Handling Customer Stalls: Part Two
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 cannot overcome is the objection you never get to hear. With stalls, the customer offers no particular reason for hesitating. If she has an objection, she isn’t telling us what it is.
A mere “Let me think it over” can turn a sale from a seemingly sure thing to a transaction in serious jeopardy. Stalls are by far the most difficult yet reoccurring element in finalizing a sale. Unfortunately, very few salespeople know how to handle these exasperating stalls and customers know it!
Many salespeople think of stalls and objections as different words for the same thing. They are not. Stalls and objections are both things you may hear after you have asked for commitment, but a stall is a delay of the sale for no given reason. An objection is a specific reason not to buy. With a stall, the customer is trying to push back her decision, and too often, customers will think themselves out of a purchase until a skilled salesperson knows how to close them.
In the last issue, we discussed the nature of stalls and what causes them. We also learned how to eliminate stalls before they happen. Still, they happen to the best of us. As a starting technique, we developed some specific questions that may help reveal a true objection after stalls happen. As one example, after hearing a stall, you could say, “That’s completely reasonable. Curiously though, what are some of the issues that are important as you evaluate your decision?” Next, we learned that if there are no discernable objections, we may be able to move forward by asking for a minor decision, which will eventually carry the major decision.
Suppose, however, she stays committed to her stall? All is not lost. The solution is to review every possible concern. She is still hesitating about something, and we must uncover the true concern because customers who say they may be back most often don’t come back.
With a stall, the important thing is to do a review by asking probing questions that might reveal what is really stopping her from making a decision. In this process, she may realize that there really is no concrete reason she is holding back. Either way, you need to find out her dilemma before she leaves because again, too often, there is no later.
Remember, we are looking for a true objection that we may have overlooked, or she is still pondering. Consider the most common stall, “Let me think it over.”
When you cushion, you soften her stall by providing empathy. Many people skip this step, but it is probably the most important shift transferring an unclear setback of a sales transaction to an order. Cushioning is merely recognizing what the customer states is important. It encourages dialog and communication. It builds the customer’s self-esteem and puts you on her side. Cushioning, in this case, is acknowledging the reasonableness of the particular stall to the buyer.
In this situation, when a buyer states, “I want to think it over,” support her concern by saying something like: “That’s completely normal; if I were going to make an important buying decision such as this, I would want to be sure as well.”
This is where you provide more empathy by saying, “But before you leave, let’s review what we have discussed because I want to be sure we have covered everything that may be concerning you.”
3. Summarize and get agreement.
At this stage, we review color, style and quality.
- “Is this the right color you need to meet your décor?” (Be silent, and if the color isn’t exact, you need to create more choices, or your competition might!)
- “Do you feel that the texture and style is right for your home?” (Be silent and wait for her answer.)
- “Are you convinced this product will perform based on your needs and budget?” (Silence.)
It is essential that you be silent after each question. Silence is golden, and it is your most powerful weapon. You have thrown the ball in her court and she must hit it back. The longer the silence only means she is considering your question very carefully.
It is also important that you use supporting discussion between each of these questions so not to make the customer feel drilled. “I agree. I think that is an excellent choice and it ties in nicely.” These sustaining statements demonstrate empathy towards your customer’s concerns - not pressure. Too much pressure creates resistance and the greater the pressure, the greater the resistance to buy.
If she answers “yes” to all questions listed above and if there are no concerns:
4. Trial Close: Move the process along
A trial close is a test to determine the buying temperature of the customer. They are normally questions that assume ownership or ask for a minor decision regarding the product. The customer’s response will tell you whether they are ready to move forward. In this case we are asking for a small decision that will move the closing process along.
5. Cushion and bridge again.
“I appreciate how you must feel. I would want to be sure as well. Obviously, you wouldn’t take the time to think it over unless you were seriously interested, but somehow, I wonder if I’ve missed something.”
Without pause, move right into:
6. Continue your review and get agreement on store reputation and finally price.
- “Do you have any questions about our store or the quality of our installations? Is that a concern for you?” (Silence.) Next…
- “Is it something I said?” (Translated: Is it me?) Next…
- (Softly, some people are sensitive here.) “Mrs. Jones is it the money? Did you have a different budget in mind?” (Silence.) Next…
- “Mrs. Jones, did you see something somewhere else that you preferred?” (Silence.)
Caveat: It is essential that you not create a pause between the bridge and the supporting questions or you are liable to get, “Oh, just the whole thing,” and you cannot handle the “whole thing.”
7. Ask for the order again.
If there is no resistance or no objections, we can ask for another trial close.
Ok, suppose she even still says no. It happens. You might reply, “Well, we have covered all the basics that I can think of; I am just confused about what is concerning you? (Remain silent and wait for a genuine objection.)
The last time this happened to me (she still says no), the woman said to her husband: “I like that, at least we got total agreement on every point.” The next day they came back in and bought. They may have shopped some more, but likely nobody achieved total agreement on all important issues.
This technique, done discreetly, naturally and disguised in such a way that the customer does not feel cross-examined, will be sensed by the customer as genuine empathy for her needs and concerns. If this technique seems like a lot to memorize, the sequence is really based on the order most customers make buying decisions in home furnishings: color, style, quality, store reputation, and finally price. They are only worded differently.
Know when to stop.
Overdoing these techniques can hurt you! While this entire sequence of diffusing stalls may be revealing and often useful, you may not want to use this entire sequence on every customer. If your customer begins looking irritated, you might counter, “Mary, the last thing I want to do is make you feel pressured; it’s just that I am trying to figure out how to help you and meet your needs. When somebody tells me… (stall) it makes me wonder if I have done my job thoroughly. Besides, with a measure, we can determine any unforeseen problems and you can change anything about your choices if you feel the need to. Of course, it’s entirely up to you.” Listen and respond.
Of course, sometimes there is no real objection. Some customers are just afraid to make a decision. Regardless, it is important to do at least some type of basic review without making the customer feel ‘coaxed’ or hard-pressed into a decision.
Stalls are a selling nightmare for salespeople who do not know how to manage them – and even for those of us who do. Stalls occur because we have missed something. Of course, the best way to avoid stalls is to prevent them before they happen. We do this by getting agreement on all important points during the normal sales conversation. Keep in mind too, some customers are going to get away. As good as we become, we will never sell everybody; this is a selling truth.
Good selling to you.