Editor's Note: This is the second of Guy Couillard’s two-part post on handling objections. In Part 1, Couillard wrote about how to view objections to one’s work as a positive: they’re a natural first step toward acceptance. In Part 2, Couillard focuses on the specific steps to take to refute objections.
Step 1: Hear it out, listen and prove it
When we practice this technique in workshops, the first thing we recommend is to really listen to the reaction/objection and avoid the temptation to think of a counter argument. And listening is not enough; you have to prove that you’re paying attention. One way to do this is to repeat what you heard in your own words. “OK, if I understand correctly, this is what you’re saying...Is that right?” It sounds easy, but in our role-play simulations the person objecting will explain his concerns or objections, with the consultant briefly paraphrasing the objections before beginning to counter: “Yeah, I get it... you’re upset. But you have to consider also... blah-blah...” Step 1 is not the time to argue.
Step 2: Probe, ask questions, get them talking
Step 2 is where you want to gather background and get a feeling for the importance or type of objection. It’s often a good idea to start with open-ended questions: “Can you give me an example, or explain to me the context where this would not work?” You will often combine Steps 1 and 2, where you end your paraphrasing with an open-ended question. Probing is also an effective influencing technique; most of us change our minds when we are talking things through, not when we’re listening to others. Another reason to ask questions is to give time to your internal CPU to process information, and come up with a good response to the objection.
Step 3: Qualify and quantity (optional)
At this stage in the conversation, you want to start isolating the relevant and important facts: “How many people will access this report? How often? What do they use now? How critical is this to business operations?” This step may not be required if you got all the information you needed in the previous steps. Use your best judgment. If your customer states that your system is down 12 hours a day, asking “How important is that to you?” will not help.
Step 4: Anchoring (optional)
Anchoring is a way to isolate the objection and move toward resolution. For example, you might ask: “You find this transaction to be time-consuming. Is this the case with all transactions?” Anchoring indicates that aside from this particular issue, the other aspects of your proposal are fine. Of course, by asking this question you run the risk of other issues surfacing, but it’s better that they come to light now than later in the process.
Step 5: Rephrase the need
Your brain should now have had sufficient time to formulate a response to the objection. But before you launch into education or reframing, it’s usually a good idea to rephrase your understanding of your customer’s need. It shows that you listen well, and provides a final check before pitching. At this stage the root cause of the objection ought to be clear as either a misunderstanding or a perceived drawback. A misunderstanding is easily addressed by providing the right information/education: “Let me demonstrate how you can add favorites to your user menu. This way your users will not need to sift through all these transactions.” A perceived drawback, on the other hand, will require reframing.
Dealing with perceived drawbacks with the Feel/Felt/Found technique
There will always be instances where your proposal raises justifiable objections. A common case with enterprise software is the added workload for some ERP system users, especially when data needs to be inputted on many different screens while their legacy system had been designed to provide everything on one page. This is where reframing techniques come into play.
Reframing means changing the frame of reference, often by highlighting the value that the additional effort will bring to the organization, or the people doing the work. For the “too many screens” objection, you might say that while it is true that there is indeed more upfront work loading the data, this data is entered only once, and will be accessible by everyone in the organization. Appealing to a higher value is an example of reframing.
Feel/Felt/Found is a proven technique for dealing with objections during sales that can also be applied in consulting. Here’s an example:
(Customer) “I find these Blueprinting workshops to be very time-consuming”
(Consultant) Acknowledge their right to feel that way:
- “I can understand that you feel that they take a lot of time…”
- Use an example as support “and in previous projects, some customers have felt the same way …”
Now present the opposing viewpoint without being confrontational
- AND they found that the time invested in design and validation saved considerable time and money later in the project”
- N.B. The key is “AND” not “BUT”
Now go to the turn-back (Socratic) question that I mentioned in Part 1: using a customer’s arguments or questions to make your case.
- “Now, would total project costs be a measure of success for this implementation?”
There are no magic bullets to solve the challenges of interpersonal communication. However becoming more deliberate (and thoughtful) in the way you prepare for important conversations can only make things better.
Guy Couillard, president and founder of OTA (www.ota.ca), is a consultant focusing on the management of large scale change associated with the deployment of large technology projects such as SAP. Couillard specializes in the conceptual integration of the different disciplines related to the successful adoption of IT-driven innovations, namely risk management, organizational change & knowledge management, communications and branding, value realization and program management.
Read more of his columns here.