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How to Avoid the ‘Backfire Effect’ When Handling Objections

a cartoon of a man holding a cell phone with the words he had the sale locked up until that one fateful moment

Even when you offer a superior product, better service, or lower price than your competitors, mishandling objections can ruin your best deals at the eleventh hour. This is often due to a phenomenon known as the backfire effect.

Salespeople often rely on persuasion tactics when dealing with objections, negotiating on price, service, and timeframe, and presenting information and facts about why they offer the best solution to the buyer’s problem.

However, depending on how you present these facts, no matter how well-researched and how much better your product or service is, your efforts can backfire, causing the customer to shut you down and back out of the sale. Welcome to the “backfire effect.”

It’s age-old psychology that every salesperson should be aware of and know how to avoid. In this article, we’ll explain what the backfire effect is, and strategies to bypass this effect when trying to sell.

What is the “backfire effect”?

When our deeply held beliefs are challenged with contradictory facts, we tend to double down on those beliefs and defend them even more instead of changing our minds. This is a cognitive bias called the backfire effect—and it’s not isolated to your yearly political debate with your Uncle Ron over Thanksgiving dinner.

It happens regularly in sales: We encounter objections from our prospects and start spewing more facts to counter them, only to find our customers completely unmoved by our technical superiority, better customer service, or other unique value propositions.

That isn’t to say that social proof and facts aren’t an important part of the sales process. They definitely are. But facts alone don’t persuade customers.

The backfire effect in sales: The danger of coming on too strong

Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes for a moment to get a sense of what the backfire effect looks like from the other side.

Let’s say you’re evaluating two digital marketing agencies to potentially hire for your company. You’re in contact with sales reps from both agencies to discuss their final proposals, but you need to run some numbers and get buy-in from your leadership team before you can make a decision.

The salesperson from the first agency gets defensive. There’s an edge to their tone when you tell them you need a bit more time to decide. Maybe they’re a bit confrontational, challenging you head-on, giving you facts about their ROI and why their solution is better than the competition, and explaining why they’re absolutely in your budget.

You feel yourself get defensive in turn. You had a good rapport going with that salesperson, but it’s quickly evaporating. Your current solution is fine, you made a good decision when you implemented it, and the first agency’s solution doesn’t seem like the right choice after all.

However, the salesperson from the second agency stays curious and relaxed when you explain that you’re still weighing your options, and remains just as friendly and helpful as before. They have an honest chat with you about your budget, business problems, and how their service fits into your business. They take the time to dig deeper and fully understand what’s going on before discussing different pricing options and payment plans for you to consider.

You appreciate the second salesperson’s candor, and how they focused on advising, not selling. With their suggestions in hand, you go run your numbers and make your decision.

Obviously, the first salesperson didn’t handle your objections as well as the second one did, even if they ended up giving you the same information.

It all comes down to how we process information.


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The psychology behind the backfire effect

As human beings, our brains love consistency. We want to stay consistent with our self-image, and we prioritize information that is consistent with our current beliefs. In fact, we love consistency so much that it’s one of Robert Cialdini’s principles of persuasion.

The backfire effect helps us stay consistent with our previous beliefs and patterns by strengthening those beliefs when they’re threatened—which creates a unique challenge for salespeople when overcoming objections.

Getting a customer to switch from a competitor’s solution to yours can inadvertently trigger the backfire effect. While you might be talking about your superior solution, your customers hear that they’re wrong. If they believe their existing solution is good, they’ll double down on that belief and resist all attempts to be persuaded otherwise.

It’s important to remember that sales is an emotion-first, logic-second game. Overcoming the backfire effect requires a heart-first approach—an appeal to the buyer’s emotions and self-image rather than their logical brain.

Let’s look at some strategies that you can use when you sense the prospect may be pulling away due to the backfire effect.

Four ways to overcome the backfire effect

When we know what our customers believe, we can present information that allows them to remain consistent with their beliefs. This helps you avoid the backfire effect while addressing their concerns in a productive way.

Here are four steps you can take to counter the backfire effect in your next sale:

  1. Get the whole picture. Prospective clients have legitimate questions and concerns when it comes to adopting your product. Objections don’t mean you haven’t done your job well, just that your customer has unexpressed concerns that need to be dealt with, and you need to make a better effort to identify them. Remember: “No” is not the end—it’s a chance to dig deeper and really understand your customer’s beliefs so that you can tailor your response to align with them.
  2. Be empathetic. Once you know what your customer believes, be empathetic. Figure out their primary concern about your solution and speak to that concern. That’s what’s holding them back.
  3. Give your prospect an out. Acknowledge that their prior decision or belief was the right one given what they knew then, but now that the situation has shifted, it’s okay for them to shift too.
  4. Be willing to kill the deal. Yes, we want to hit quota and get that sale. But focusing on closing over addressing concerns in a thoughtful, non-challenging way can trigger the backfire effect and torpedo any chances of making the sale. Instead, go in with the mindset that you’re looking for an ideal fit, and be willing to walk away if you’re not a fit for the customer or your customer isn’t a good fit for your company.

As you can see, the true weapon to avoiding the backfire effect is empathy, open-mindedness, and a willingness to let go of ego.

Yes, your product may be superior in every way, and you’re passionate about it. But understand that sales is not a battle or a debate.

While defensiveness may work in war, it won’t work to overcome objections. In fact, it actively works against the sale because it shows that you value your own opinion more than your buyer’s beliefs and concerns. You always want your customers to feel seen and heard.


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The upside of the “backfire effect”

We’ve been talking about how detrimental the backfire effect can be when you’re trying to close a sale. But let’s briefly talk about the upside. When can the backfire effect work in your favor?

Well, the backfire effect is simply a manifestation of the principle of consistency. If your current customer ties their self-image and values to your business, it will be extremely difficult for competitors to steal them away. Their loyalty is tied to how well you can build a connection with them.

So, how can you ensure that customers commit to your brand? With outstanding customer relationships built on trust, honesty, and open communication. You can maintain great relationships with your customers using a powerful CRM.

With Nutshell, you can take care of your new customers with tools to help personalize their experience effortlessly using simple-to-use contact management, flexible sales pipeline tools, and strategic collaboration capabilities.

Additionally, we’ve harnessed the power of AI to help deepen your customer relationships:

  • Accurate timeline summarizations of People, Leads, and Companies to ensure you’re always up to speed with your customers and clients.
  • Zoom video call transcription summarizations mean that whoever follows up after a customer call knows how to follow up accurately, allowing the customer to feel seen and heard.
  • You can even take advantage of our AI email writing assistant to avoid the blank page syndrome when sending out campaigns or corresponding directly with customers.

Try Nutshell free for 14 days (no credit card required) to get started on deepening your customer relationships and making more sales.

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