Overcoming Sales Resistance

The ability to handle objections effectively from both prospects and clients is a skill that can put your sales force ahead of the competition. Even a long-term customer may rethink a relationship with a provider if objections aren’t handled to complete satisfaction. This example shows how a simple technique may help.

The Situation

Adam is a sales rep for a line of camping equipment. He calls on buyers for outdoor and sporting goods stores. One of those buyers is Carlos. Carlos takes an aggressive approach, but Adam has always been able to write a fairly substantial order with him.

Adam recently called on Carlos to show him some additional catalogue items and to ask for an order. Here is part of the conversation:

Carlos: I’m going to pass this time around. We don’t need any more merchandise for the season.
Adam: Carlos, you know that traffic builds slowly. It will pick up like it always does, and then you’ll quickly run out. I don’t know if I’ll be able to restock at that point.
Carlos: Oh, come on, Adam. You’ve got a warehouse as big as a football field. You’re telling me that if I run out, you won’t take my call?
Adam: Hey, I didn’t say that. But I have other customers! I think you should order now.
Carlos: Look, I’ve been doing business with you for six years. I feel that somehow you’ll find what I need — if the time comes.
Adam: And I’m saying when we really get into the season, you’ll be wishing you could get another truckload.
Carlos: That’s the problem! You sold me a truckload last time!

What’s Really Going On?

This seems to be the ritual dance of buyer and seller: Adam wants to make a sale now, but Carlos is playing hard to get. But is that what’s really going on here? How can Adam use Q4 collaborative selling skills to move this sales call in a more productive way?

Managing Objections

As you know, selling so often means dealing with objections. Adam could have avoided this closed loop of verbal ping-pong by using the APAC method to deal with Carlos’ objection:

A = Acknowledge the objection. Carlos shows a lot of Q1 combative behavior, but Adam should not try to simply gloss over Carlos’ objection. Adam’s responses only trigger more Q1 resistance — sarcasm, pushback, and taking a hard line. Adam needs to recognize Carlos’ objection as valid and, perhaps, even summarize it.

P = Probe to fully understand. Open-end probing will help Carlos to be more receptive to discussion — because the spotlight will be on Carlos. “What’s your thinking for not placing an order now?” “What’s different this season from last year?”

Of course, the main reason to probe is so that Adam can learn more, in order to answer the objection. Carlos’ stated objection — he has enough inventory — may be hiding an unstated, underlying objection. But why would Carlos hide his real objection? Doesn’t outspoken Q1 behavior put it all out there?

The Real Reason?

Not if a hidden reason would embarrass Carlos or bruise his ego. It could be that business is down from last year, and Carlos’ tight budget doesn’t allow for tying up any more resources in inventory. With skillful probing, Adam might learn that what Carlos would really like is a credit extension or better terms, but Carlos may be too proud to come right out and ask.

If Adam uncovers this, he could possibly offer a financial arrangement that would work for both of them. The idea is to work with Carlos’ behavior to their mutual benefit. Q4 probing moves the disagreement out of a rut.

A = Answer the objection. Whatever the objection, once Adam understands it, he can provide an answer that will custom-fit the objection.

C = Confirm that your answer is understood. Closing a sale or moving to the next step requires that Carlos understands Adam’s answer, whether or not he agrees. “Carlos, will these terms work for you?” If Carlos still has objections, Adam should probe some more.

APAC works because it provides structure to what is often a tangled process of bringing buyer and seller together. The power behind it is your willingness to probe!