When To Educate Prospects - And When To Walk Away

September 13, 2016 Richard Bayston

Handling objections is part of closing a prospect. Even when the lead is warm and the fit is perfect, there’s rarely a sale without an objection. But there are two kinds of objections: those that really mean, ‘I need help getting to “yes,”’ and those that mean, ‘I need help getting to “no.”’

And you should help both to get where they’re trying to be.

The ones who are heading for no will get there eventually. They may not have made up their minds, but when they do, no will be the answer - whether it happens today or tomorrow or in six months after hundreds of dollars’ worth of sales efforts have been wasted on them. What you’re doing here is qualification - removing a non-sale from the pipeline as early and efficiently as possible. Doing this is a boring task because it generates no income or reward in the immediate here and now. But it does pay off down the line. When you come back in the morning you’re greeted by a pipeline that has proportionately more actual, closeable leads in it. If sales is a numbers game - and it absolutely is - this is how you move the odds to your favor.

The ones who are heading for yes often haven’t made up their minds either. But when they do, the answer will be yes. What they’re asking for is assurance and education. They need a better understanding of how your offering helps them, and more reassurance that it’s not going to blow up in their faces. In B2B, salespeople are betting a lot more than the purchase or subscription price when they buy, and their peace of mind is your paycheck.

So when - and how -  do you help educate prospects?

Time Delays

'We’re not ready.' 'It’s not a good time for us.' 'Leave it with me and I’ll think about it and get back to you.' Sound familiar? I bet it does. Because time delays are a really common way for prospects to avoid saying yes while also not having to say no. Awesome, because the only thing better than a lead sitting in the pipeline for months is sinking hours of work into it, only to see it just turn to jelly in a morass of excuses.

Recognize The Objection:

Confront the issue head on: ask questions like, ‘when would be a good time to buy?’ Or move the focus to their business goal you're offering and ask when they hope to achieve that goal. Prospects who are saying hum-haw-maybe and mean no will take the opportunity to duck out, or continue giving evasive answers. Prospects who actually want to buy but don’t feel OK doing so, will talk timeline and start giving you their real objections.

Educate The Prospect:

Your job here is to educate the customer about what they really mean so you can figure out what they really need. ‘Educate’ comes from a Latin word meaning ‘to draw out’ and that’s what you’ll need to do: have purposive conversations where you pin prospects down to specifics and you’ll soon hear concrete timeline or their real objection.

For instance, they might be stalling to give themselves time to do some more background digging on your company. Once you know that, says Wendy Connick, ‘handing him a few testimonials or even calling up an existing customer for him to speak with can be enough to close the sale then and there.’

Remember, people make purchase decisions partly with their gut, even in B2B. And they avoid those decisions for partly emotional reasons too. They might not even know what their real objection is. You have to define it before you can move forward with the deal.

'Wrong Address'

I’m not the decision maker. And the person who is, will never support this. Your sales efforts are directed at the wrong person - or so they believe. This is a seriously frustrating situation, but it’s also an opportunity to educate that person.

Recognize The Objection:

When you’ve moved beyond obvious gatekeepers and your contact is still telling you they don’t have the say-so to buy, you have a wrong address problem.

Educate The Prospect:

You might need to disengage from that contact and pursue contact with someone who can make a decision. That’s a valid course of action that yields results. But it leaves all the work you’ve already done on the table. Instead, try talking through the expectations that your contact has regarding their C-suite. Why will the big guns never buy your offering? At the same time, focus on your contact’s thoughts and opinions: if they did hold the purse-strings, would they buy? If the answer yes, you might need to educate them on internal selling so they can go into their company and advocate for you with their CIO or other decision maker.

Over at SalesHQ, Colleen Francis advises confronting the issue head on to convert a sales influencer into a sales coach: ask the contact you already have, ‘If this project fails, will anyone other than you notice?’ At that point, hopefully they’ll realize of their own accord that it’s time to introduce you to their boss.

That way when you do get someone on the phone who’s empowered to pull the trigger, they’ll already know who you are and what you’re about.

Business Case

This person doesn’t really believe the business case for your offering. They can kind of see how it's useful, but they’re not buying the ROI on it. Or, they get it in principle but it doesn’t mentally connect with their issues.

