The RSA who hates and fears objections and allows objections to foil his presentation will have a very short and unhappy career in sales.
This article is the first in a series on the subject of how retailers can and should handle objections to any purchase, especially in the mattress department. Today, we’ll talk about objections conceptually, and discuss a couple of common objections in the last few paragraphs. In upcoming articles, we’ll talk in more detail about specific objections and suggestions as to how to handle them.
What Do We Mean By “Objections?”
Let’s start by looking up the word “objection” in the dictionary. An easy, short definition goes like this: “an expression of opposition, disapproval, disagreement, or dislike.” Customer objections come in all shapes, forms and flavors. In this article, we will analyze types of customer objections, when they happen, why they happen, and how the RSA can actually use customer objections to help make the sale.
Most of us have probably seen TV courtroom dramas where some prosecuting attorney examines a witness using outrageous lines of questioning and suddenly the opposing attorney jumps up indignantly and protests to the judge, “I object, your honor!” Then the judge decides which lawyer is right and which is wrong.
Something similar frequently happens in a sales encounter between RSA and customer. Except in the sales encounter, the objection has no arbitrator like the judge. In the sales “court,” the RSA has to be the judge. The RSA must be able to interpret and decide, “Did I hear or see an objection?” Some objections are obvious, some are not. Some objections are only perceived through the RSA’s interpretation of the customer’s facial expressions or body language. The professional RSA must constantly monitor the attitude of the customer and observe when the customer is making an overt or even covert objection to the proceedings.
In fact, we will find that recognizing, interpreting and understanding objections; then responding correctly and professionally is one of the most powerful and productive sales skills any RSA can acquire and cultivate. This skill can also be among the most difficult to attain. And, how do you practice handling objections? Nobody said it was easy.
Why Do Objections Happen?
Many sales trainers and sales experts believe that the number of objections that an RSA will encounter in a sales presentation is inversely proportional to how good a job he did in the Greeting, Qualifying, Selection and Presentation Steps of the Sale. Let’s break this down and see what that means in plain English.
John F. Lawhon, in his book Selling Retail, opined that if the RSA did a masterful job of (1) Greeting (2) Qualifying (3) Selecting and (4) Presenting, the RSA would only rarely get an objection from the customer in the closing step. After all, if you know exactly what the customer needs and wants, and you have the product in your store that will satisfy those needs, what objection could the customer possibly make?
Of course, we all know that things rarely work that easily, but the following point is well made; the better the RSA does his job in ALL steps of the sale, the fewer serious objections will be expressed by the customer. (Note: Refer to Furniture World’s on-line archives for my previous articles on the first four Steps of the Sale.)
When Do Most Objections Occur?
Objections can happen any time in the sales process. Witness this common occurrence. Customer walks in the front door.
“How can we help you today?”
Customer (or “up”, in this case):
“I’m just looking.”
That’s an objection, isn’t it? (Peter Marino, in his book Winning Bragging Rights, went into detail about how the “I’m just looking” response is also a “buying signal.”)
Most of the time, however, objections will occur during the closing sequence. The closing sequence is when the RSA begins to press the customer, in a pleasant way, of course, to make a decision. Many customers resist the pressure to make a decision, especially when it means spending hard-earned money. This resistance becomes fertile ground for objections to spring up.
What Do Objections Really Mean?
To invoke John F. Lawhon again, he said “objections should be regarded as requests for more information.” Peter Marino suggested that many common objections should be considered as buying signals.
Some sales trainers might not completely agree with either of these statements, but the professional RSA is wise to think of objections as something more than stumbling blocks ruining every sales opportunity.
Most customer objections are devices to slow down the sales process; to relieve the pressure that an RSA is exerting to make the sale; to avoid making a decision, etc. Some objections, however, are real. The RSA must learn which are real and which are just delays or stalls.
Here are some examples of real objections:
- “We don’t have any money or credit.”
- “We can’t take delivery until we close on our new house.”
- “The beds you are showing me are too hard.”
- “A king size bed will not go up the staircase in my house.”
- “My living room is too small for a big sofa and two end tables.”
These people probably really mean what they say. The RSA is wise to respect real objections.
Of course, the RSA is wise to also respect made up objections and should never dismiss or ridicule any objection.
Not All Objections Are Alike
Objections can come in two basic varieties; voiced and unvoiced. Within these two basic varieties, there are several subdivisions. Right now, let’s look at some unvoiced objections.
