Let’s Retire “Objection Handling”

Updated: Oct 12


Objection Handling isn’t ‘handling’ and doesn’t deal with ‘objections.’


Sales theory is full of ambiguous, overwrought and imprecise terminology, and ‘objection handling’ has to be one of the worst. While it is a staple of sales training, and refers to a very real and important dynamic of the sales dance, the activities bear little correspondence to “objecting” or “handling.” Let me explain.


For those new to the field, “objection handling” is used ubiquitously in book chapters, training modules and sales meeting agendas. This term applies to a well-known dynamic: buyers creating barriers to successful sales agreements, and sellers finding ways to deal with those situations. So “objection” is meant to describe the buyer’s statements and attitudes and “handling” is meant to describe the appropriate statements and attitudes in response. This is unhelpful and inaccurate terminology, and it reveals lazy and outdated thinking.



Objections

Objection, your honour!”


You probably just now added the words “overruled” or “sustained” in the judge’s weighty voice. That’s the typical connotation for this word. Or how about another common context:


“there being no objections, the resolution is passed”


From the procedural language of an annual general meeting.


There are more, and they all carry the same general sense:


“…the act of expressing or feeling opposition to or dislike of something or someone.”[i]


I couldn’t think of a worse word for what happens from the buyer’s side of a sales conversation.


Suppose you have a small business and are seeking advice and support on attracting and retaining talent. You are now a would-be buyer for someone who sells those services. When you enter into conversation with providers there will be many things to consider in evaluating whether to work with this one or that one: What are they like as business partners? How do they present themselves? What are they capable of? What their fees are and how they are configured? Etc..


To figure these things out, you will inevitably ask a number of questions, and raise a number of challenges you face in settling on one partner to work with. Some of the things you will say from across the table will be expressions of concern, doubt, misgiving, hesitation. Those are not objections – they contributions toward an agreement. They are invitations to let those sellers participate in the decision making process. You are giving them a seat on the committee in your mind that is trying to sort things out.


The tailor doesn’t call the suit-fitting process objection handling; as experts they advise and adjust the final product alongside their customer.



A few decades worth of sales theory has inured salespeople to the idea that clients “object” to the perfectly formulated and totally reasonable agreements they present to their prospects. Can it be any wonder that salespeople are eager for methods of “handling” these?


Handling

“Handling” is something you do with goods in transport, untamed animals and politicians given to bozoeruptions. It is behaviour not worthy of your potential clients.


Buyers (read people) have an incredibly good nose for sniffing out motivations. If they sense that you have a pre-scripted response for their “objection” that allows them to skip past the pesky listening-and-understanding part they will quietly resent it. You may even get the business, but you’ll lose the trust. They do not want to be ‘handled,’ and they don’t want their valid concerns labeled as “objections” so a clever rejoinder can be given to set them straight.


In the end, those misgivings, doubts, concerns, hesitations that have been raised still need to be dealt with somehow. The ‘handling’ of those will ultimately never be your purview – that sits with your prospect. The poor sales rep who has been taught to handle objections must be confused when all the ‘objections’ have been ‘handled,’ and yet the signed agreement doesn’t arrive in the inbox.


A Fresh Approach – Get It and Guide It

Perhaps you’re thinking: “Isn’t this all so much softness? If objections are “expressions of misgiving, doubt, etc. etc.” and handling is really the share-with-me-care-with-me routine, where’s the room for fast and effective closing? I absolutely understand you feeling that way; every client we have has felt that they need a list of objections and scripts to handle them. But they’ve found that they struggle when they handle their clients objections, and succeed when they guide their clients to handle their own concerns.


We’re researching and writing a fresh approach to this. We’ve called this “Get it and guide it.”

The first task of the salesperson is to “get it” – this means to understand what’s really being said. The masterstroke of “getting it” is to state back to them in their words[ii] the concerns they’ve shared. If you aren’t exactly right, they’ll let you know. Go until you have it in their words, and they agree. Try to clarify by asking for an example or some detail – usually the detail reveals exactly where their concerns lie.

Now you “get it” – the second task is to “guide it.” Point them to a path to resolve the concern. Don’t solve it for them, guide them to resolutions. This is a change of mindset if you’ve been used to “offering discounts” or “making concessions” or otherwise being the one who solves the problems. The easiest way to “guide it” is to describe how this same problem was resolved by someone else “My other clients have been absorbing my fees within their marketing budget.” Or “Our clients tend to work with us locally for 3-4 months then expand to their other offices.” Another way to “guide it” is to ask whether they would like your guidance (such a powerful step!) and then to recommend an option for them. “You’re feeling like the budget doesn’t already exist for this work. I get that, and it’s a common issue. Would you like my suggestions on addressing this?” [“Sure”] “A one-time ROI for the remainder of the fiscal year works for many of my clients”


Remember, this is not your matter to ‘handle’ anyway – it is theirs. If you are in the habit of identifying objections and trying handle them it’s time to reassess the role you play with a client. Your role is to represent your organisation and it’s products faithfully while being a great partner in the client’s decision making – shaping the garment for the final fitting. I think you’ll find the work is much more pleasant and productive with fewer things to handle and virtually no objections.


[i] Cambridge English Dictionary [ii] See Carl Rogers