Recognize The Objection:

This one’s all in the hesitancy. If you get a firm no and the prospect explains why they just don’t want your offering, there’s not a whole lot of educating to do there. But if you get this as a vague response from an otherwise worthwhile prospect, it may be worth doing your best to educate them before you quit.

Educate The Prospect:

Use case studies to make the business case crystal clear. If necessary, show them what that would look like in their business. This objection comes when the prospect gets that what you have is good, but they can’t get over looking at you as a line item, an expenditure. You need to show how you’re an investment. That might sound obvious - but if you’re getting this objection, you haven’t made it obvious enough.

When They Just Don’t Get It

You’re on what should be the home stretch, when you get objections that sound suspiciously like the prospect basically doesn’t understand how your offering works. Turns out they don’t. They might not say so in so many words, but they’re asking questions that they just wouldn’t ask if they had a proper understanding of what your offering does and how it does it.

Recognize The Objection:

You know you have a ‘don’t get it’ problem when your prospect’s raising objections that don’t make sense - or they’re telling you outright that they can’t see how your offering can do what you say it does.

Educate The Prospect:

You may have to move back a couple of steps here. If you’ve been talking to this prospect for a while and they still don’t understand how your offering delivers, you might have assumed they already knew more than they did. In situations like that, most people will cover up their confusion, agree and seek to move the conversation on before they’re found out.

If your prospect’s been bluffing you, you have a tough job on your hands: you have to figure out where the level of their knowledge really is, and then start explaining there, without making them feel foolish or patronized.

The best way to do this is to take ownership of the misunderstanding. After all, it’s your job to guide the prospect to a solid comprehension of what you do, so if they still don’t get it, the responsibility lies with you. Own that, says Hubspot’s Aje Frost, and you’re closer to the deal: try something like, ‘I apologize -- I could’ve done a better job explaining how we’ve seen other teams adopt it. Mind if I give it another go?’

So when should you walk away?

They Don’t Know What They Want

If the prospect can’t clearly define what they want to get out of the relationship it may be time to cut them loose. Interviewed by Hubspot, Nonstop Sales Boom author Colleen Francis recommends getting solid answers to these three questions:

  • What does success look like with this project?
  • Who else will be involved in making this decision?
  • When do you need to have this project done by?

If you can’t get answers, it might be time to walk away.

You’re On The List…And It’s A Long List

If the prospect is looking at solutions from multiple suppliers, that’s fair - but if they have half a dozen similar offerings on the table, the chances aren’t good. Some companies will do this to try to push for a lower price from the supplier they do plan to buy from, or from their existing supplier. If you know they’re talking to a bunch of suppliers and you’re just another name on the list, it might be time to step back.

'Keyser Söze'

And like that…they’re gone. They don’t answer calls or return emails, they’re never available to talk. Being a seasoned pro you have some pretty next-level engagement techniques, but however good you are, there’s nothing in your arsenal that can overcome a prospect who doesn’t want anything to do with you. Send them a thanks and goodbye email and move on.

They Really Shouldn’t Be Buying From You

Sometimes these prospects might actually be eager to purchase, but you know that your offering is a bad fit that won’t deliver good ROI for them. In an ideal world, you’d like to tell them that. But in the practical, hard-headed world of sales... you absolutely have to tell them that.

Otherwise, they’ll buy from you, get nothing out of your product, churn, and spend the next five years relaying that experiences to their friends and colleagues. That’s costing your business twice!


Objection handling gets a bad reputation - some people seemingly think it means ‘how to get to yes from no,’ invoking the stereotype of a pushy salesperson. But we should look at objections as ways for us and the prospect to get from maybe to definitely, and to get there together. Yes, the salesperson should own the sales process, but that’s far from being pushy.

Instead, it’s about clarity and openness. If a prospect is raising vague objections, you might need to help them clarify what their real objection is before you can address it; if they’re a bad fit or they’re just not interested, it makes sense to get clarity there too so you - and they - can move on.

Featured Image Source: Compass Architectural Drawing by Sergey Zolkin CC0 Unsplash

Previous Article
How To Optimize Free-trial Signups
How To Optimize Free-trial Signups

SaaS free trial sign-ups can be a great way to win business. But many SaaS companies have found it difficul...

Next Article
6 Ways Sales Enablement Drives Revenue
6 Ways Sales Enablement Drives Revenue

If you’re not already on board with sales enablement, you should be. But most commentaries on sales enablem...