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Overcoming Objections, and the Real Meaning of “No”

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
12 min read

It’s a fact of prospecting that you’ll hear the word “no” on multiple occasions. The real question is, what does it mean when you hear it? It’s often not what you think.

In this episode, I’ll cover:

  1. What “no” really means as defined by the client
  2. Practicing acceptance when faced with the feeling of rejection
  3. How to dig deeper to better understand your client and her needs
  4. Anticipating objections and being proactive to turn the situation around

Before you enter defense mode, take a moment to understand what the client means when she says “no”—this can make all the difference in your approach. Ask questions, and be empathetic. Where is the client coming from? Understand your client to understand their initial objection.

Remember that being right or wrong has no place in your relationship with your client, and her rejection has nothing to do with you personally. It’s your job to take the wheel to serve and reach an agreement. It can be difficult, but accepting that you’ll hear the word “no” will make it a little less of a surprise. You’ll be more inclined to find a solution that works for everyone.

Anticipate objections. They come up over and over again, so you’ll need a strategy and mindset to deal with them effectively. Your clients are scared of change, and comfortable with keeping things the way they are. Recognizing your client’s reluctance to change can lead you to ask deeper, better questions, and address their objections head-on.

For more information on remote selling and a complete list of links mentioned in this podcast, visit this remote selling article on our website.

Overcoming Objections, and the Real Meaning of “No”:

Full Transcript

In 2005, Cha-sa Soon, 69 year old South Korean woman took her driving test. She dreamed of getting her driver’s license and it felt like a reach from her remote mountain village of Wanju. Now, she decided that she was going to get her driver’s license, but what she didn’t expect was that she’d set a record along the way.

On that fateful day in April 2005, Miss Chaw took the driving test, but she didn’t pass. The next day, she went back, took it again, and she failed again. Five more days, she failed the driving test five more times. Ten more days, still she didn’t pass. But every single day five days a week, she went back to take the test again. She repeated this process five days a week on and on and on. Failure after failure for three whole years. Still she didn’t pass. But eventually, on her 960th attempt, a full four years after she took her first test, Miss Chaw did pass her driving exam and finally got her license.

Along the way, she heard the word no 959 times. Most of us don’t like to hear the word no once. 959 times she heard, “No, you didn’t pass.” But there’s important nuance in that statement. What she heard was, “No, you didn’t pass this time.” She didn’t hear, “You can’t ever get your driver’s license. You’re not cut out for this.” She understood what no meant in that situation, and she stayed persistent and eventually achieved what she set out to do and got her driver’s license at the very, very young age of 73.

Welcome to the Show. I, of course, am Liston and I am here to help you build a better consulting business, a better professional services business, a better agency, and in today’s episode, I want to talk about objections and the meaning of the word no because I think that what’s underpinning all of our negative feelings about receiving objections is mistaking an objection for a rejection and that’s what I’m going to talk to you about today.

No can feel like a door in the face. Especially if you’re doing any degree of prospecting. You’re going to hear people telling you no over and over and over again. It is a fact of life. Any degree of no or even a negative response generally, it can feel like an outright rejection. And, of course, rejection is part of selling anything. If you’re serious about serving others, there will be times when people just don’t want your service. That’s okay. Our goal is to serve not sell. And part of service is understanding who can I help.

Rejection is part of doing anything important and worthwhile. That’s because our bold, ambitious ideas upset the status quo. Whatever’s going on today for us or for other people, it could be better. It could be improved. And that’s why we sell. We can deliver a better tomorrow to our clients, but that also means something really, really scary, outright frightening, making us shake in our boots, needs to happen and that’s change. But what most of us never ask is when someone’s resistant to change, when we hear an objection from them, when we hear a negative sentiment, what do people mean when they say no?

When we hear no, it can mean many, many different things. I went on Merriam Webster’s Dictionary and it lists eight definitions of the adverb no which doesn’t even count all the many other meanings of the word no. And definition number three really sums it up. It says, quote, “Not so. Used to express negation, decent, denial, or refusal,” end quote. Notice two of the words used in that definition, decent and refusal. Now, decent means to differ in opinion while refusal means unwilling to accept. That, my friends, is a gigantic difference. And when we think about overcoming objections where many of us start is to think how can I have the perfect can response to disarm this person of any negative sentiment that they’re expressing, tell them why they’re wrong, and tell them why I’m right.

