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Sales Solutions
How to Handle the Skeptical Prospect vol 7, issue #7
July, 2010

It's common knowledge that prospects are a lot better-informed nowadays than they were ten, or even 5 years ago about solutions to the problems they encounter, and for the objectives they're looking to achieve.  The easy availability of information on you, your company, and your competitors has shifted the balance of power away from us sales people, and towards prospects.  No longer can we count on prospects to accept every claim we make at face value; we need to be able to convincingly support them.  This is particularly pertinent if you or your company are an unknown quantity (you're a start-up, you're entering a new market, such as a new vertical, or new geography), or if your company is a known quantity, but has had some bad press lately.  The onus falls on us to back up our claims; if we don't, it's just too easy for prospects to move on to a competitor with whom they feel more comfortable.


So what's the best way to do this?  Before answering this question, it's helpful to understand why - in addition to the reasons above - prospects are skeptical of what we claim.  Here are a few:



  1. For some, it's their nature
  2. For others, it's experience.  They've been duped before, so they've developed an instinctive mistrust of anyone they feel is trying to sell them something.
  3. Similar to #2, you haven't yet developed a high enough trust level; they simply don't know you well enough (the start-up and new markets scenarios above)
  4. What you're claiming is so hard to believe, most people would doubt it
  5. They've heard bad things about you or your company, whether they're true or not (the bad press scenario above would fall into this category)



Your challenge is to provide evidence that supports your claim and that is acceptable to the prospect.  The good news is that irrespective of which of these reasons applies in any given situation, you can use the same 5-step formula for dealing with and getting beyond it:



  • Acknowledge the validity of and show respect for the prospect's skepticism
  • Gently question why he's challenging what you're claiming
  • Ask what kind of supporting evidence would be acceptable to him and would satisfy him
  • Provide the evidence
  • Check for acceptance that the evidence has fully addressed his concern, and that it is no longer an issue.




Let's examine each of these steps and why they're necessary:


Acknowledge the validity of and show respect for the prospect's skepticism  Most prospects, when they put up any kind of resistance, expect most sales reps to get defensive - because most do.  This sets up a confrontational dynamic - one not conducive to conducting business. Don't be most sales reps; instead, use the understanding you now have about why prospects are skeptical to respectfully engage him in the process of addressing and eliminating his skepticism.


Gently question why he's challenging what you're claiming  Information is power.  Conversely, the lack of information will make it virtually impossible to get beyond this obstacle.


Ask what kind of supporting evidence would be acceptable to him and would satisfy him  Different kinds of evidence will be required for different people.  One person may need to see the results of rigorous testing by an independent lab.  Another may need to know that you've been endorsed by a respected thought leader.  Still others may be impressed to see your company mentioned favorably in the press, or see your CEO quoted in a trade magazine, or interviewed on a radio spot.


Provide the evidence  You should have in your sales kit a variety of proofs covering all the possible requirements prospects may have.  Select the one(s) - and only the one(s) - that your prospect has told you are meaningful and convincing for him. 


Check for acceptance that the evidence has fully addressed his concern, and that it is no longer an issue  Simply ask.



Here's an example:


Prospect: "I find it hard to believe you can improve on the level of service we're getting now - and to the degree you claim."


You: "I can certainly appreciate why you'd find this difficult to believe.  Most of my customers did as well.  So that I can try to address your concern, can you share with me why you find it difficult to believe? 


Listen to the response, confirm with the prospect your understanding of it, and then ask, "Tell me, how can I help you feel comfortable that my claim is valid?



When dealing with skeptical prospects (or any qualified prospect with whom you're engaged in a sales cycle), keep in mind that in most cases they want you to prove them wrong.   Why else would they still be talking with you?  If they truly were not interested in buying what you sell and buying it from you, they'd have already brushed you off by now.






For each claim you might make about you product/service or company, assemble proofs to cover all the possible requirements prospects may have for you to support them.  Then role play with a colleague, or with your manager, or at your next team meeting.  One of you makes a claim, and another of you, playing the role of prospect, expresses skepticism with the claim.   Each of the "non-prospects" responds to the "prospect" using the 5-step formula, choosing the appropriate proof to support his or her claim.   Repeat this enough time so that it becomes second nature.  Then, the next time you encounter a prospect that isn't quite buying what you're saying, you'll be suitably armed to handle him, and get your deal moving ahead again towards closure.



Good selling!

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