Episode 4: Dig into objections | The four "D's" of better B2C sales performance

Matt Dixon, Ted McKenna, Tom Shepherd

April 21, 2021

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This material originally appeared as part of our Learning Series podcast. Listen to the original here.

Welcome to episode four in our five-part learning series! In this series, we’re diving deeper into some of the research that went into our recent HBR article, 4 behaviors that boost inbound sales. This episode will unpack the third key behavior discovered in our study: Why high performers don’t fear conflict, but instead, seize the opportunity to dig into objections. 

But before we get there, let’s take a second to answer some audience questions. 

Q&A: Prescription, not diagnosis

High performers drive the purchase decision by prescribing a solution to the customer versus trying to diagnose their needs. We found this one to be really counterintuitive, but if we look at some of the LinkedIn and Twitter traffic around the previous episode, we saw a lot of folks who know the Challenger research really well. And one of the key behaviors in The Challenger Sale was the first key behavior is that they teach the customer something new, they bring new insight to the table. This reframes the way the customer thinks about the sales agent, and it breaks the customer's mental model. In the context of our discussion, that’s two different methods of sharing information, teaching vs. prescription or making a recommendation.

This is a really interesting sort of distinction to draw. When you think about teaching, those of you that are sort of very familiar with the Challenger research, you'll know, a big tenant of that research is to intentionally teach the customer about the space and about the problem and about the risk of doing nothing. Prescription, on the other hand, takes a different approach. With prescription, the agent says right upfront, “Hey, this is what I recommend.” They'll be very crisp in terms of differentiation, and they're not shy about the fact that it is their supplier that is best in this situation. It’s a fine distinction but still a distinction. 

Behavior 3: Dig into sales objections

Moving forward, this next behavior is about this idea of digging into customer objections. We found in the research very clearly that for average performers their mindset is: I'm not going to bring up any bad news. Because if I bring up bad news, if I remind the customer that this is an expensive product or service, I'm going to be giving the customer a reason to not buy right now. So I'm just going to pretend that that bad news doesn't exist. If it doesn't come up, it doesn't exist.

But what was interesting is that high performers think very differently. What you find in these conversations is that they are like, they've got a radar lock on the fact that these customers are hung up on something. They are stuck, there is some reason that they are mired in indecision, and they called because they need help. If they knew what they wanted, and they wanted to buy, they would have done it online. But they ended up calling anyway to have a conversation with an expert from the company because they're stuck. They don't know what options to get. They're stuck between product choices, features, contracts, and other things like that. High performers are really adamant, it seems, and want to get that bad news out on the table and deal with it. They don’t want to have the customer say “I’ll call you back,” and then lose that sale.

What kinds of sales objections do you find in these conversations?

We talked last time about the distinction between shoppers and buyers. In almost any shopper situation, you're going to get lots of objections back. In almost 75% of shopper calls, you see at least one objection, and a big part of success in a shopper call lies in whether you lean into those sales objections or not. But the biggest one, the one with almost no chance of a sale in those situations, is of course, “I’ll call back later.” So almost by the time you've gotten to that point, you already know you've probably lost the sale. You'll hear different flavors of that; let me think about it, or I need to talk to my significant other. Anything that is is meant to sort of put off the decision to a later point in time is not going to be something that’s gonna end up with success.

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In almost 75% of shopper calls, you see at least one objection, and a big part of success in a shopper call lies in whether you lean into those objections or not.

Other sales objections can include price-related type objections or objections that seek other types of discounts. How you, as an agent, respond to these sales objections is a big component of how successful you are. That gets into the specific rebuttals that you might use, but there's a tonal element to this as well. In some cases, it isn't even as much as literally what you say so much as the way in which you interact with it, that you're leaning into it, that you're there. 

The right tone for countering sales objections

Countering objections involves a lot more active conversation and a lot more interruptions than you might expect. That was a counterintuitive finding for us. When you see a fair amount of interruptions or overtalk, you'd assume that was a bad thing. But actually, we find in these situations where they're dealing with these sales objections, you find a fair amount of it. And it's not necessarily a bad thing. You see out there a lot of “studies” that say in the best sales interactions the rep actually talks less than the customer. That’s conventional wisdom… But it’s really not true for high performers. 