But we’re skipping ahead when we do that, because the hardest part of overcoming objections is to accept this truth. Language is really nuanced, and when people say no or express disapproval it’s often not an outright rejection. In fact, it’s usually not an outright rejection, and more importantly, it is not a personal rejection. But many of us take the word no as a personal rejection and we dig our heels into survival mode because we suddenly snap into this fight or flight position and often, of course, what we do is fight. We turn it into an argument rather than a discussion. We turn it into a transaction. Thinking things like, “I’ll tell you why you need to buy from me,” rather than, “I’m sure that I can serve you.” And here’s the important point, the word no is typically not a personal rejection, and the best way to deal with it is to understand what our clients mean when they tell us no.

Here you are in a selling situation where you heard the word no. What should you do? Well, we’ve already established two things. The word no can mean many different things and outright rejection is only one of the possibilities. That’s the first thing we know. The second thing we know is there’s very little chance that it is a personal rejection. What we have to do is find out what the word no means when we hear it.

Now, I want to take a step back here. You may not hear the word no expressly said, but when I say the word objections, what I’m referring to are negative statements that we hear from our clients that we feel may jeopardize the sale moving forward. And so, what is for sure and what is guaranteed is that the only way to figure out what is meant by the word no is to engage in conversation.

Gong.IO, G-O-N-G dot I-O, is a website with no affiliation to me, but they make a conversational analysis software for sales teams, and after analyzing 67,000, six seven zero zero zero, 67,000 sales conversations, what they found was that the most successful sales people treated objections and negative sentiment as an opportunity to better understand the client. The nature of those conversations was a back and forth dialogue as if the objection was not a hiccup at all.

On the other hand, what they found was that less successful sales people did the exact opposite. They would dig into their position and they would launch into monologues defending themselves and their companies, trying to disprove the objection that they received and what that creates is an immediate adversarial relationship between you and your client. You are trying to prove them wrong. They, of course, don’t want to feel wrong. You now have moved into transactional mode, forcibly imposing your will on them, in the back of your mind thinking, “You’re gonna buy this shit,” and what they’re thinking is, “I suddenly don’t trust this person as much.”

Here’s what you need to do instead. You have two tasks. Number one, understand and two, engage in conversation. Here’s how to go about that. I’m going to go over three ways that you can understand the meaning of the word no when you hear it and also successfully address objections rather than overcome them. Because when we say overcome objections, there’s an embedded assumption there and that is all objection should be overcome, and if our goal is to serve not sell, that’s not the case. Sometimes, objections are legitimate and we should collaboratively with our client decide to walk away from the deal now or completely. But in many cases, objections are the result of a misunderstanding or misalignment of expectations. And so, the three things you need to do, except, understand, and anticipate.

Number one, except. Now, our default position is to defend. We’ve worked really hard. We got to know this client especially if you have big, large high-ticket sales, high-five figures, six-figures, seven, even eight-figures. Those deals are going to take a long time. I’ve talked before about the physics of the sale here, and it’s really simple. The more expensive and the more complex, the longer your sales cycle on average. If you’re two or three months in and all of a sudden you hear something that comes across as an objection, a negative sentiment from your client, it’s natural to feel frustration. You’ve put in a lot of time to get to this point. You’ve sent documents. You’ve responded to emails and questions. You’ve talked to multiple stakeholders. You’ve been willing, from your point of view, to jump through certain hoops to make this happen. Just to get to this point is an accomplishment.

So, when you hear a negative sentiment expressed, it’s totally natural to feel frustration. Maybe even to feel some annoyance or even anger and to dig in and defend your position, but you have to avoid that. Because what you’re essentially doing is you’re telling them you’re wrong, I’m right, here’s why. And I would contend that selling has absolutely nothing to do with being right. It’s about serving and it’s about reaching an agreement. Right and wrong aren’t as important here. And the question I would ask you is, is it more important to be right or is it more important to get the deal? I will always air on the side of getting the deal. Number one, except that objections aren’t about you at all, and even more than that, objections are not a personal rejection of you or even a personal reflection of you in any way at all. You have to accept that.

Once you accept that we can move on to number two and that is to understand. And by understand, what I mean is we have to dig into the word no to understand where this person is coming from. There’s a wonderful book that I mentioned on this podcast before. It’s called ‘Never Split the Difference’ by Chris Voss. And that author’s name is Voss, V-O-S-S, and Chris is a former FBI negotiator, hostage negotiator, and he now teaches negotiation to people who want to become better at negotiation. This is a direct excerpt from the book, he says, “When someone tells you no, you need to rethink the word in one of it’s alternative and much more real meanings.”

