Pop quiz: You're nearing the end of a lengthy sales cycle with a large buyer, and so far it's been textbook perfect. When the prospect asks for one more meeting, you figure you'll be tying up loose ends and closing the sale. Instead, the prospect is somber and raises multiple doubts about moving forward. Do you A) offer a discount, B) start overcoming each objection, or C) relax, knowing you've got the deal?
The correct answer is "C." Surprised? Less-experienced sellers often interpret a litany of last-minute objections as an indication that they have lost the deal, observes John Holland, cofounder and principal of CustomerCentric Selling and coauthor with CustomerCentric CEO Tim Young of Rethinking the Sales Cycle. Panicked that a big deal appears to be slipping away, the inexperienced salesperson often makes "the potentially fatal mistake of dropping price," thinking it will make the buying decision easier. But the opposite is true. "The message you send by discounting is that the concerns about risk are valid," warn Holland and Young.
The reality is that if a buyer is sharing his or her risk concerns at the end of the buying cycle, it means you are probably the vendor of choice. That's because final risk concerns can arise only if a buyer is envisioning a purchase being made. Holland and Young liken this natural process to a couple on the night before getting married. Last-minute jitters and cold feet are normal as the two wonder whether they've made the right choice, but these concerns can only arise with a firm commitment imminent. The same is true for buyers; if they raise sudden concerns at the end, it's a sign a commitment is forthcoming – but only if you handle things right.
So how do you handle these last-minute objections? First, stay calm. Remember that these concerns are a good sign and that if you handle them with patience, the sale will be yours. Second, recognize the objections for what they are – an emotional hurdle for the buyer. As such, do not try to tell the buyer why he or she shouldn't be concerned; that's like telling buyers they're wrong to feel the way they do. Instead, be patient in allowing the buyer to work through the issues. It is likely he or she isn't looking for resolution but simply wants to be heard. And since people only vent to those they trust, consider it as a sign you're trusted.
Once you've discussed the issues that are addressable, your best course of action, say Holland and Young, is to "summarize the potential value, the shortcomings of the current system, the capabilities needed, and the references that have been provided, and then gently ask the buyer to move forward." If you've done it right, the customer will say yes.