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Acknowledging Objections: So Much Benefit From So Little Substance

The “acknowledgement” is the consultative salesperson’s first step in resolving client objections to his/her recommendation or point of view.  It’s the climate-setting preamble to the critically important elaboration phase of objection resolution.  Without question, the acknowledgement is both powerful and challenging—  the first words out of your mouth after the client has, in effect, just said, “No!”

Ironically, the most effective, possibly game-saving acknowledgements are invariably short, not at all memorable and virtually without substance.  This is because, unlike almost all of your other client communications, the acknowledgement is not intended to exchange information, reach agreement, or establish next steps.  (All of that will come later.)   Instead, the acknowledgement is a signal—  a reassuring signal about your attitude toward the objection, and the nature of the conversation to follow.

The objector is undoubtedly expecting you to respond with a rebuttal, perhaps even becoming aggressive or defensive in the process.  Your acknowledgement signals just the opposite:  you’re listening;  you respect his/her right to disagree and the importance of this issue.  Given that, the conversation to follow will be a collaborative dialog— not a debate or contest of wills.

By now it should be clear that acknowledging an objection is not the same as agreeing with it.  If you simply restate the client’s complaint, you validate it, and force yourself into an immediate rebuttal— derailing the entire collaborative process.

Two examples of typical objections and corresponding acknowledgements:

  • “It costs too much” might be acknowledged with, “Certainly you have to be especially cost-conscious these days…”
  • “I don’t have the time for this” might be acknowledged with, “Your busy schedule is necessarily a major factor in making this decision…”

If these examples seem a bit “lame,” it’s because, standing alone, they are;  remember, there’s little substance in the signal.  This leads directly into acknowledgement technique:

1-    Make it short and quick— a few words and a few seconds at most.  Anything longer than that becomes increasingly empty and patronizing.

2-    Don’t pause after the acknowledgement; segue directly into your first question, probing the specifics of the client’s objection.  Example: “Certainly you have to be especially cost-conscious these days, so tell me more about your cost concerns.”

3-    Try to avoid “generic” acknowledgements (although they’re better than nothing);  allude specifically to this objection, using some of the client’s words if possible.  Example:  “Your busy schedule is necessarily a major factor in making this decision…” is better than, “I’m disappointed that you’re not happy with our recommendation.”

In a nutshell:  an effective acknowledgement is any positive, supportive initial response which implicitly respects the client’s position, invites collaborative discussion and defers your answer  until you’ve fully explored the objection.  If whatever you say clearly signals, “I’m cool;  let’s talk,” you’ve set the stage for a successful objection resolution process.