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Don’t Answer That Objection!

by David Brock on March 13th, 2014

A few days ago, I was tagging along with a sales person on a call.  It started well, then the customer expressed an objection.  That’s when things started to go wrong.

The problem was, like too many other sales people, the sales person had an immediate response to the objection.  Watching the situation, when the customer expressed the objection, I could see the hair going up on the back of the neck of the sales person.  He felt defensive about what the customer was saying.  He thought the customer was wrong and wanted felt obligated to respond.

Well, it wasn’t the response the customer wanted, so he teed up another objection, the sales person responded again, and the call went into a death spiral.

None of this had to happen.  The original objection was actually relatively benign.  But the sales person didn’t take the time to understand the customer’s objection.  Rather than pausing, then probing with questions to better understand the objection–before responding–the sales person responded, never answering the customer’s original objection and opening a Pandora’s box for more.

We all make that mistake.  We’re trained to “handle,” or worse, “overcome” objections.  We feel compelled to respond immediately.  Sometimes we feel a little defensive, sometimes we feel a little angry, sometimes we’re just handling the objection.

The very worst thing we can do is immediately answer or respond to an objection, but that’s what we almost always do.

Instead of responding or answering, we have to understand the objection.  What’s the customer really asking?  Why are they asking it?  Is there something underlying what they are saying–perhaps we haven’t discovered that yet?

When the customer objects, resist the urge to respond.  First ask questions, probe to make sure you really understand.  Play back your understanding of the customer’s concern.

Now that you understand what the customer is really asking, you can make sure you respond to it in the correct manner.  You can be assured you are addressing the customer’s real concern, not what you thought it might have been.

Yes, it’ s little counterintuitive.  Our instincts tell us to respond, possibly even to defend ourselves.  But that’s absolutely the wrong approach.  Yes, you have to fight the urge.  Better to question, listen, probe.

If the customer’s objection comes from anger (Your products suck, your service sucks, your company suck, and you suck!!!!!!!!), it’s even more important to defuse the emotions.  Understand what the customer is saying, let her have her say, listen, probe, probe even further, let her vent, until you’ve gotten to the real issues.

So don’t answer that objection—until you understand what it really is and where it’s coming from.

  1. Ron Garland permalink


    I’m a firm believer in “conversational selling”; in having a conversation. And almost all sales training talks about “handling” or “overcoming” objections. Why not, instead, have a conversation to better understand the objection.

    When you think about it, an objection is really good news. The prospect is basically saying, “You know, I would buy your product/service if it weren’t for this…”

    What an opportunity! An opportunity to address the single thing standing in the way of a sale.

    And if the prospect comes up with another objection it’s another opportunity to discuss how they might buy your product/service. If the objections just keep coming, guess what: they’re trying to tell you their not interested and their objections really only excuses or, in some cases, legitimate reasons coming from a very well informed prospect. In either case, it’s time to thank them for their time and move on.

    • Great comment Ron. Actually, it would be more worrisome if the customer didn’t object–it probably means they don’t care enough to object—and we never know!

  2. Bob Abel permalink

    Many times by simply repeated the customer’s objection back to them, it helps clarify it and get to the real objection.

    I’ve even seen a time or two when an objection is repeated back to the customer they realizing how ridiculous that objection really was.

    • Thanks Bob, objections can be very clarifying to everyone, if we handle them right. Taking the time to understand and probe, then clarify is very powerful. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Ron, clearly an optimist, writes:

    “When you think about it, an objection is really good news.

    The prospect is basically saying, “You know, I would buy your product/service if it weren’t for this…””

    Uh, no.

    The person in front of you isn’t saying anything like that.

    You may hope that they are saying something like that …

    But Dave is right – don’t answer the objection. Just wait a little longer.

    • Ron Garland permalink

      Uh, Michael, you apparently didn’t read my comment very carefully. I’m saying exactly the same thing Dave is saying.

      He and I are both saying, “Have a conversation, not a debate.”

      • Pretty sure I can read.

        And I think your counterfactual is just dead wrong.

      • Mike and Ron: I think the 3 of us are circling the same issue all from differing perspectives.

        • Ron Garland permalink

          Actually, Dave, I must confess. Once Michael used the term “Uh, no.” to respond to my comment, I decided to have a little fun with him and respond in kind to demonstrate that he was doing exactly what you were advising against in your post.

          Instead of asking for clarification from me, he chose to debate/argue with me about my “objection”. Yes, my “objection”. It was an objection presented in the form of an opinion which differed from the opinion he was selling.

