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The Neuroscience of Sales: Resolving the Irrational Objection

In sales, we hear them all the time — objections from our customers that just don’t make a lot of rational sense… not to us, anyway. We don’t say it out loud, but we’re thinking, “What? Where did that objection come from?”

The irrational objection is one of the tougher challenges in Sales because we know that there is something deeper that the customer is not comfortable sharing. Also, the customer may not be fully aware of some of his/her deeper drivers. Since the sale will not progress until we resolve the objection, we need to discover what is causing the objection — but how?

Our brains — ergo, our customers’ brains — are wired with biases that cause errors in judgment. Because we may not be aware of these cognitive biases, even skilled questioning may not reveal them. During the sales dialogue, we need to identify and understand biases and get good at using “debiasing” techniques to move the conversation forward.

The Status Quo Bias

The status quo bias is at the root of many irrational objections. It’s really simple to understand — our brains don’t like change. Essentially, we have a preference for things to remain the same until the status quo becomes too uncomfortable to accept. This bias is a powerful and normal reaction for us in response to anything new and different, and it’s not just emotional — it’s physiological. According to research in the NeuroLeadership Journal, the brain likes to know the patterns that are occurring moment-to-moment. It craves certainty so that prediction is possible. Without prediction, the brain must use dramatically more resources, involving the more energy-intensive prefrontal cortex, to process moment-to-moment experiences.

Three Steps to Breaking Through

So, how do we fight through the emotions, chemicals, and everything else keeping our buyers anchored in the present? How do we make the status quo unacceptable?

  1. Acknowledge with empathy. We don’t need to alienate our customers by drowning them in pain; however, we do need to give them an emotional alternative to their way of thinking. It is normal and expected for our customers to be resistant to something new or different. Recognizing and acknowledging this is the first step.
  2. Understand their points of reference. It is important to begin uncovering information about how and why biases are affecting customers. Specifically, it is helpful to understand customers’ points of reference for the change. To what are they comparing this change? Usually, the comparison is negative, and we will need to separate that bad experience from our recommendation if we are going to move forward.
  3. Infuse new meaning. Infusing new emotional and logical meaning into existing points of view helps our customers see new possibilities. Our brains find it difficult to maintain two conflicting views simultaneously because we seek consistency. We need to help our customers “try on” new facts or views in ways that they can literally feel how their current assumptions may be inappropriate for the decisions at hand.

The next time we hear an irrational objection, using what we know about the status quo bias can make the difference between a resolution and a frustration. Though our customers’ objections may seem obviously irrational to us, they certainly do not seem that way to them. Moving forward requires empathizing with their perspective, understanding how their past experiences are shaping the objections, and reframing their points of reference by offering them new insights and possibilities to consider.

About the Author

Richardson is a global sales training and performance improvement company. Our goal is to transform every buyer experience by empowering sellers with critical skills so they can create value to buyers and drive meaningful conversations. Our methodology combines a market proven sales and coaching curriculum with an innovative and customizable approach to learning that ensures your sales teams learn, master, and apply those behaviors where and when it matters most — in front of your customers. It’s our job to anticipate change in your industry so that your sales team can focus on fostering long-term relationships, becoming indispensable partners for their buyers.

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