I’m not a psychologist, so what you are reading here are my no-so-scholarly observations and opinions. According to what I have observed, unvoiced objections primarily fall into two basic sub-divisions; body language and facial expressions. Both of these are rich sources of; buying signals and or objections. The alert RSA must be on the lookout for both. As already mentioned above, objections can be considered as “requests for more information,” and/or “buying signals.”
A common unvoiced objection is what I refer to as the “hesitation,” or “delay,” or “stall.” The customer just will not give a response, positive or negative, to the RSA. There can be many reasons for the customer’s attitude. He/she might just be trying to slow down an aggressive RSA. He might be just thinking about it. Who knows? One way to handle this would be for the RSA to slow down, and begin to re-qualify or probe the customer’s mind. Ask more questions. If you can’t figure out what the customer is thinking, ask him or her, in an interested and caring way. How else will you know?
Let me make a brief point about the RSA asking questions. Do not be afraid to pose questions to the “up” at any stage of the sales process. We covered probing and questions in the Qualifying Step of the Sale, but, in an article about Objections, it bears repeating. Any and all serious Objections, either verbal or non-verbal, must be searched out by the RSA, and the only way I know of to search out the real meaning of Objections is to ask more questions. So, you could say, any Objection by the customer automatically puts the RSA back into the Qualifying step. In a way, you could say the sales process is like a dance. It consists of several steps, many of which are repeated over and over, as needed.
Can The RSA Ever Object?
Everyone in sales seems to think that objections are the sole province of the customer. I beg to differ. In my career as a salesman, I have objected to customer behavior on quite a number of occasions. When I say “customer behavior,” I’m not necessarily referring to grown-ups jumping on the beds, although I have seen that, as well. I will give one example of a legitimate RSA objection that happened to me many years ago in a sleep shop in Southern California. I was working the floor by myself one early afternoon. A couple came in to look at a new mattress. They were wrapped up in each other to the point where I was having trouble getting their attention. They were walking around, pushing on beds, giggling, and barely slowing down as they cruised each aisle of the showroom. Needless to say, I did not have control of the sale, and I was starting to get a little annoyed. Finally, as they went down the last aisle and approached the door, the man, not even looking at me, tossed me the ultimate objection; “Well, obviously, your prices are too high. We’re going to look somewhere else.” It wasn’t easy to control my irritation, but I thought to myself, “I’ve got nothing to lose here. I’m not going to let this guy get away with this without some kind of fight. I’m going to hit back with my own objection!”
So I said, “How would you know what our prices are? You haven’t listened to a word I’ve said since you walked in the door. If you’d paid any attention at all, you would have heard that we guarantee the best price. Now, do you need a mattress or not? If you do, then listen to me for a minute and we’ll find one for you.” Ten minutes later, they walked out the door with receipt in hand, and we delivered them a queen set that night.
My point is this. Don’t let the up bully you. It’s your store, after all. Sometimes, you have to “object” to get their attention. Gain control. When the RSA has control of the sale, the customer will have a lot fewer objections.
What the guy in the above story said, essentially, was; “We’re leaving. You have high prices. We’re not coming back.” As an RSA, I had two choices. Let him walk, and be angry and frustrated the rest of the day, or challenge him with my own objection, make the sale, and write about it in Furniture World twenty-five years later.
A lot of objections need interpretation. The customer’s objection may have some hidden meaning or no meaning at all. Not all objections can be taken literally. The customer may just be desperate for a way out of an uncomfortable situation. For any and all objections, the RSA must figure out what the customer really means. In fact, many lost sales can be chalked up to the RSA’s failure to truly understand a customer’s objection. The best way to really understand the customer’s objection is to acknowledge the objection (meaning: repeat it back to the customer) and ask for clarification.
Most objections need to be acknowledged by the RSA. Notice that I said “most.” If the customer says, “We want to look around some more,” what does the RSA do? Stand there mute, hand them his card, and wave bye-bye? That’s what a lot of RSAs do. That’s why there is such great opportunity for the professional RSA who really is good at his job. Most of your competition is handing out cards, waving good-bye.
Acknowledging the customer’s objection is often nothing more than (1) repeating the objection back to the customer, so that the customer knows you understood the objection and (2) indirectly asking the customer what is his (real) reason for the objection. All this should be done tactfully and inoffensively, of course.
