How to teach objection handling? Use the fishbowl to get it right.

The customer says to you, “I don’t know.  I think that price is a bit too high.”  What do you say to that?

Of all the communication skills I teach, I have the most fun with handling objections, not only because I know the responses to all the common ones, such as price, but also because the skill is a challenge to teach. It requires lots of practice for the learner to get it right.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedYou’ve heard the saying, “Practice makes perfect,” but the better approach is “Perfect practice makes perfect.”  You have to help the learner practice the skill perfectly.  Most trainers including me, use role play over and over in order to help the learner master the skill.

But the problem with role play is that unless you arrange it so you can hear the learner practice, there’s a risk that the learner will practice it imperfectly, and then not learn from the experience.  Last week I gave a group some instruction on the steps for dealing with objections, the first of which is to make a statement of empathy or understanding.  For a price objection, this statement might be something like, “I understand.  It’s reasonable to consider what a fair price might be for any purchase.”

So I went around the room and asked each learner to role play for me his initial statement, that of understanding the customer’s objection.  One learner read the statement he had scripted: “I can see how at first you might think that the price is too high…”  Uh oh!  So we stopped to discuss what understanding and empathy mean.  They do NOT mean arguing with the customer or sounding defensive, as he did.  He as much as said, “Well you’re wrong about this and I’m going to show you why.”

So after doing the role play fishbowl style, hearing each learner in sequence, we were able to coach those who needed to rethink their approach and modify their language, and the exercise went smoothly from there.

But the lesson about facilitation techniques is helpful for all trainers. Role play and other simulations are still effective training methods, but they work best when the facilitator can observe all the practice.  Unfortunately, due to budget cuts or poor design, many training programs don’t leave enough time for fishbowl practice or one-on-one coaching.  Or the classroom might have too many learners for the facilitator to observe individual performance.  I like to work with 12-15 people in a workshop, but I confess I’ve agreed with clients to allow far more.  They have a budget to manage and I try to work with them.

So if you have the time flexibility, make sure you listen to some of the learners individually, before you allow anyone to work with a partner.  You’ll nip a lot of problems that way, and send them into the pairs exercise with the best approach.

By the way, my newsletter goes out on Tuesday, and in it you’ll find the best response to the price objection, taught by none other than Seinfeld’s George Costanza.  You can sign up for it on the link on this page.  See you then.

Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

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