mountain of advice is solid gold. Most sales coaches aren’t financial advisors and their advice isn’t necessarily translatable into your specific perspective. And naturally, the quality of that advice differs widely.

Strategy and Tactics

There are two broad aspects to dealing with objections: it’s fair to call them strategy and tactics. Strategy is the art of gauging how to deal with an objection, i.e. how to deal with the prospect; it’s where your experience as a sales professional comes into play. Tactics is the art of knowing what to say in response to a specific objection; it’s much more susceptible to scripting. Strategic

Principles

As for strategy, if you were to climb through the mountain of material about objections, broad consensus emerges on two principles :

  1. When a prospect makes an objection, be glad: he’s really asking you to sell him;
  2. The stated objection isn’t always the real objection.

There’s truth in both of these principles, but don’t just take them at face value; a little probing beneath the surface will reveal that they boil down to two golden principles that lie at the heart of selling: You need to prepare and ask questions.

Rule #1: Don’t Fold: An Objection is a Hurdle to be Overcome, Not the End of the Process.

Fact is, objections are part of sales life. And that, it is said, is a good thing. If there’s an objection, the person is listening. There’s a dialogue or potential for one. It’s up to you to make it happen. As they say, the ball is in your court. The fact that you got there in the first place shows that there’s at least minimal interest in hearing what you have to say. Nobody allows a sales presentation to happen if they are not at least thinking about buying.

An objection is a hurdle to be overcome, not the end of the process.  When it arises, you may be justified in kicking yourself for causing it (see discussion below), but it’s not a “No.” If you answer the objector’s concern, you can close the sale—at least you have a chance. If you walk away, you don’t have a chance.

Rule #2: The Objection Voiced Is Often Not the Real Objection

Often the prospect doesn’t want to tell you the real reservation. Therefore, it’s part of the art of selling to find out whether the voiced objection is the real one. Never just assume it is. And if it isn’t, it’s your job to find and resolve the real one.

Rule #3: Deal with It (Here’s How)

So when you get an objection, independently of any script you may have prepared, you should be thinking along certain patterns.

Listen carefully to the objection. Ninety percent of selling is listening, especially here. Be sure the prospect has expressed the objection fully before you begin speaking.

Express agreement.  There’s something to be said for every objection. Never, argue with a prospect. If you suspect the stated objection is not the real objection, you can also use that agreement to get at it such as “I hear you saying X, but when clients tell me X they sometimes mean Y—is that possibly true for you?”

Isolate the real objection.  Ask questions and listen carefully.  It’s useful to repeat what the prospect is saying in your own words until you are both sure you understand what’s being expressed.  Pay special attention to the feelings the prospect is expressing.  Bear in mind how much of selling is emotional.

Make sure it is the only real objection. Ask if there are any other issues and use confirming statements.

Answer the objection. How you do it is up to you, but here’s where your preparation comes in. At the end of your presentation the objection should be completely resolved, so that you can lead to the close

Rule #4: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!

If you apply the guidelines set forth above when you encounter an objection, listening with empathy and bringing your sales professionalism to bear, you should be well equipped to resolve the objection and move to the close. But how much better if the objection never arises in the first place because you’ve anticipated and answered it. You should always be prepared; but that means being prepared for objections as well as with the substantive details of your presentation.

Rule #5: Ask Questions, Ask Questions, Ask Questions!

Back in the 80s a psychologist named Neil Rackham wrote a still best-selling book entitled Spin Selling in which he took several contrarian positions about overcoming objections.  One was that objections are more often created by the seller than the buyer.  However, this is the situation he had in mind.  The seller is so intent on his pitch that he hasn’t asked the prospect enough questions to get at the prospect’s needs and desires.  So he mentions a selling point that has nothing to do with those needs and desires—and draws an objection..

When you’re trying to sell your services, always remember this ironclad rule: talk only about what prospects or customers are interested in. Selling isn’t about convincing anyone of anything. It’s about helping clients get what they want or need.

The moral is clear. Ask the prospect questions! Learn about his goals and how you or the product you are selling can contribute to them. Respond to the needs the prospect expresses, not those the script has him expressing. Be prepared to throw away the rest of the script!

Six Common Objections

As has been mentioned, a number of objections are so common as to be predictable.  That means you can prepare for them.  The following is just a sampling to get you started.