For example, an RSA’s possible response to the above objection might go like this; “I think it is a good idea to be thorough when looking for something as important as a new mattress set. Let me ask you this. I know you said you like the feel and the price of the set I showed you here. Have you shopped anywhere else before you came here?” Wait for the answer. He’s not leaving yet. You are finding out more information. If he’s already shopped several places and likes your deal the best, you may already have everything you need to close the sale. If yours is the first store he’s shopped, then there is another, different dialogue to follow to convince him that there is no need to shop further. Suggest to him that he’s already found the deal he’s looking for.
The RSA acknowledged his need to be thorough (look around some more.) Then, the RSA raised the question of “Why is it really necessary to look around some more?” “Haven’t you found a bed you like at a price you are satisfied with?” The implied question is, “What more are you hoping to find?” In other words, if I may quote some old Bob Dylan lyrics, “Why wait any longer for the one you love, when he’s standing in front of you?” (Incidentally, in that song, Bob Dylan happened to be talking about mattresses and furniture.)
Not all objections need to be acknowledged; most do, but not all. Some un-serious, flippant, casual, even insulting remarks from the customer can probably be ignored. In fact, some are better ignored than responded to.
An Objection We Hear Every Day: “I’m Just Looking.”
These are probably the most often repeated three words heard between the walls of home furnishings establishments. Why do we so often hear, “I’m just looking?” I’d like to suggest that those three words are the logical response to the greeting, “May I help you?” A weak greeting earns a weak response and objection. Too often the weak greeting is also followed by silence from the RSA. The up then walks around the store for a few minutes, walks out (maybe with a card), and then goes on her way, with nobody in the store any wiser as to why she walked in to begin with.
Maybe a better greeting would have drawn a better response. For more information on the Meet and Greet, see my article on that subject in the Furniture World on-line archives.
Many customers, however, will respond with “I’m just looking,” no matter how good the RSA’s greeting is. What do you do, then?
I refer to this kind of customer as the Aloof Customer. There is a chapter in my book, How to Win the Battle For Mattress Sales, The Bed Seller’s Manual on an effective way to answer this response.
Let’s analyze “I’m just looking” from both Lawhon’s and Marino’s perspectives.
Mr. Lawhon said objections were requests for more information. Is “I’m just looking” a request for more information? Although not phrased that way, certainly the RSA could hear it that way. She’s looking for something. She may know what she’s looking for. She may not. Even if she has an idea of what she wants, she may not know where to find it. Even though she did not request it in so many words, the customer clearly needs and wants more information.
Peter Marino said objections should be considered as “buying signals.” Most sales trainers like to be a lot more specific about buying signals than merely a statement of “I’m just looking.” However, as Dr. Marino points out, the very fact that she is in the store at all is a buying signal.
So, whether request for information or buying signal, the mute RSA is pretty useless, is he not?
What to do, then? Have you ever noticed that a lot of public places, such as museums, shopping malls, hotels, etc., have information and/or reception desks? Most furniture stores do not. If the furniture store had a reception area, do you think many first time customers might approach the receptionist to get more information about the store before trekking the acres of showroom floor? Now, I’m not suggesting reception desks for stores. What I’m suggesting is that the greeting RSA, if he has failed to get the customer’s attention with a strong greeting, might respond to the “I’m just looking” by becoming an acting receptionist or information assistant. For example:
“How are you today, how can we help you?”
“I’m just looking.”
“Thanks for coming in. We’ve got a lot to look at. Is this your first time in the store?”
“Yes.” (or, “No.”)
“This is a big store and they’ve been re-merchandising a lot of the store, so it may look different from the last time you were in (if it’s not your first visit.) We also have a lot of new furniture that just came in. Sometimes things are hard to find. If you’ll give me an idea of what you are thinking about, I’ll be happy to take you there, and I can answer any questions along the way. We also have some great bargains in our clearance center in the back of the store.”
Re-word it however you like, but the point is to be friendly and helpful and try to get acquainted with the customer and gain control of the sale. Notice too that the RSA tried to redeem himself by invoking a couple of “general benefit statements,” which he failed to do with his weak greeting.
In the next installment of this series, we will list and discuss some of the most commonly heard customer objections.
Objections are a naturally occurring part of the sale. They happen all the time; to every RSA, no matter how old or young. They happen to grizzled veterans and rookies alike.
Learn how to handle them. Do not let objections de-rail your sale.