The art of sales rebuttals: How high performers respond to customer objections

Ted McKenna

April 2, 2021

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Consumers today usually have all sorts of options to buy without talking to a salesperson or walking into a retail store. Most often, these options involve a website or an app. But despite these options—often perceived as the “easiest” channels to use—many of us still choose to pick up the phone, queue up a chat agent, or go try on that pair of jeans before pulling the trigger. 

That insight, obvious as it might be, is instructive for how to navigate certain types of sales interactions. If I’m a sales rep answering inbound phone calls from curious shoppers, there’s a reason they have not already purchased. Today, we’ll be looking at how high performers handle customers on these types of calls. 

Consider the individual calling 

As we studied 2.5 million calls, comparing against our predictive sales model with nearly 8,400 variables, it became clear early on that the type of individual who forgoes those other channels and calls in or chats up an agent is simply different than others. Those of you following our learning series, where we break down our study findings, will recall that often up to a third of inbound sales traffic act more like service interactions (hence the first rule is to aggressively disqualify). 

The callers who are actual sales opportunities have often done a lot of research prior to connecting with that sales rep. They are in a different emotional state than other types of buyers: far more uncertain, far more hesitant—even those who are asking strong “buying” type questions early in the conversation.

Objections require rebuttals

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that objections are ever-present in these conversations. And, in fact, at least one objection is present in 69% of these interactions. The obvious logic here would be that sales rebuttals must also play a big role in whether that customer was successfully converted into a sale. 

And here a curious gap arises. Rebuttals are indeed common, showing up on 52% of sales interactions. But that’s 17 points lower than objections! A lot of explicit objections go entirely undefended. As shown in the table below, it’s an absolute killer to win rates:

Interactions with at least one of...     Win RateAn objection and rebuttal31%An objection (no rebuttal)17%

For context in our study, the average win rate for sales interactions was 26%. The presence of objections was one of the biggest drags on conversion; and yet, with just one rebuttal win rates lift to 31%. 

But not all sales rebuttals are created equal. Examining our model results provides us with three specific rebuttal techniques to succeed:

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1. Make sure to rebut!

Digging into customer objections means, to state the obvious, actually digging in. If a customer states an objection, the first thing a high performer makes certain to do is to address that objection. Yes, this sounds simple, but recall from above that 17-point gap between stated objections and rebuttal deployment!

In fact, high performers at times go even further by deploying a “prebuttal” in anticipation of an expected concern. They know these emotional and uncertain buyers often have latent, unarticulated hesitancy and proactively address it by de-risking a potential decision. Our study showed a 40% win rate (well above average) when a rebuttal was used, even when an explicit objection was never articulated.

Of course, this does not mean we all should just start throwing out prebuttals right and left or out of context. High performers are smart about where and how to prebut. But what it definitely means is this: if I’m not already assuming there is an objection, stated or not, I’m probably fighting uphill.

2. Don’t forget tacit rebuttals!

High performer conversations can appear to be a bit like a sparring match, continually looking for ways to surface and address customer concerns. In contrast, most average performers tend to avoid discussing concerns, for fear that bad news will ruin their chance of winning the sale. Perhaps worse, many traditional training programs and conventional guidance play right into this instinct to avoid tension. Often this advice takes the form of conversational tips such as “talk less than the customer” and “avoid interruptions”. 

But our study found that high performers take a decidedly different approach. The best performers often are speaking for nearly 60% of the conversation, and are silent for no more than 20% of the interaction. This type of active conversation serves as a form of tacit rebuttals. The sales rep is staying on their toes, actively engaging, and isn’t afraid to debate where necessary even if that means respectful but firm intervention. 

To be clear, the guidance for sellers isn’t that interrupting and cutting off customers will make them buy; but rather that they shouldn’t be afraid of openly disagreeing with the customer, pointing out misunderstandings, and putting misplaced concerns to bed. 

3. Make sure to de-risk the purchase!

Buyer hesitancy won’t just go away with more detail on a product, more clarity on pricing, or answers to detailed service questions. These emotional and uncertain buyers often still need a nudge before making a final decision. And average performers too often fall prey to the common buyer tactic of “I’ll call back later.” High performers recognize that objection as the kiss of death and look for different ways to de-risk that decision and close now, not later.

How do all these types of sales rebuttals measure up to each other? 

Most sales rebuttals fall into one of three groups. As shown in the below table, outcomes differ significantly depending on the chosen rebuttal:

Frequency UsedAverage Win RateDelay Tactics21% of sales interactions29%Price-related urgency drivers40% of sales interactions30%De-risk techniques25% of sales interactions45%

Delay tactics involve the sales agent aiming to keep the customer on the phone or, when pressed, offers to email information out to the customer to stay in touch or even schedule that next call or appointment. Average performers often deploy these types of rebuttals and some actually have a negative impact on the likelihood of sales closure.

Price-related urgency drivers involve reps looking to drive purchase urgency by matching competitor prices, locking in a quote, or offering a discount. These are the most common sales rebuttals but are less successful than one might think. Some are actually counterproductive, reducing the likelihood of a win, with buyers seeing through the last-ditch effort to win with basement-bottom pricing.

De-risk techniques are the preferred method for high performers. Here the rep creates scarcity as a way to help make a low-risk decision now. The chosen technique may differ based on detected hesitancy. For buyers who appear confident and ready, this might be something as simple as “I can’t guarantee this rate will be the same tomorrow…”. For others who appear more hesitant, the most successful technique is to remind, where possible, “you’re free to cancel or change within a window of time” on the chance they, for example, then go speak to their spouse and later decide against it. This last one does call to question how often organizations are empowering reps with these types of offers or guarantees.

If you’d like to learn more about how Tethr measures objections and rebuttals, click the link below to request a demo.

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