How to Avoid Hearing "NO" - Ask Key Questions

Posted by Jill Ulvestad on Tue, May 30, 2017
Jill Ulvestad
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Some time ago, I heard an interview with Cordia Harrington, the founder of Tennessee Bun Co., and was struck by her attitude of strategic persistence. This single mom of three boys started her career 20 years ago with less than $600. She grew her company to over $60M in worth and is one of the largest suppliers to McDonald’s in the southeast. Years after listening to that interview, her motto has continued to stick with me: "If you get a no, you just haven't asked the right question to the right person."

A large number of sellers I speak with cite rejection – in the form of a hang-up – as their biggest fear in professional sales or business development. Since this has the greatest likelihood of happening during the initial point of outreach, it’s worth spending time to do a little self-diagnosis when such rejection occurs. Objections won’t always be as jarring as the sudden sound of a dial tone, but they can be discouraging nonetheless. Let’s consider three different scenarios that might help shed some light on what to do in the face of an objection.

Scenario #1

The Prospect Hangs Up on You

Almost every time this happens, it’s not personal. It’s not even about your company. The reality is, most prospects you cold call want more than anything to hang up! It’s not your fault, it’s a gut reaction they have after sitting through many, many bad elevator pitches.

If you’re feeling confident, call them back. Don’t open with something weak like, “I think we got disconnected…” or a similarly predictable approach. Instead, try assuming the role of customer service. Politely ask a few questions regarding the reason for their initial reaction. Was there something you can improve on in the future? If you can transition to your knowledge about the prospect and why they should care to take your call, you might be able to turn the conversation around. You have nothing to lose.

If they hung up on you right after you said your name and your company, there’s not much you can do differently to avoid this reaction. Just remember, it’s not personal. If they hung up on you halfway through your elevator pitch, consider your approach to opening the call. Did you demonstrate awareness of their company and challenges, or why your call would be well-timed? You might need to go back to the drawing board and do some more research.

Scenario #2

“You know, we’re all set right now.” 

This can be a tough objection to respond to. Your prospect is telling you they aren’t interested, but not sharing why. There are various different causes for an objection like this:

  • The person you have on the phone may not be the right contact for you, and that’s why they can’t relate to your value prop.
  • Perhaps they were distracted or not fully listening to what you had to say, and they just want to get off the phone.
  • They might have understood your message, but felt no urgency around solving the problem you highlighted.

When it seems like the objection is rooted in #2, the following response can go a long way: acknowledge that they get a lot of these calls, and immediately state something you know about their business. If their tone suddenly changes, you’ll know they just weren’t listening before. At this point, you might reconfirm the responsibilities of their role. They might not be the right person, but they could still provide a referral. If they are indeed the right person but there’s still no interest, they could truly be very happy and comfortable with their current process. If that’s the case, let them go! There’s no sense in dedicating sales resources to someone who’s not ready to consider making a change. It’s marketing’s job to nurture those folks.

To prevent this objection from happening, make sure you are linking your message to a trend or significant event that this executive is experiencing in their role or company. This will bring important context to the conversation that could heighten urgency.

Scenario #3

“Why don’t you send me some information first.” 

Either this prospect is very keen to dive into your marketing materials (possible, but not likely) or this is code for: “I didn’t understand what you said, so I need to figure it out for myself.” While it doesn’t feel like it’s as much of a rejection as the other two scenarios, this response is still preventing you from scheduling a time to meet with your prospect.

In response, always agree to send the information over, but use this opportunity to ask a few questions as well. In most companies, it’s a fair statement that you have an abundance of informational resources and it would be helpful to know a bit more about that prospect’s area of interest so that you can share the right one. You want to find out what the prospect is trying to learn from reading the information. (Be careful with word choice, though, or this can come off as too direct or even aggressive!) Once the prospect shares more about a specific interest, you can use that as a reason both to send information and schedule time to talk it over.

Moving forward, revisit your talking points for clarity, brevity and simplicity. Get to the heart of why this particular prospect should care. The more you can connect your message to this prospect’s unique situation, the more they will find value in talking to you, instead of reading information.

Editor's note: This post has been updated for clarity and relevance.

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Topics: Prospecting