A crafty old sales associate once asked me this question: “Do you know the only objection that can’t be overcome?” The only objection you can’t overcome is the objection you never get to hear.

Now and then, strange as it may seem, customers withhold information because they know without it, you can’t sell them. Sometimes prospects are just afraid to buy. These prospects may even conceal their feelings and concerns beneath a veil of silence. Salespeople have to recognize that the resistance many customers show is not necessarily an opposition to the product, but resistance to the salesperson. Heaven forbid the salesperson might offer reasons to buy that they cannot find the logic or opposing reason not to agree. In the short term, it becomes a cat-and-mouse game.

When this type of suppression occurs, the customer is really saying, “I’m not sure I trust you yet.” Or, “I need more clarification to be sure I am making the right decision.” Perhaps they are afraid that if they ask questions or raise objections that they might offend us. Regardless, how do you fix this?

Consider asking questions that put you and your customer in control. Specifically, ask open-ended questions or what may be referred to as conversational door openers. As the term implies, these are listener responses that invite the customer to open up to talk about their needs, wants and concerns. They are hopefully dream questions.

Experienced sales professionals already know that asking questions is the best way to uncover customer needs. However, we can be good at asking questions and still never be highly successful, and here is why: We need to search for the questions that will allow us to appreciate the customer’s point of view. Consider not only the reasons that prospects should buy, but also why they should not buy.

Often, salespeople fail to orient themselves to the prospect’s point of view. Typically, sales professionals may only ask questions so they can steer the customer to the solution they already had in mind when the conversation started. This approach – because it is still grounded in the sales professional’s needs and goals—may not uncover all of the customer’s requirements or create a complete understanding of the customer’s situation. Remember, the question you must keep asking yourself is not “What can I sell?” but rather, “How can I help?”

Door openers (usually open-ended questions) allow the conversation to keep flowing. They are not leading yes or no questions, but inquiries that solicit an individual response that lead the conversation away from the seller’s needs to the buyer’s needs. For example, buyers often perceive questions that begin with “Don’t you think that” or “Wouldn’t you like to,” as manipulative questions, and suddenly you’ve harmed the flow of communication.

Effective door openers expound upon emotions. Here are some examples of questions or statements that validate the customer’s point of view:

  • “Tell me more about that.”
  • “What I really hear you saying is that…”
  • “Correct me if I am wrong, but…”
  • “So you feel…?”
  • “Is it possible that…etc.?”
  • “What are your thoughts?”
  • “How do you want your home to look when we are finished?”

Frankly, there have been times when a customer was continually stonewalling and I finally just stated: “Truthfully, I am having trouble understanding your needs and I have just about everything imaginable here at the store. Tell me more about how I can help, and what roadblocks if any, you are having?” By expressing my disappointment to connect with her in an honest way, this statement often works astonishingly well.

Ok, let’s assume you have done everything right. You have greeted well and tried to make a friend, properly qualified the customer and have seemingly met all of her needs and answered all objections and gotten agreement on all important issues. But, this stonewalling customer wants to politely say farewell for now: “I might be back,” etc. Of course, we are not going to close every customer first time in. Even so, if she leaves your store unsure, your odds of closing the sale diminish. Often, customers who say they may be back do not really come back.

So, before she leaves, first, casually do a review of what has been discussed. For example: “Before you leave, I would like to review what we have discussed…” Then, reappraise and discuss the pros and cons of her possible choices and be sincere. “Is this the exact color? How about the style? Do you think this will tie nicely into your décor?” Notice I have moved to close-ended questions because now is the time to get inquisitive— even a little pushy. Get agreement again on all possible decisions or issues and re-approach each issue one at a time. When re-asking questions, wait as long as it takes for her answer. Silence is golden. The longer she hesitates the more carefully she is considering her answer. The ball is in her park, let her hit it back. Find out what is missing and if, necessary, create more choices or more clarification. It becomes a reduction to the ridiculous.

If she affirms everything, it’s time to move forward. “Well everything seems to be in perfect order, let’s go ahead set up a no-charge measure.” Here you are simply asking for a sensible concession that hopefully will carry the larger commitment later. If she first rebukes, realize that she may just be stalling, so continue your review. (Hopefully you have kept some ammunition.) “Well, somehow I think I’ve missed something…” “What about the quality?” “Do you feel this will meet your needs?” “Are you concerned about the installation?” Softly, “Is it the price that’s concerning you?” Once more, if everything is acceptable, ask, “Well, let’s get this moving. When would be an appropriate time to measure?” Keep in mind, even if she has not made a final decision, she can still get things moving.

Good selling to you!