“I want to think about it”

The first thing to note is that this is never really an objection. The client hasn’t contradicted anything you’ve said. “I want to think about it” is always and obviously a stall. The client has objections—but either really does want to think about them, or doesn’t want to state them to you now. Either way, this is the paradigm case of not stating the real objection.

This means that your primary goal is to get to the real objection.

How do you respond to the stall?

Most importantly, note that this is an important decision worth thinking over; you’d be thinking it over yourself. At this point ask if the prospect will be thinking it over with anyone else. That is, is he the sole decision maker? In this way you’re not letting the prospect melt away, but you aren’t subjecting him to overpowering pressure either.  You’re inviting him to engage in a dialogue, in which you will be getting at his real objections.

“I want to shop around”

That’s a generic sales formulation; in the financial services context it might mean “I want to see if I can get a better deal on this product somewhere else. This isn’t really an objection, and there might or might not be some real objection underlying it. Empathy is the response that’s called for here, because no matter what the case, this is something you would say yourself.

If you are selling a product to a client:

Immediately agree that shopping around is sensible, and then ask about the features the client wants to shop around for. General sales coaches unanimously advise doing your homework and having your product comparisons ready, so that the customer can shop around right there. This might not be as practicable for financial products: it may not be as easy to collect the data on financial products as for cell phone contracts, but to the extent it’s possible, it’s worth doing. But the main point is to ask good questions and elicit concerns you can answer. When you’ve isolated the concerns, confirm them, and answer them.

If you are selling your services to a new prospect:

Agree even more emphatically that the prospect will benefit by talking to other advisers. Stress, as you would if the prospect had expressed complete satisfaction with his current team  that nobody has a monopoly on good ideas.  Then stress how a relationship with you will add substantial value.

“I’ve already taken care of that”

Some prospects may indeed had the basics—tax and estate planning, life insurance, retirement planning—”taken care of” before they met you. And yet, there’s an answer to this all too common prospecting objection. It lies in asking good questions designed to show how you can add value through innovative planning strategies that reveal issues other planners have not even recognized, let alone taken care of.

“I’m happy with my current financial adviser”

When you get this response you must immediately flatter the prospect on his excellent choice of adviser and praise the adviser’s excellence.  On no account must you disparage either.  Even the best advisers, however, are unable to cover every base or unearth every idea that might help their clients.  Therefore, you’ll proceed by asking good questions designed to reveal just how well the prospect’s current adviser has taken care of his most important concerns—the questions you would ask any prospect, really. This is where knowledge is power. The more you have the deeper you will be able to probe.

Don’t fold when the prospect says he’s satisfied with his current adviser, but probe to see to what degree that’s true and where you can offer better advice and service. That’s what you’re there for.

“Call me back in six months”/”Give me some literature”

These are not just stalls: they’re polite ways of saying “No,” just a step up from “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.” Note, however, that they should only arise in a cold calling situation. You should never hear these expressions from a referral.  Is there anything you can do?

  • You can, if you judge the occasion to be right, ask the prospect what will change in six months so as to make action more timely then rather than now, when it’s much more likely that the sooner he acts the better.
  • You can offer to provide literature on anything he likes, but stress that financial products only make sense in the context of a plan, and a plan can only be formulated after fact finding about the prospect’s financial and life goals he may not yet have clearly articulated even to himself.

You didn’t qualify your prospect well enough. You missed a decision maker. That person has to be persuaded. You have to do your presentation all over again with him present this time. Before you do, secure the prospect’s approval first. Then arrange the meeting. Make sure everyone who needs to be there is there. Then make your presentation again.  Don’t leave it to the prospect to make the sale for you.  You are the professional sales person, not he.

Conclusion

Never wing it.  The more experienced an adviser, the greater the temptation to think: I’ve done this hundreds of times. I don’t need to prepare for this. But think back to your own experience. How’s that worked for you? Not very well, has it? Every time you’ve winged it, there was an unexpected question, or you misstated something, or some aspect of your presentation you usually nail just didn’t work for you.  Allow yourself adequate time for preparation and always pre-plan sales calls.

Finally, put yourself in the shoes of the prospect. Answer the question “What would I want if I were the prospect?”  The answer is what you should strive to provide.

Copyright 2000-2013 by The National Underwriter Company. All Rights Reserved.

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This article was excerpted from National Underwriter Advanced Markets, the premier resource for retirement planning professionals. It was originally published by The National Underwriter Company, a Summit Professional Networks business and sister division of ThinkAdvisor.

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