Pathways to the Sale

(Musings, Anecdotes and Insights by Dominic Spano, Ph.D.)

The wise teacher leads you to the threshold of your own mind (Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet)

Sales Objections and Resistance

What exactly is behind the resistance and objections we encounter in the course of our selling efforts? Each of us runs into objections during most of our sales calls; and the fact remains that handling customer resistance is a component we need to master if we wish to put a lot of sales on the board. A hard–working salesperson who is uncomfortable overcoming objections will leave a lot of sales on the table for a competitor to take home.

In my previous article on Real Estate Expiries you will recall that I mentioned a young salesman I worked with early in my career who showed me selling skills and an attitude I previously had not seen. Towards the end of the article I linked his perception of the dynamics that evolve inside the selling arena to my belief that the Sympathetic branch of our Central Nervous System plays a large hand in dictating the behavior of all parties involved—and hence of the steps we take towards or away from our success. As an example, I suggested that the programming of our Sympathetic Nervous System is responsible for the evolution of phrases such as you get what you aim for. The complexity of human behavior is certainly well documented; and I am certainly not going to suggest that I have uncovered a magic formula that turns every salesperson into a superstar. What I am proposing, however, is a strong belief that an understanding of one not–so–inconspicuous but definitely very impactful component of our Central Nervous System can help us increase our sales production—in some cases by significant amounts. Since, among other things, selling involves a series of action–reaction sequences, human emotions and the personalities they give rise to can play a major role in either solidifying or sabotaging our sales. The following paragraphs will render my viewpoint (hopefully!) a little clearer.

Not surprisingly, my young colleague at the office had a very strong instinct to pursue fervently what he wanted—which was to be #1. I recall an interesting conversation in which he noted that some salespeople will avoid unpopular or unpleasant decisions for fear that they may upset their customers; he then went on to say that, while a friendship with his prospective customers would be nice, it certainly was not something that he craved. Instead, it was the deals that resulted from those prospects that were necessary to him. In other words, a lot of sales would help make him #1, but a lot of friends would not. To put it another way, all the superfluous stuff that makes us feel great will not mean much unless we have the underlying sales (which is the primary reason we got into this profession, is it not?). As far as my young friend was concerned, anything over and above the sale would be the proverbial gravy—but the sale had to come first.

Now, in the early years of my career, my personality was much more altruistic and his attitude sometimes clashed with mine. But his monthly sales were almost always greater than mine (save for the rare month in which it seemed I could do no wrong). Furthermore, he quickly established a referral network built on his rapidly growing list of happy clients. And here's the kicker: his customers referred their friends to him, fully on his ability to sell, not his desire to make friends. It was pretty obvious they saw him as their 'go–to' agent—the guy who got results! Needless to say, I had to start taking his philosophy very seriously. After all, he was getting results that I, quite frankly, envied—and he left a trail of customers who sang his praises to boot. I began to analyze and question my own philosophy and perceptions and it didn't take me long to figure out that he and I were both getting what we aimed for (and he was aiming for more sales than me). The problem was that my newly expanding mind was leading me out of my comfort zone. I was but a paradigm shift away from what might turn out to be a more productive selling career. Fortunately, I had been told often enough that if I continue to do the same things, I will continue to obtain the same results. My desire to increase my production allowed me to explore the unknown—and before I knew it, this kid, several years my junior, was mentoring me.

To be sure, I did not agree with everything he was telling me—but that was okay. We were, after all, two very different personalities. The important thing was that I was beginning to think more like a salesperson (which was why people hired me, by the way) and less like a social contact. This was an important insight for me, not only because it convinced me that we sell who we are, but also because I began to 'aim' for the sale, which programmed my Sympathetic Nervous System to do what was necessary to get me there. Getting the sale was now my dominant thought and so my Sympathetic Nervous System shifted its focus from merely building contacts and relationships to building them with prospects who would lead me to a sale. For many people, this is an abstract notion, but one that is well worth dwelling upon because it will lead to improved results. On the other side of this concept, a struggling salesperson will experience an incredible eureka moment. It will feel like the end of a long struggle up a steep, precarious hill whose summit offers a view into a much simpler world. The fears that used to sabotage many a cold-call will no longer seem as intense; the anxiety that used to relinquish control of several aspects of the sales call to the customer will no longer be as immobilizing; and the doubt that used to derail many a closing attempt will no longer seem as daunting. Insight into the emotions that underlie those fears and anxieties will empower the salesperson to stretch well beyond his/her comfort zone and thus achieve new and better results.

As my understanding of the Sympathetic Nervous System grew, I realized that my young colleague's so–called style served to quickly 'qualify' his prospects into two major categories: (i) those who were uncomfortable with him and, hence, would not deal with him; (ii) those who were comfortable with him and, therefore, brought with them a high probability of a successful sale somewhere down the road. In other words, he was maximizing the use of (and hence the return on) his time. This realization, in particular, fascinated me because it proved that the selling profession has room for more than one personality type. My young colleague was selling to people who were comfortable with him and I needed to sell to those who were comfortable with me (and, of course, with my business needs, which necessitated that I part company with some people). In other words, I did not need to sell to the whole world. Hence, rejection was okay; it kept me away from prospects I was not compatible with or who would use up my time inefficiently. Thus, I was able to spend my time on prospects who would lead me to a deal.

Our 'fight or flight' response, along with the web of traits that emanate from it, originates in the Sympathetic Nervous System. To complicate matters, our customers have a Sympathetic Nervous System of their own. Hence, since a customer's objections are corollary to the theme of rejection, it stands to reason that our Sympathetic Nervous System plays a crucial role in the success or failure of our selling efforts. For a detailed discussion of these topics, as they pertain to the dynamics of selling, please refer to my recent ebook Pathways to Sold: The Science Behind the Sale, which can be previewed at Amazon. But for now let us take a closer look at what lies behind a customer's objections.

As noted above, I believe that in its base elements, an objection indicates some sort of rejection of a particular aspect of our presentation. Ideally, none of us wants to be rejected, and the normal tendency is to try and avoid the discomfort associated with it. In my case, the overcoming of this instinct in the early years of my career was an important cog in my maturing into an effective salesperson. As for the customer, resistance tells us (among other things) that he/she is simply defending his/her territory. Namely, the customer is resisting the idea of being sold a service or product that he/she is not yet ready for—in other words, we still have some work to do. So far, so good. We simply have two people on opposite sides of a transaction that need to find out if they have enough common ground to result in a deal. In his book Negotiation: The Art of Getting What You Want, Michael Schatzki puts it this way: one person's Least Acceptable Result needs to overlap with the other person's Maximum Supportable Position. Otherwise one party may end up feeling remorseful after the fact.

Our fight or flight response evolved as a protective mechanism and simply comes to the forefront whenever an individual is in need of a protective, guiding hand. Hence, objections are among the most vital steps on the path toward a successful sale. Top salespeople understand this point, hence you always hear them state that they welcome objections (or the sale starts when the objections begin, or some such variation). For those in the process of building a successful sales career, my experience has been that an understanding of the machinations of the Sympathetic Nervous System will help a determined sales rep achieve levels of production that he/she never thought possible for their particular personality and level of talent. It certainly did for me. To quote one of the characters in my book Beyond the Periphery, who is addressing his inner self,

We've each greeted risk;
We both dared to grow;
And our tutor appeared—
He hid behind 'no'

Until next time ... Happy selling!