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How to Handle Customer Objections: A Roadmap

Learn the best framework for objection handling, and how to apply it to win more deals and customer upsells.

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How to Handle Customer Objections: A Roadmap

In the life of every sale, there are moments when one slip up could mean the end. 

At no time in the sales process are these moments more common than the beginning. 

The beginning of the sales process is when trust is at its lowest. And it’s when customer objections are the most numerous and the most complicated.

In any context, navigating conflict without a foundation of trust requires sharp conversation skills. 

Fortunately, salespeople have been handling sales objections since time immemorial. So we’ve tapped the knowledge and findings of the smartest people in this space to help you and your team handle sales objections like a pro.

In this post, you will:

  1. Learn a simple objection handling framework you can use to train your salespeople and account executives.
  2. Understand the principles of communication underlying the LAER framework.
  3. See examples of typical types of objections and how they might be handled.
  4. Discover how you can use LAER

<h-circle>1<h-circle>LAER: A simple framework for thinking about objection handling

The LAER objection-handling model is a foundational element of Jack Carew’s sales training program. Carew pioneered the model in 1976 and it’s still in use by sales leaders today, like Brooke Freedman, Senior Director of Sales at Drift. 

Here’s a paraphrased version of how Freedman explains each step of the LAER framework:

  1. Listen: Let your customer discuss their concern. If you interrupt, call yourself out on it so that they feel comfortable enough to continue sharing.
  2. Acknowledge: Repeat back what you heard in a condensed version. Be clear that you’re repeating this back to make sure you totally understand what the objection is. 
  3. Explore: Dig in and uncover the reasoning behind the objection. You (and your customer) should feel like you’re both on the same side, trying to solve a problem. 
  4. Respond: Deliver your recommendation based on the concerns they’ve shared with you, tying everything back to their goals. 

<h-circle>2<h-circle>Why the LAER framework?

If you’ve been in any sales role, you know that building interpersonal trust and securing commitment are key objectives. Without trust and commitment, there’s no sale.

Plus, research has shown that establishing trust has important benefits, including increased customer satisfaction.

The challenge with handling objections is that you have to manage rapport and conflict when trust and commitment are weak or nonexistent. And that is where the LAER framework comes in as a way to address a prospect’s concerns while maintaining rapport.

Listen and Acknowledge: the importance of trust

For a customer to have trust in a sales rep, the customer must believe in the rep’s integrity and reliability. And there’s no quicker way to erode a customer’s belief in your integrity and reliability than with a canned response. 

Active listening eliminates the possibility of a canned response. And it enables the possibility of a thoughtful one that addresses the customer’s concern specifically. Just as importantly, it shows your customer that you’re interested in solving their prospect’s problem rather than pushing the sale through. 

Acknowledgment is a component of active listening. It demonstrates to your customer that you are listening and seeking to fully understand their needs. 

Together, listening and acknowledgment work to build trust and lay the groundwork for your response to an objection.

Explore and Respond: redefining the relationship

Approaching objections as though the sales rep just needs to transmit the appropriate information is a common mistake sales professionals make.

The essential challenge of handling sales objections, according to multiple researchers is to:

Adapt the presentation of the information in such a way that the sales representative enhances rapport with the customer so that trust will develop.

Exploring solutions is the LAER framework’s way of structuring a sales conversation so salespeople can present information in a way that enhances rapport. 

With LAER, rather than arguing against customer’s objections, the salesperson reorients the conversation so customer and salesperson are on the “same side of the table.”

All of this builds up to the final step, the response, which should be a logical continuation of the explore step. Based on the exploration, you’ll have a handle on your customer’s objectives and concerns. And your response should be tailored to these objectives and concerns as a natural solution to their business problem. 

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<h-circle>3<h-circle>A simple example of handling objections

It’s one thing to talk about the theory of handling objections. And it’s another thing entirely to see it in action and put it into practice. 

In the next sections, we’ll walk through an example of LAER in practice, adapted from this Impact Plus blog post. Then we’ll outline how you can implement the LAER framework for yourself and your team.

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Salesperson Sam presents an alternative: “Investing in a great cloud-based document sharing solution is a more convenient alternative than purchasing more fax machines for your tech-startup.”

Customer Carolyn raises their objection: “I’ve always used fax machines. I don’t see why we would change.”

Salesperson Sam acknowledges and explores: “I understand that fax machines have worked well for you in the past. I’ve had good luck with them too. Is there a specific reason why you want to stick with them?

Customer Carolyn explains her reasoning: “I’m mostly worried that the new technology won’t work. Fax machines just work and you can actually see the paper. I don’t see the reason to change.”

Salesperson Sam responds:  “Trust me, nobody wants a solution that causes more problems than it solves. But in my experience, cloud-based solutions are extremely reliable. Plus they have the benefit of not being hardware dependent, like fax machines. And they don’t need maintenance, ink, or even to be in the same building to verify a message was sent. If we spend some time finding a rock-solid solution, would you be willing to entertain it as an alternative?”

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Salesperson Sam listens to the sales objection, acknowledges it, and then explores further. In his exploration, he uncovers Carolyn’s main concern (reliability), which he tailors his response to. This is key for overcoming sales objections on a sales call and building credibility in the eyes of the prospect.

