Overcoming objections is a key skill in sales, and in life. Kevin McAlpin and Gavin Ingham outline coaching strategies that can help everybody — especially coaches — surmount objections.

By Kevin McAlpin & Gavin Ingham

In this article, my co-author Gavin Ingham and I will look at six core strategies for handling client objections, together with four of the fundamental skills needed to be a top salesperson. These will allow you to effortlessly enhance your ability to influence clients and overcome their objections.

Six Strategies for Getting to ‘Yes’

Many coaches are experts in being emotionally intelligent with clients and in conflict situations. However, when you mention the words ‘sales’ or ‘cold calling’, they seem to break out into a cold sweat and have heart palpitations. It is at an identity level that they seem to feel things are not aligned. They make comments like ‘It is just not me’ or ‘I am not a salesperson.’ The truth is that we are all salespeople and influencers, from getting our partners to go to the restaurant we like, to getting our clients to follow through on the goals they have set, to managing upwards and getting our project ideas taken on, to encouraging our children to tidy their toys. Once we acknowledge this, we can move on and learn the skills and techniques to sell our coaching and allow all those in need of our help to get it.

Before you read any further, you need to ensure you have the foundations in place. Check you are clear about the following five factors:

•    Your brand values and image
•    Your strengths and skills
•    The features and benefits of the service
•    That you have a clear price structure and process
•    Your niche market and target audience.

Now, let’s check your fundamental sales skills. Amazingly, they are aligned to those of a coach. Active listening and questioning are two core skills, as are building rapport and relationships.

Listen Loud

In my opinion, one of the biggest skills in being able to sell well is developing your listening skills. Most sales companies and salespeople talk about being consultative, but they don’t really know what consulting is. No-one can consult if they cannot listen first.

Although most people probably think they can listen well, 90 percent of people have appalling listening skills. Even those who know how to listen don’t do it a lot of the time. Think about it. When you are in a conversation and someone is saying something, to be able to understand it you are constantly translating their words into your own experiences and your own words. It’s the way our brains are wired — you make sense of other people’s words by interpreting them into what you think they mean.

How many times have you been in a conversation and, before the other person has finished you are thinking, ‘I know what he/she means here, I can sort this out.’ And the first thing out of your mouth is, ‘I know what you mean exactly. It’s just like when I…’

So here are ten levels of listening. Read through them carefully, and think about where you are on the scale. Your level will probably vary depending on time, circumstances, your mood, and so on. Note your level and concentrate on moving up the levels. The benefits won’t just be in your business life.

Levels of Listening

Which level of listening are you at?

•    Not there physically (You didn’t show up!)
•    There physically, but not mentally (Not paying attention at all.)
•    Hearing the speaker but doing something else at the same time (such as looking elsewhere, reading, thinking about a different matter)
•    Interrupting the speaker early and frequently
•    Interrupting the speaker later and less often
•    Allowing the speaker to finish, but meanwhile intensely thinking of a counter-argument or response
•    Allowing the speaker to finish while earnestly trying to understand what is being said, and then replying immediately
•    Allowing the speaker to finish, pausing, thoughtfully considering what has been said, and then replying
•    Allowing the speaker to finish, pausing, summarising what you think you heard, and only then replying
•    Allowing the speaker to finish, summarising what you’ve heard, and then honing in on limiting beliefs (I must / should / ought to, I can’t), unhelpful assumptions and generalisations (people are…, women can’t…, nothing ever…), and unhelpful connections (I’m too old, I won’t get another job).

Surely, as a coach you will be at level 10, so you will already have the ability and skills to be a great salesperson. Now rate yourself out of 10 for each of questioning, rapport building and relationships. A total score above 32, and you’re already well on your way.

Six Simple Strategies to Handle any Objection

Strategy 1 — Don’t Fan Fires

When I was a young lad I used to love going on school camp. One of the most exciting things about it was cooking your own food over an open flame. On our first attempt we built a massive fire to cook our fantastic feast on. Unfortunately, all we managed to do was incinerate the bacon and eggs within seconds! One of the teachers came over to us and explained that it was all about controlling the flames, not stoking them up.

When I run seminars and programmes, I am constantly amazed by how even quite senior coaches manage to fan really quite minor objections into raging infernos with a combination of their own perceptions, emotions and reactions. When you take the time to control your emotions and reactions, you can really start to control the fire. With cold calling in particular, many of the opening objections given by clients are merely bluster and have no substance behind them whatsoever. Even when they do have some substance (for example, ‘We use another supplier’), they don’t necessarily require an answer right away. Acknowledging the objection and moving on is sometimes all that is required at this stage. Unless there is any particular reason why, I will normally approach most first objections in a cold call in this manner.

