Ron Shapiro is an expert negotiator, sports agent, attorney, New York Times best-selling author, and cofounder and chairman of SNI, a global leader in performance improvement.
The following is a shortened and modified excerpt from Perfecting Your Pitch: How to Succeed in Business and in Life by Finding Words That Work.
While scripting is often employed to meet the challenges of a specific situation, sometimes it is useful to develop scripts for recurring situations salespeople face. I have worked with organizations in a variety of industries in which salespeople must constantly deal with objections raised by potential customers. A home builder may have to deal with questions about room size, proximity to schools, curb appeal, or even doorsill heights. An insurance broker may be asked about the appropriateness of a policy for someone of the prospect’s age, premium levels, or other investment products compared to whole life insurance. Car salespeople may have to be ready for pricing objections based upon blue-book values or other dealers’ quotes, questions about the value of extended warranties, or delivery times and service issues.
Salespeople must develop blueprints to confidently rebut competitor claims, unsubstantiated rumors, or consumers’ misunderstandings about the products or services that salespeople are selling. The best preparation for this challenge often involves developing a script with the help of peers in the same situations. Proposed answers can be drafted and shared with team members. After some group “devil’s advocating,” an “objection planner” can be developed, which members of the sales team can turn to as a script for guidance. Caution should be exercised, however, not to use the planner responses as an excuse to go on automatic pilot. Never stop listening to the customer. What the other side says may contain shades of difference from the objection for which you’ve prepared.
Before the affinity credit card pioneer MBNA merged with Bank of America, I and others from our Negotiations Institute trained MBNA workers, including members of the business development team, in negotiation and influencing skills. In particular, I worked with managers negotiating deals in which MBNA partnered with potential and renewing affinity credit card partners, including alumni associations, university athletic departments, high-visibility retailers, and trade associations. In its negotiations, MBNA needed to sell these and other groups on why it was the best bank to acquire or renew the organization’s endorsement.
Because of the intense competition among bank card organizations and MBNA’s market dominance, the competition floated rumors and leveled attacks against MBNA and its credit card product. After discussing the situation in our training programs, we noted that the attacks and rumors fell into a pattern. For example, it was common for an association to suggest that it was being offered a less favorable deal than other associations, that its prestige was being disrespected. It was also said that MBNA rotated account executives too often and was so big that the potential group would feel lost. In order to tackle the issue, we took the following approach:
1. We established what we were up against.
2. We used drafting to develop the right words to counter what we were hearing.
3. We scripted answers to common objections and practiced the delivery to help build the business developer’s confidence in responding to customer concerns.
Here’s one example of using objection planning to lay out the issue and draft possible responses:
Issue: “Is my compensation structure in line with schools that are considered to be my peers?”
Possible response: [Ask, “Which schools do you consider to be your peers? Why do you consider them to be your peers? What are the factors you use to compare yourself?”] “We work hard to keep compensation for like programs consistent; however, just as I’m sure you wouldn’t want us discussing your compensation with your peers, we prefer not to discuss theirs with you. In fact, we’re all contractually obligated not to discuss contract specifics with others. I will say that we take a lot of factors into consideration when developing a financial offer, including the types and cost of the products that we will be offering to your members, the size of the list, access to marketing channels and venues, the strength of the affinity, and the historical performance of the portfolio. We’re happy to discuss how we can increase your revenue stream using these factors.”
The objection planning process was frequently an effective tool for the developer to solidly make the bank’s case to a new endorser or one contemplating renewal. Even when not successful, team members benefited from collaboration with their peers in developing the scripted answers in the planner. They felt increased confidence in making points to hesitant renewal prospects and potential new customers.