How to avoid the ‘backfire effect’ when handling objections

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.

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.

But facts and figures won’t always convince customers that your product is the better one—and sometimes they even make the situation worse, souring the deal and leaving you high and dry.

The danger of coming on too strong.

Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes for a moment.

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 go 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 talking over some 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.

So, why did you react differently to them?

Welcome to 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, when 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 proposition.

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.

It all comes down to how we process information.

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, 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, what your customer is hearing is 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.

Four ways to overcome the backfire effect

When we know what our customers believe, we can present information in a way that lets them stay consistent to 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. Sales leader Anthony Iannarino said it best: “Your prospective clients aren’t objecting—they are trying to express a real concern.” 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 towards identifying them. Remember: “No” is not the end—it’s a chance to dig deeper and really understand your customer’s beliefs.
    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.

What are some methods you use to deal with objections? Have you ever run into the backfire effect as a result? Comment below or tweet them to us @nutshell!

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