Sales objections take many forms. Some objections, such as, “it’s too expensive” are easy to spot, while others cleverly masquerade as progress.
One such objection is, “Can you send me some references?”
That can’t be a sales objection? That has to be forward momentum – right? My prospect is asking for validation of my company’s expertise. This sounds like a reasonable request.
Make no mistake, this is an objection, and an infinitely insidious one at that. What makes this objection deeply troublesome is that it fools the salesperson into thinking they are moving forward, that progress is being made. Hearty handshakes and high fives all around, the prospect wants to check our references! That can only mean one thing…Next stop, dotted lineville, closed-town, commission junction.
Anything that stalls the process is an objection. Any reason to not say “yes” right now, is an objection. If you look at it any other way, you relinquish control over the outcome. Before you know it, what you mistakenly perceived as a non-objection, becomes, “No, I have not called your references yet, I’ve been so busy, give me a call in a few weeks.” or, “Your references have not called me back. When they get back to me I’ll call you.”
Why don’t sales people see the reference ask as an objection? Sales people, even good ones, often substitute opinions for facts and emotions for analysis. Asking for references is seen as a positive thing, a happy occurrence, because it’s not perceived as a natural ending, it’s not NO.
Because asking for references is not a definitive NO, it lulls you into a false sense of hope until it stabs your deal in the forehead while smiling and eating a sandwich.
The best way to handle any objection is to take what I call, the “Skynet” approach. We take deliberate steps to prevent the prospect (Sarah Conner) from ever giving birth to the objection (John Connor) because it’ll grow up to lead the resistance against our sale!
I don’t get asked for references. That’s not bravado, I deliberately take steps to obliterate objections from the prospect’s mind.
- I become my own reference. You’re only as expert as you appear and I exude a high level of expertise. My knowledge and confidence makes people want to work with me. I tell relatable stories in such a way, my prospects can feel my words. I tell them things they have not heard elsewhere and make them think differently about my services. When I’m done presenting, they should be trying to figure out how to work with me as quickly as possible, not ways to stall the process. My prospect feels as if they are infinitely worse off (and they are) with every passing day that they are not my customer.
- I ask them for references (in theory). I make the assertion that I’d be willing to work with them once we have determined that they are as good a fit for me, as I am for them. I say things such as, “We’re hired when companies like yours are being beaten, and you are being beaten. We help companies in your position win, but not all companies that want to win, have the mindset to do what it takes to win. So let’s discuss whether or not our success philosophies are in alignment before we move forward.” – Now who’s selling who?
- I explain the process of how we’re going to work together. 1. Meeting. 2. Determine if it makes sense for us to go to a proposal stage. 3. Review proposal, align our thinking and move forward. There is nothing in the process stating we will provide references for review.
I want to check your references, is an objection that will rear its ugly head when prospects have not seen appropriate value in the sales person, the service or the company. As professional sales people, we have to act on the assumption that everything our prospects say and do, correlates directly to our actions.
So let’s say despite our best efforts, the reference objection comes up – now what?
This is no time to be timid, don’t be put on your heels. Act surprised (not alarmed), confused as if the question created an imbalance in your brain. Why they would even ask for such a silly thing as references; in front of God and everyone, just astonishes you.
“Of course I could get you references, but I’m a bit confused as to how they would help. I’m sure you’ve already researched us online. You know we’ve been in business for many years. You’ve seen our impressive client list. I also know you didn’t find a single bad review from anyone we’ve ever worked with, and considering how easy and common it is for people to flame you on the Internet, I know that must have made you feel good about us, I’m pretty proud of it myself.”
So my question to you is, what will one of my happy clients be able to tell you that you don’t already know? Did I not answer or address something? Is there a concern I’m unaware of? I’m not trying to be elusive, I’m not used to being asked this question. The people that that are serious, the people I’m in front of, have already done their homework. Is there something that concerns you about my services or my company that you’re looking for a reference to address?”
Now we’re having the conversation that I want to have!
I’m forcing them to give me the real objections, not this rudimentary “I need other people to tell me what to do” sales 101 crap. Let me dig into the important truths of the situation, the barriers that are sucking the forward momentum out of my sale.
I’ve taken the wheel back and I’m now steering this ship, because that’s the only way both myself and my prospect, will get the wins that we both want.