In conversations with clients and prospective clients, all professionals and salespeople eventually run into what is commonly referred to as an “objection”. Most initial objections, however, are not really objections at all. They’re Automatic Negative Responses (ANRs).
You walk into a department store to buy a picture frame for your mother for her birthday. You know exactly what you want, but you’re not sure where it is in the store or what the selection is. A very polite salesclerk approaches you and asks, “May I help you?” and you respond, “No thanks, just looking.”
Of course, you lied. You weren’t just looking—you knew what you wanted and had two very specific questions, and yet, you gave this individual a negative response. But why?
Part of the answer is that we love to buy, but we hate to be sold. The presence of someone who might try to sell us something causes us to automatically find a way to reject the offer of help, and we become conditioned to give Automatic Negative Responses (ANRs) when our “salesperson” radar is triggered.
ANRs are ever-present in the offering of professional services—when you’re trying to set an appointment, when you’re asking the prospective client to engage your firm’s services, and when you’re asking for an introduction to a colleague or friend.
We hear “let me think about it,” or “I’m really too busy right now,” or “I have a few more people to speak with,” or “I don’t give referrals,” and some of us panic, thinking that all is lost. But if you recognize that these initial responses are most often ANRs, and not real objections, you can understand that your job has become to find out what the real concern is, and to address it as best as you can. There might be a legitimate issue or question at the source of the objection, but the pseudo-information given in this knee-jerk reaction probably has nothing to do with it.
The best response we can give to an ANR is to (1) validate it, and (2) ask about it:
It’s okay for you to feel that way, but would you mind if I asked you why you do?
(1) Of course you want to think about it; it’s an important decision, (2) but would you mind telling me what questions or concerns you want to mull over?
(1) I completely understand that you have concerns about giving referrals. I sometimes do myself.
(2) But I find that usually there’s a reason for those concerns. Would you mind if we talked about your reservations?
An Automatic Negative Response is usually a “smokescreen” for a real concern. Find out what it is and then work on gently reframing how your prospect or client is viewing that concern. This may open the door to moving forward with them or someone they know.
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