There are, of course, right ways and wrong ways to respond to buyer objections. This blog post doesn’t go into that. Instead, this post focuses on a fundamental first step that most sellers forget when responding to an objection.

Unless you take this critical step, no response to the objection will really be adequate. You’ll lost valuable time and blow “hot air” no matter how eloquent and technically correct your response may be.

The critical, imperative, absolutely essential first step in addressing an objection is to be sure you are dealing with the REAL objection.

You know how this works. When we are buyers, we know it’s expected of us to offer an objection. If we don’t, we look like a pushover. That’s why we have pre-conditioned responses. Like when you walk into a furniture store and the salesperson says “Hi. May I help you?” And you automatically say “No thanks, just looking.” Then, just a few moments later, you are actively looking for the salesperson because you did have questions and need some help after all.

This pre-conditioning and societal role expectation also compels us to complain about or ask about price when buying a car or any other item with a price that might be negotiable. We do this even when we would, actually, be perfectly willing to pay the full price. Then we get all bollixed up in an internal struggle (I would have paid full price, but I don’t want to let the seller know that, so now that they aren’t working with me should I still buy it or should I teach ‘em a lesson?).

In addition to that automated response which isn’t an objection at all until the seller treats it as such, there is another situation when buyers offer something other than their real objection. It’s a smokescreen objection, meant to deflect attention from the real objection.

Why do buyers offer smokescreen objections? At times they do this because they are embarrassed to share the real reason. Maybe they’ve had a financial setback but choose not to talk about that. Perhaps they simply aren’t comfortable with change but prefer not to seem change-resistant. Or maybe they have a standby objection that works well with other sellers, so it’s the one they use as a first line of defense – budget constraint objections are frequently effective at turning away sellers, for example.

When sellers go to great lengths to overcome automated or smokescreen objections, they miss the mark. They accidentally leave the impression that what the buyer said (and didn’t even mean!) has some validity and should be taken seriously. Worse yet, the real objection remains unanswered and now has this additional layer that a seller has added by dignifying the throwaway objection with a response.

A much more efficient and effective approach is to find out whether or not you’re dealing with a true objection. This requires some restraint. As a seller, you just naturally want to jump to the defense of your product or price. When you hear an objection, your adrenaline kicks in and can easily carry you away to reciting facts, figures and arguments to refute the objection.

To use this approach, you’ll have to put a lid on your response. You can come back to it when you know you’ve got the real objection.

There’s only one way to find out for certain if you have the real objection or not. What you have to do is state the opposite. You have to do this very narrowly in order to use this as a screening process for testing the realness of the objection. Check out these three examples to see how it works:

Buyer: “No, I already have a contract with your competitor.”

Seller: “If you did not have a contract with my competitor, would you buy from me today?”

Buyer: “No, I didn’t get on-time delivery the last time I ordered from your company.”

Seller: “If you had received your delivery on time, would you then be placing an order with me today?”

Buyer: “No, it’s not really the right season for us to be stocking up.”

Seller: “If it were the right season for you to stock up, would you accept the proposal I’ve offered?”

Note how each response is only stating the opposite. There is no way to change the past, and that’s not the point. This is not about offering a solution, an apology, a justification or an explanation. The sole objective of asking this question with the opposite condition expressed is to find out whether or not this objection (and only this objection) is what’s really preventing the buyer from buying today.

With each of these questions, you’ll hear one of two responses.

If you hear an affirmative response that sounds like “Well, yes, I suppose if he hadn’t had delivery issues we’d still be doing business with you,” then you proceed to respond to the objection. You now know it is the real objection. You won’t be wasting time by focusing here since it turns out to be the real, true and only barrier left standing.

If, however, the response is negative, you will likely uncover the real objection. The response will sound something like this “No, I wouldn’t go back to doing business with you because I’m saving 20% by doing business with the ABC Company.” Now you have the real objection, and that’s the one you need to respond to with all your might.

This is really pretty simple. But there are two more things you should know as you prepare to use this technique.

The first one is to remember that most objections are based on something subjective. In the examples above, we dealt with fact-based objections. When you run into an objection based on opinion, there’s a word you need to add when you state the opposite question. Take a look at these examples:

Buyer: Your prices are just too high.

Seller: If you didn’t feel our prices were too high, would you proceed with this plan today?

Buyer: Your service is not satisfactory.

Seller: If you didn’t feel our service was unsatisfactory, would you be doing business with us?

Buyer: I’m comfortable with our current vendor.

Seller: If you didn’t feel comfortable with your current vendor, would you consider our solution?

Because these are subjective, the addition of the word “feel” is important. It keeps your response with the opposite from sounding like a promise or solution. You wouldn’t want to say “If our prices weren’t too high would you buy from us today?” because it sounds like you are agreeing that your prices are too high and that you’re going to offer a price reduction. Instead, you want to deal with the feelings related to your price, so you position your statement accordingly.

The final nuance to consider is that you are not offering a solution. So you need to word your opposite question narrowly and make sure it include the word “you” instead of the words “I” or “we.” Saying “If you had received delivery on time” is not the same as saying “If I could assure you of on-time delivery.” The second statement goes toward the solution without first making sure this is the real objection.

To use this technique effectively, keep a narrow focus on simply stating the opposite. Your sole goal with this one step is to determine whether or not you’ve got a real objection.


Deb Calvert

Deb Calvert, President of People First Productivity Solutions, is a Top 50 Sales Influencer who’s championing the movement to Step Selling & Start Leading. Deb provides consulting, training and coaching for companies aiming to improve their sales, leadership and team connections.