Possible objections —

‘We have no budget…’
‘We have no need…’
‘We use another supplier…’
‘We have a preferred suppliers’ list…’
‘It’s nearly the end of the financial year…’
‘It’s not my decision…’
‘I need to speak to someone else…’

Answer —

‘That’s fine. The reason for my call is to…’
Or, if you really must say more: ‘That’s fine. I wouldn’t expect it to be any other way. The reason for my call is to…’

Strategy 2 — People buy People

Sell on relationships! If everything else is equal, people buy from the person they like the best. This may seem obvious, but it is a fact that’s often overlooked by most salespeople. This is a shame because it’s a fact that we can use to great advantage when selling. Most clients are worried that you are going to push something onto them that they don’t want – we’ve all experienced salespeople who do this. By focusing on the relationship and not on the sale, you start to put your clients more at ease and stop worrying that they are about to get ‘pitched’. When I teach this simple technique to delegates and they get on the phones and try it, they are always amazed at just how effective it really is.

Objections —

‘We have no need…’
‘We have no budget…’
‘It’s the end of the financial year…’
‘It’s not my decision…’
‘You need to speak to someone else…’

The ‘building relationships’ answer is ‘That’s fine. At this point most of my competitors would ask you when you do have a budget and arrange to call you back then. We at

[name company] believe that business is built on relationships and I would still like to invest the time in getting to know you now. Tell me, John, how…?’

Strategy 3 — Be the Complement

This principle is a little similar to the last approach and is based on the fact that most clients expect you to confront their objections head on. By using this approach you avoid any confrontation and disarm your client because it is not what they are expecting. Importantly, you also differentiate yourself from the competition.

Objections —

‘We have an existing supplier…’
‘We use in-house solutions…’
‘We farm that out to the States…’
‘We have an internal person in charge of that area…’
‘We use your competitors [ABC and so on]…’

Answer —

‘That’s fine. I wouldn’t expect it to be any other way. Many of my other clients said that before they became aware of how what we do complements what they are already doing. What I’d like to do is come down and see you / ask a couple of questions…’

Strategy 4 — Feel, Felt, Found

‘I understand the way that you feel.’
‘Other people felt that way too.’
‘What they found was that…’

Strategy 5 — Respect the Reasons

When I am selling, I know that the majority of people who have a need for my services will already be getting something similar elsewhere. They will also have gone to some time and effort to find and select their current suppliers.

Depending on the product I am selling, changing suppliers may be really quite difficult for the client in terms of time, logistics, cost, related systems and so on. Clients are not sitting around waiting for a call from me so that they can change suppliers when I call them! In fact, I don’t want it to be that easy at all. If it were, anybody could call my clients and get an opportunity. I don’t want clients that give everything out to anybody who rings them.

I want clients with whom I can build meaningful and long-lasting business relationships. It always amazes me that most salespeople want to turn around these kinds of objections with just one call. It shows a total lack of understanding of the client, their needs, and indeed of how clients really use our products. What kind of message does this kind of behaviour send to your clients about your business awareness? The way to deal with this kind of situation is to take the time to understand your client’s reasons and situation more fully.

Objections —

‘We have existing suppliers…’
‘We have a preferred suppliers’ list…’
‘We do this in-house…’
‘We contract this out…’
‘This is controlled by the US…’

Answer —

‘Thanks for sharing that with me, and I wouldn’t expect it to be any other way (I’m pleased that you take this area of your business so seriously). I ‘m sure that you had good business reasons for putting that in place. Do you mind me asking, what were they?’ (And ask as if you mean to get an answer.)

Strategy 6 — Stepping Stones

Clients tell you what you need to know. Their words are like cement and you are the water. The question is, are you going to build a stepping stone or a weight to drown yourself with? With stepping stones we leverage the client’s own words to create a platform from which we can move towards our desired outcome. This is particularly effective when setting meetings, but can be used in many ways.

What is a Stepping Stone?

Your questions + client answer + ‘that’s exactly why…’ + ‘because’

Example 1 —

You: I ‘m sure that you have good reasons for not undertaking coaching. Do you mind me asking, what they are?
Client: Well, it’s too expensive and last time I didn’t get results.
You: John, I can see that would create questions and queries and that’s exactly why we need to meet.

Example 2 —

You: I’d still like to invest in getting to know you. Tell me, John, what size team do you have down there?

Client: Oh, about 60.
You: How many of them are involved face to face with clients?
Client: Most of them, I guess.
You: You know, that’s exactly why we need to meet because . [Note in this example that the word ‘because’ is about to link to reasons why the meeting would be good.

Example 3 —

Client: I’ve heard bad stuff about your industry. It’s too expensive.
You: I’ve heard that said too, but it really doesn’t reflect the return on investment that many of our clients have been getting and that’s exactly why we need to meet…

A Positive Ratio

There you are; the six strategies to overcome any objections and the four key skills of a top salesperson. An important thing to remember is that 80 percent of your results will be down to your attitude and 20 percent to your skill.

As a coach, therefore, you already have what it takes. However, as with anything, it is our attitude and beliefs that will ultimately be the deciding factors in whether we sell our coaching services, or influence our key stakeholders, our partner or our children.