High performers talk more than the customer

When you look at high performers in conversation. They do the exact opposite. They talk more than the customer, they interrupt them and they talk over them. And as we discussed in the HBR article, it can sound a little bit like a sparring match. It's an empathetic one, but it's kind of a sparring match. You could see the data and see lots of objections happening, and assume what that means is that customers just on a monologue, but it's actually the opposite. You see a fair amount of sales objections. But you also see the agent talking the majority of the time. And in fact, the vast majority of the time. And that indicates that this is not just a one-sided thing, where the customer is just airing grievances and agents just sitting back, it's quite the opposite. There is a repartee involved, a back and forth, that you see in these very successful situations. 

So, contrary to popular opinion, we found that overtalk and talking more than the customer are actually both good things. The opposite, too, was decidedly bad, like silence time, and just letting the customer go. And of course, in addition, not being actively engaged was an absolute killer, in terms of sales and conversions. 

Why does this active type of conversation work?

Essentially, it's about active engagement, it's about being there present in the interaction. Let's face it, in these kinds of jobs where you're dealing with dozens or hundreds of calls in a day, it's hard to be all-in on every single one. But it does feel like these high performers are there, they're getting back up for every single call, and they are actively engaged. 

Now, this is the takeaway, we point this out in the article because this is a causation versus correlation thing that we need to be careful about. The lesson here is not if you interrupt people and talk over them, they'll buy more. That's not the lesson for sales managers, or for sellers to take from this research. But what it tells us is that when these things are present, it's a sign of active engagement. And when it happens, it happens in a very empathetic and deferential way.

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Examples of active engagement

When we look for examples on the tapes, we find conversations like this:

Customer: “Well, your plan is is more expensive than Acme company—”

Sales agent: “You know, I'm sorry to interrupt. But I do want to point out Acme company doesn't include inflation as our plan does. So, it's a little bit apples to oranges. And if you do the math, actually, we ended up being cheaper over the duration.”

These are things that you find in these high performer conversations. They're not being rude, in that exchange, right? That agent isn’t being a jerk. They're not aggressive. They're not obnoxious, but they do jump right in there when the customer says something or states something, that is not true. The high performer politely, respectfully interrupts them and corrects them, and they get them back on track. Because what they don't want the customer doing is continuing to get themselves wound up about something that is actually factually inaccurate. Part of it actually is just anticipating that there is an objection, and an unstated objection certainly doesn’t mean that there isn’t one. So, that’s an essential lesson: Assume there is an objection, and go find it. And if you don't, then you have unfinished work, and you're gonna hear that classic, “Okay, I'll call back later.” 

In conclusion…

When we're selling complex deals in a B2B setting, we tell sales leaders to assume that on every deal, there's a blocker out there. There's somebody lurking in the customer organization who does not want this purchase to happen, who does not want you to win the deal. You may not know who they are, and you have to know how to manage that. The same principle applies to an inbound sales organization. What are those unspoken sales objections, and what are you going to do about them?

If you’re a sales leader... Tell your sellers to assume there is an objection.

If you’re a sales leader, running an inbound sales organization, and you’re dealing with 1000s of calls a day, tell your sellers to assume there is an objection. The only reason this customer has called you in the first place is that there’s a hesitancy, a source of indecision. Your job is to dig down and find it. And if you don't, don't pretend it's not there, because if it wasn't there, they would have bought online. So all managers, all coaches out there, all sales leaders: Tell your sellers to assume their customer has an objection, and that their job is to find it and deal with it. 

Thanks for joining us to discuss the third behavior identified in our study on inbound B2C sales: Dig into objections. Please join us next week for the fifth and final episode in the series, and make sure to send us your questions on LinkedIn or Twitter so we can address them on the show!

This material originally appeared as part of our Learning Series podcast. Listen to the original here.

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