Why Don’t They Want What I’m Selling?

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Why Don’t They Want What I’m Selling?

Salespeople live with resistance every day. This article shows how to increase your success while maintaining your integrity.


by Rick Maurer

Every salesperson knows the mantra: look for objections because they can be turned into selling points. Yes, that’s true to a degree, but attention to objections is often far too limited to get at the real reasons why someone isn’t buying. And even attention to relationship selling, for all its benefits, can fall short.

My study of why people reject offers certainly includes objections and relationship, but the reasons are often subtler and more complex. Resistance to buying falls into three major categories.

Three Levels of Resistance

Each of these levels is important and different one from another. Level 1 is the easiest to recognize and work with, Level 2 is far more difficult to see and address, and Level 3 requires a willingness to look at ourselves and then lots of time to work on this issue.

Level 1: I don’t get it. This comes from lack of understanding. Needless to say, if people don’t understand what you’re trying to sell, they aren’t likely to buy.

As straightforward as Level 1 is, we can still miss the mark Sometimes people lack the context to understand what we are saying. Maybe our experience and access to critical information gives us a savvy that they don’t have. No matter how hard we try to sell them on our idea, they can’t see why it’s even important to us.

Many years ago I was in the market to buy my first laptop computer. I didn’t know what I wanted or needed, but I did think a laptop would be a good thing to have when I was on the road. I went into a few computer stores only to walk out in humiliation. The salespeople spoke some mysterious tongue that I didn’t understand. I almost felt like I should go to Berlitz and take a course in computerese so I wouldn’t waste their valuable time.

Just as I was about to give up the search, I stepped in a local store on my way to lunch. This salesperson did something different. Instead of selling, he asked a simple question: “What do you plan to use it for?” I told him word processing and e-mail. He asked about other applications such as spreadsheets and games. Nope, just word processing and e-mail. Without ever launching into that strange language, he took me over to a laptop that would do all that I asked. I didn’t price shop. I didn’t look further. I bought it and was happy customer.

Level 1 is also the world of objections. “It costs too much.” “The timing isn’t right.” These Level 1 objections lend themselves to answers. And, indeed, if their objections really are Level 1, then your response may help them make a decision in favor of your product. However, sometimes these objections mask Level 2 or Level 3 concerns.

Level 2: I don’t like it! People have a strong unfavorable emotional reaction to the product or service. There is something about what we are selling that scares them. If they were hooked to sensors, you’d see dials going crazy as blood pressure goes up, pulse rate increases, and adrenalin flows freely. This is the world of flight and fight. It may be only civility that keeps them talking to you. They are ready to run. To cover their fear (which they may not yet be aware of themselves) they give Level 1 objections or talk with you about features and benefits, but inside is a scared gazelle who has just heard a lion’s roar.

How could this happen? Imagine a new software system that links the entire enterprise together. While the salesperson sees only the benefits, the manager sees loss of control, headaches, embarrassment if this doesn’t work, maybe even loss of her own job if the failure gets linked to her. Or the employee may see the greater efficiency you promise as a threat to his own employment security.

All is not lost. Good salespeople know how to listen. The key is to pick up the faint frequencies that signal an emotional reaction and then keep exploring to find out what the real issues are. You need to explore lightly, because this may be uncomfortable terrain for the potential customer. And you need to keep listening until you bleed. Don’t respond to each comment with a selling point. You are deep mining here and need to keep digging to find the mother lode.

Level 3: I don’t like you. They lack confidence or trust in you. Levels 1 and 2 may be working in your favor, people may get why your product or service is good, they may actually like it and are emotionally drawn to it, but they aren’t going to buy because you are the one selling.

Level 3 (I don’t like you) is often overlooked and it kills many potential sales. Here is where the value of relationship selling comes in. But if Level 3 is in the air, the relationship sales focus needs to extend beyond the obvious. While it is important for them to see you as the one who knows the product and is willing to take time to get to know them and their needs, they may still harbor Level 3 concerns. They may not trust you based on your history together. Perhaps from where they sit you never delivered in the past or made outlandish promises that exceed what your product could deliver. Or perhaps the Level 3 issues have nothing to do with you personally but are based on who you represent. Let’s say you work for a company that is held in low regard. A large portion of your approach will need to be to build bridges to show why you are different.

Level 3 is challenging primarily because it is often difficult for us to even think for a moment that others may not love us and everything we stand for. Being willing to see what others see is the most important step you can take.

Understanding, emotional reactions, and trust in us work hand-in-hand. All three are in play at all times. Sometimes they work in our favor; at other times they work against us. Paying attention to all three simultaneously, and adjusting our strategy based on what we see through these lenses is an essential skill. And it can be learned.

I’ve seen people’s ability to get others to say “Yes” increase dramatically once they started asking the questions: “Do they get it or don’t they? Do they like it or don’t they? Do they like me or don’t they?”

© 2002-2009 Rick Maurer. Rick uses his Change without Migraines™ to advise organizations on how to lead change effectively. He is author of many books including Beyond the Wall of Resistance. Recently, he created the Change Management Open Source Project, a free
resource for people interested in change in organizations. www.beyondresistance.com