Overcome sales objections with the power of story
By Dave DeFranco
It’s no secret that B2B selling is more complex than it’s ever been. It’s less predictable because more buyers are involved in the process. In fact, recently LinkedIn reported that 6.8 individuals are involved in the average B2B sale, and the average sales cycle length is 6 months. To exacerbate the situation, these buyers are further along in their purchase journeys and seek the help of sales when they are ready to make a decision. Recent research by CSO Insights showed that 70% of buyers fully define their needs on their own before engaging with a sales representative, and 44% identify specific solutions before reaching out to a seller. By the time your sales rep finally gets a meeting, they’re going to face a very well-educated buyer – one who most likely knows more than the seller about the solutions they’ve considered.
Think about stories that drive decision-making
It stands to reason that delivering a canned “overview” presentation won’t likely land well. Instead, sellers should be prepared to have a conversation that is less about sharing the organization’s origin story or the newest product features, and more about how the right stories can address a customer’s specific challenges, questions, and concerns so a buying decision can be made.
One of the greatest insights from our CEO, Nancy Duarte, was that the underlying structure of persuasive communication uses story techniques like tension and release to pull an audience toward your idea. This “story sparkline” is the line that moves between what is (the lower position) and what could be (the higher position) to show contrast in content. Every presentation has a unique sparkline. No two are alike, because no two presentations are alike.
Leverage tension and release in sales conversations
This sense of tension between the What Is and What Could Be doesn’t only matter for mainstage presentations – but for sales presentations too. Imagine the tension between the problem a customer has today without your solution (What Is), and how they will emerge transformed with it (What Could Be). Also, consider the desire a customer has for a particular efficiency outcome (What Is) and the evidence that others have achieved such results (What Could Be).
There are few communication moments that have greater tension than a sales conversation, wouldn’t you agree? The seller is trying to persuade to close a deal. The client is examining everything against their own situation, outcomes, needs, concerns, and challenges. We can apply the contrast of tension and release to the structure of a sales conversation as well. Think of the What Is as a buyer’s objection. The concern they have about their existing challenges, the results they can’t deliver on, the issues they have with the seller’s brand, solutions, or even the seller themselves. The What Could Be is then the response to that objection, or the opportunity at hand.
Now, imagine a seller walking into a client’s office with a presentation already built to preemptively address the buyer’s objections or desired opportunities before they even needed to voice them. This is the nirvana of a great sales presentation – to remedy and satisfy the pressing concerns that need to be addressed in this precise moment so the buyer can move towards a decision.
Now, you may be saying, “But how is that possible? That still means building custom content.” Yes and no. It’s difficult for content creators in product marketing and sales enablement to develop a unique presentation for every sales conversation. You’ve got limited resources. But what if you could give your salesforce presentations that are 80-90% closer to the dynamics they find themselves in?
Structure the story around preemptive objection handling
Build out your “sales story” using the most resonant sales arguments that must be made to move a specific role in a specific industry with a specific need based on the nature of your relationship with them. To do that, go objection harvesting. Here are a few tips for flipping the script and building your sales story so you can address a client’s objections and opportunities before your they need to voice them.
1. Go on an empathy walk
Get inside the minds of your typical customers and their situations and explore what sales arguments your sellers will need to make and win to help move the deal forward. Start with the common roles your team sells to, but then dig deeper to provide more specificity and uncover the common buying situations they’re faced with.
Then, when you have your unique profiles, let the brainstorming begin. Brainstorm every possible objection that you expect this customer type to have based on their combination of criteria. Think about objections to your brand, your solutions, your approach, peer and expert opinions, their own previous experience, etc. Don’t worry about answering the objections yet; just gather as many unique objections that might arise during the sales conversation. Make them as specific as you can to the profile. Avoid, “You’re too expensive,” and think, “Your overall TCO is greater than CompetitorX to move us entirely to the public cloud.” Get as specific as you possibly can.
2. Rank the objections
Once you’ve come up with all the objections relevant to a profile, rank them in order of critical relevance and/or impact for the deal to advance. Use your best judgment. If you’re co-creating this content with the support of salespeople, you get to tap into their experience or search for deal data that identifies the reason for lost opportunities to help.
3. Look for additional objection themes
When you’re done ranking, set your top 5 objections aside on your whiteboard or sticky note wall. Look at the remaining ones to see if they are actually covered by one of your top five objections and go ahead and move them over (this might help you think your response). With the remaining objections, see if any other common themes emerge that are worthy of a response. Even if they don’t, don’t discard these as they may be useful downstream in the process.
4. Formulate your responses
Now it’s time to create your responses. This is the toughest part, but it’s worth the effort to arm your reps with strong replies to your customers’ toughest concerns. Start by crafting responses to your Top 5 objections. Make sure your responses include:
- Acknowledgement of the core concern of the objection (“I understand. Finding the best total cost of ownership can be more financially important than the lowest purchase price.”)
- A clear “headline” that establishes the nature of your response (“Actually, our TCO is 10% lower than CompetitorX in year 1, and it goes up year over year.”)
- Share data with insights to support your headline, like 3rd party evidence, customer stories, or other data your team has gathered. Tell a story with the data so they see the impact. (See DataStory)
- Ask them to confirm that their objection has been addressed. (“Did this give you what you need to understand our TCO value relative to CompetitorX?”)
5. Think through cascading objections to your responses
Don’t assume it’s all over because of your perfectly constructed response. You need to prepare for, “But what about…?” You should assume subsequent follow-on objections will emerge based on your initial response. Because objections are a lot like Russian nesting dolls – when you open one up, you find another inside, and another, and another, and so on. Even though you’ve just laid out a well-evidenced response, you should assume your customer type may take umbrage with what you’ve laid out. Remember, your customers are knowledgeable professionals in their fields. They’ve done their homework before they let your sellers sit down with them. Think about how this customer type might challenge what you’ve shared. Capture that objection and prepare a response to it. Then, do it again – imagine how they might resist and craft another response for that objection. It’s probably safe to assume a customer might have up to three or four follow-on objections you’ll need to respond to.
6. Build your sales story around this core content
Once you’ve gone through step 5 across your Top 5 objections (and their nested doll follow-ons), scoop up the content you’ve now generated per top objection and use your responses as the basis of your sales presentation. Remember, your buyers are ~70% into their buying journey. You are there to help them decide. So, why not build the meat of your presentation around the content that should address their burning concerns? You don’t have set it up as “You’re probably going to object to our TCO, so…” but you can reverse it to the positive and make a section of your sales story focused on the topic of the objection (“Section 1: Lowest TCO in its Class”). When you leverage our story principles in Resonate, you can serve your best sales arguments in a structure that helps them see how they can be the hero when they choose you.
Put the canned sales deck back on the shelf
Imagine the delight of buyers once they sit through a sales presentation that’s oriented around the actionable information they seek – and not the canned presentations your competitors made them sit through. Also, when you consider that selling to a single B2B buyer is no longer the norm, addressing the concerns of different profiles around the table ensures you’re giving each decision-maker insights they crave to make a collective choice. Leaning into buyers’ critical roadblocks and serving them the content they need to hear and see in this moment, is what will remove the barriers that are keeping them from making a decision. Bring a sales story to your customers that overcomes objections and sets up the opportunities they’ll experience once transformed when they buy from you.
Sales enablement, Storytelling