One day a corporate client asked me to coach a struggling salesperson named David. This surprised me because David was widely regarded as the most knowledgeable salesperson in the company. Watching David in action taught me a valuable lesson. Objections can come from two different levels. Salespeople must address them at their respective levels.
The products David sold were complex vitamin formulas. His customers were health food store owners. David was very proud of his mastery for the underlying nutrition biochemistry responsible for the products’ effectiveness. He seized every opportunity to flaunt his impressive knowledge.
I spent some time watching David speak to customers. Despite his voluminous knowledge, he wasn’t connecting with them. If anything, they seemed intimidated by his detailed information. David acted oblivious to this and continued on with his presentation. When I pointed this out he explained, “But I have to demonstrate my expertise so they trust what I’m saying is true.” It hadn’t occurred to him that he’s talking to retailers who will have to resell those vitamins to consumers. The more technical he sounded, the less confident the retailers would be about repeating the information. The retailers would end up not buying the products.
This led to my epiphany. David wasn’t communicating on the same level with his customers. David was addressing their external level. Their objection was on their internal level. The external level was the retailer’s trust in David’s expertise. This is external because David is external from the retailer. The retailers’ need, however, was internal. The retailers needed “self-trust” in their own ability to repeat David’s information to consumers. The more David addressed the external objection by displaying technical prowess, the more their internal objection was reinforced.
Salespeople won’t be successful handling internal objections on the external level, and vice versa. If a customer tells me, “I can’t meet your minimum order because I have to pay tax on anything I buy over $5,000, that’s an “external” objection. The region’s tax code is external to the customer. I would need to address that objection on the external level. For example, I could offer a discount that would offset the tax.
However, if the customer gave me an internal objection such as, “I can’t meet your minimum order because I don’t think I can sell that much,” it’s an internal objection. It involves the customer’s self-confidence in his or her selling ability. This objection needs to be addressed on the internal level. For example I could say, “Didn’t you tell me you’re a better salesperson than your local competitor? They bought and sold my minimum quantity easily.” Internal objections involve the customer’s thoughts and feelings, usually they involve a complex interplay of thoughts and feelings together.
Customers make buying decisions on different levels. The skill of cluing in and handling objections on their appropriate level is a crucial one for salespeople to master. Salespeople are professional communicators. They must take the lead by modeling communication that best fosters customer understanding and a high level of decision-making clarity. Customers who feel understood are customers who allow salespeople to help them buy. The result will be a rewarding outcome achieved in a collaborative and rewarding way.
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