If you don’t listen carefully to your prospects, you may target the wrong issue, or miss some key pain points that should factor into how you handle the prospect’s objection.

Look what happens when Sam skips the exploration step:

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Customer Carolyn’s objection: I’ve always had luck with fax machines. I don’t see why we would change.

Salesperson Sam’s response: In my experience, cloud-based solutions are extremely reliable. Plus they have the benefit of not being hardware dependent, like fax machines. And they don’t need constant maintenance. Would you be willing to entertain it as an alternative?

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Without exploration, the orientation of the conversation is salesperson vs. customer. With exploration, it’s salesperson and customer vs. objection.

<h-circle>4<h-circle>Implementing your objection-handling framework 

The first step in implementing the LAER framework with your team is to secure buy-in, not from your customer, but from the sales team itself. That means walking through (as we did in the sections above) the approach and explaining the reason it's the best option to your sales reps. You may have some objections of your own to overcome in this part.

It’s also a good idea to solicit and incorporate their ideas to leverage objection handling practices that are already working well on sales calls. Remember, LAER is a framework, not a handcuff. You can and should customize and tweak the framework to your liking. 

Once that’s done, it’s time to practice, practice more, monitor progress, and finally, practice a bit more. Practice helps sales reps remain calm when a buyer objects. They’ll not only be able to handle common objections well, but they won’t give off a confrontational, salesy vibe while doing it, which is exactly what you want.

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Objection handling practice

To give your reps time and repetitions, create several objections-based scenarios out of your customers’ most common objections. (If you don’t know what your most common customer objections are, ask your account execs, salespeople, and service teams what they usually hear from a potential buyer.)

Use the example shown above as a model, but make sure to use a variety of types of objections that reflect real customer concerns and the underlying issues they represent. 

And don’t be afraid to tap your reps to write out and submit their own scenarios that reflect the most common sales objections they face. Picture an aggressive prospect. What’s the first objection that comes to mind? Is it a real objection? Probe deeper. What other concerns are likely to come up on a discovery call?

You might categorize your sales objections differently, but according to Hernan Vera, Managing Partner of Sales Outcomes, these are the main four types of objections:

  1. Price/Risk: The customer is concerned whether, and to what extent, the decision will pay off.
  2. Quality of Service: The customer has doubts about your and/or your company’s ability to deliver as expected.
  3. Trust/Relationship: You and/or your company don’t have sufficient credibility and/or legitimacy.
  4. Stall: The business case isn’t solid or concerns haven’t been addressed.

Once you’ve written out enough scenarios, walk through them as a team. Pause often and have your team point out the steps of the LAER framework to ensure comprehension and improve objection handling skills.

If you think some reps aren’t getting it, follow up and schedule a one-on-one and roleplay objection-handling scenarios. 

Monitoring progress and adjusting

You need some way to monitor progress. Otherwise, you don’t know if what you’re working on causes sales performance improvements. But drawing a direct line of causation between sales performance improvements and better objection handling is not always straightforward. 

So you need to take both a holistic approach to progress monitoring. This includes regularly checking in with your sales reps and/or account execs to see how they think things are going. 

On top of that qualitative research, here a few common sales metrics and how you can use them to measure objection-handling performance:

Opportunity win rate: This rate should improve if objections are being handled better. When this rate rises it means your salespeople are converting a higher proportion of prospects into customers. 

Average deal size: In many but not all cases, the value of your sales should increase when you more effectively solve customers’ problems. So your average deal size is a good metric to monitor to evaluate objection handling. 

Sales cycle length: Improved objection-handling streamline deals and shorten the sales cycle. Look for shorter times to close as an indication your training is paying off. 

<h-circle>5<h-circle>Prep for your next customer’s objections

On a video call or in-person, you can read body language and pick up on other non-verbal cues. So customer meetings are the ideal time to deal with objections. But they won’t do you much good if you’re not prepared to have a productive, objection-handling conversation. 

To make sure you’re prepared, pick up one of our free agenda templates for your next customer meeting. 

And if you need some tips on setting the agenda, read our guide to building better agendas. 

FAQ

What are 5 common sales objections?

No matter how great your product or service is, you're going to face objections from potential buyers. Here are the five most common ones:

  1. Price: This is the most common objection, and it's often based on the buyer's perception of the value of your product or service. You need to be able to justify your price so they can see the value.
  2. Scope: The buyer may feel you're asking them to go beyond their comfort level with such big changes to their work processes and organization, as well as financial investments. Your job is to clearly show how your product or service will pay for itself through increased productivity and/or reduced costs.
  3. Authority to purchase: The buyer may not feel they have the authority to make the purchase, or they may be waiting for the nod from a higher-up. Help them understand that your product or service is within their budget and responsibility, and that even if someone else ultimately signs off, purchasing is an excellent way to demonstrate their leadership skills.
  4. Doubt: This objection can come from the buyer not trusting you or your product, which is extremely common. You need to provide proof of results, case studies, and testimonials and comfort them by explaining that there's no risk on their part.
  5. Urgency: This is an objection many salespeople face because they expect to sell quickly. But if a buyer isn't in a hurry, they may feel like they have the time to shop around. You need to show them why they should buy from you now, and what happens if they don't (that is, 'what's their Plan B?').

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