So, he’s gone to the trouble of defining what does it mean when he hears the word no. These are the definitions or the possibilities that he lays out in the book. “Number one, I’m not yet ready to agree. Number two, you are making me feel uncomfortable. Number three, I don’t understand. Number four, I don’t think I can afford it. Number five, I want something else. Number six, I need more information. Number seven, I want to talk it over with someone else.”

Now notice, none of these are an outright rejection of you and none of them say, “No, I never want to talk to you again. Please get lost.” In last week’s episode, I talked about demonstrating leadership in the sale, and part of demonstrating leadership is being able to lead the conversation when a negative sentiment arises, and lead it to a place where both parties can constructively have a conversation that surfaces all of the hidden and maybe even subconscious meanings of the language that we’re using and the sentiments that we’re expressing.

In order to understand when you hear an objection, “No, we can’t afford that. No, I don’t think that’ll help. No, it’s not the right time.” Instead of accepting those at face value, what I would recommend is that you ask open ended and follow up questions to better understand what does this really mean. What do they mean when they say, “No, we don’t need this.” Do they mean I’m not yet ready to agree? Do they mean I don’t understand? Do they mean now’s a really bad time for us to talk about this? Do they mean I need more information? That’s what we want to get to because each of those meanings of no we can’t address in conversation with an exchange of information.

Part of understanding is to realign the team. You and your client are essentially operating as a team to work collaboratively to solve their problems and to deliver a solution that will do it in a timely manner with a high value return. Taking stock once again of why you’re both here, why you’re even engaged in this conversation in the first place, can act as a mechanism to realign the team.

Number one, you have to accept that this is not about you. And number two, our goal is to understand so we ask open ended questions and follow up questions to better understand what’s happening. If that at all gets side tracked or becomes the least bit adversarial, it’s time to realign the team. Number one, accept. Number two, understand. And number three, anticipate. Given your experience, take some time to anticipate the likely objections you’ll hear from your client. Before you get on the phone with them, before you make an offer, before you reach the negotiation phase assuming you’ve been doing this for awhile, there are lots of different scenarios that you can anticipate. And very likely, there are red flags or yellow cards in the soccer metaphor, right? There are indicators that there may be an objection that arises at some point.

And so, given your experience, take stock of what those indicators are, take stock of who this client is, and what objections clients like them are likely to have, and anticipate that those objections are going to come up. If you can identify them, there’s a pretty good chance that they’re on your client’s mind, and what I would recommend is being proactive about addressing them. If you can proactively address an objection before it comes up, no one has a chance to move into defensive mode which is good.

We’re a team, right? We’re aligning the team, and you as the leader of this process are showing leadership and saying, “Hey, here’s some obstacles or speed bumps that have come up in the past. What do you think about those?” And you have a chance to have a totally disarming conversation about potential hiccups. By anticipating these objections, you’re facilitating a much more productive conversation with your client and you’re giving them an invitation to have an open and honest conversation with you.

Just to recap here, when it comes to overcoming objections, it’s really about arriving at the real meaning of no. Can mean lots of different things, and the most helpful way to think about the meaning of the word no is it could mean, “I differ in opinion from you,” or “I’m unwilling to accept this.” One is an outright rejection. The other is we haven’t reached alignment yet. And there are three things you should do along the way in order to better address objections. Number one, accept that objections are not about you at all and they are certainly not a rejection. Number two, understand what is meant when you hear the objection. There are many different meanings of the word no. And number three, anticipate so that in the future, you can address objections proactively.

That’s today’s episode of the Show. I wanted to thank you so much for being here. If you’re getting anything out of this podcast, please do take the time to go to iTunes and leave a review. It will help me get the word out to more people. And if you know anyone who would benefit from this episode, go ahead and hit share in the app you’re using and you should be able to send it to anybody that you know in your contact list or tweet it out or share it on Facebook or LinkedIn or whatever social network you use. Any sharing would be greatly appreciated.

The last thing I wanted to tell you today is there are some changes coming to the Liston.IO Show. They are for the better. The quality is ramping up significantly, and the format of this feed will change slightly. I will be talking to you more about that next week so stay tuned for those changes and I hope you have a fantastic day. Bye.

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