          Aren’t we all trying to sell our opinion right now? Of course, we are. And didn’t Michael lose the sale as soon as he chose to argue with me rather than pursue the thinking behind my comment?

          Of course, he did. 🙂

    • Michael I don’t disagree with you. I think Ron is actually saying the same thing. By objecting the customer is saying they care enough about what we are talking about to raise an objection. They may not be saying “I would buy,” but they are at least interested enough to give us the opportunity.

      As I mentioned in responding to Ron’s comment, the most worrisome thing is the objection that is never expressed simply because the customer does’t care. Clearly, in that case they are saying, “I don’t care enough and probably will never buy.”

      • David,

        You say: “By objecting the customer is saying they care enough about what we are talking about to raise an objection.

        They may not be saying “I would buy,” but they are at least interested enough to give us the opportunity.”

        This is materially different than what Ron’s counterfactual – which was “I would buy but for my objection.”

        I believe that both of you are too optimistic.

        The goal of an objector is varied.

        Sometimes, they want you to bid against yourself, give more valuable information, skip your process, etc.

        And so, I agree with your advice not to respond directly to an objection immediately, unless asked to.

        Instead, try to figure out what they are trying to do or achieve with their objection. (I think my position is closer to John’s than you or Ron.)

  4. John Sterrett permalink

    I have found that the first objection is RARELY the real issue they have. It’s just the thing they say to try to maintain power in the conversation. And if you respond to it, it plays right into their hand.

    Asking probing, open ended questions not only to understand, but to allow the customer to vent, is the best way to a) get to the root of the problem, if indeed one actually exists (they might have decided to quit drinking coffee that morning, who knows?) and b) develop a rapport, show empathy, and be seen as a partner, rather than an adversary.

    • John writes: “It’s just the thing they say to try to maintain power in the conversation. And if you respond to it, it plays right into their hand.”

      Yes, they may just trying to make you jump. Resist the urge.

    • Great advice John!

  5. This discussion thread is interesting, it seems we may have fallen into the same trap, responding before we really understand what each other is saying.

    It’s so easy and seductive, but that’s what causes miscommunication. If it happens to some of the smartest people I know (I understand how I fall into the trap), it can so easily happen to all of us.

    • David, isn’t this the only way you do understand what people are saying?

      Or at least what they are saying in print.

      –By paying serious attention to their exact words.

      –And saying whether you agree or disagree.

      So, of course we risk misunderstanding. Good risk to take, in my opinion.

      • Mike: Actually, whether it’s objection handling, conversations (real or virtual), and other communications, don’t we connect and communicate more effectively by seeking first to understand? When we take positions without understanding, we run the risk of people getting entrenched in positions, without really communicating.

        • Sure, we start with an understanding of what someone said by paying serious attention to the words they wrote.

          But conflict in print is good – if the conflict is about ideas and not personalities.

          We are now afforded a luxury with the prevalence of social media to take time to formulate dialogue which informs -instead of words that we can just all agree with.

          “The Cantankerous Philosopher”

  6. Well said! Often, most professionals feel the pressure to “know all the answers” and have the perfect response to any situation before them. However, when that is the expectation we are operation under, our first instinct is to “solve” and “defend” whenever we are challenged. Neither of those actions encourages us to pause, listen, ask questions and pause some more. We also assume the client’s fears or objections will be soothed if our response is immediate. Obviously we know what we’re doing if we have an answer right away, correct? Unfortunately, that is not correct at all. As you stated, clients are often questions that have an underlying meaning or are prompted by something that haven’t quite expressed yet. At times, they aren’t able to express it clearly just yet. By waiting and asking follow up questions, both you and the client can clarify an objection or what needs exist.

    I think salespeople present themselves MORE capable of doing their job when they DON’T answer immediately (and defensively) but take the time to compile thoughtful follow-up questions and calculated answers.
    Thanks for the great article!
    Ken Schmitt

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment Ken. Love your point of view on this. Regards, Dave

    • And Ken, would you also recommend that sometimes the salesperson should just leave an objection unanswered? Thanks.

      • Not meaning to speak for Ken, sometimes the best response is no response. Until we understand what’s driving the objection, we can’t determine the best response. Sometimes, however, the customer just needs to vent or express an opinion that doesn’t demand or need a response.

  7. I agree, Dave.
    The whole “handle” the Objection is a fool’s errend in Selling.
    Take any Top Performer, count the number of objections they get, it is neglibible. Count the number of times they ‘handle’ those they get, it’s almost none!

    Where do Objections come from?
    Mostly from Salespeople…………..!

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