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