On the cliff edge – how to resolve customer concerns

Written by Shaun James

It can sometimes take weeks or months (if not years!) before a customer takes the plunge and makes a decision. This can be due to many factors, but it's often down to some lingering concerns they have that are preventing them from moving forward.

In this article, Huthwaite's Head of Learning and Skills, Shaun James, explains some common customer concerns and covers how salespeople can overcome them.

Have you ever made a big buying decision? Most probably – we all have at some point, but what constitutes a ‘big’ decision?

It’s all relative, of course. Buying a house is a big decision. Taking a new job is a big decision. Getting married is a big decision. Buying that sparkly new outfit for that special occasion can also be a big decision.

Buying decisions are not solely defined by how much they cost financially – although it can be a factor. Nor are they solely defined by how much effort you have to put in to making it work – although that can be a factor, too. What unites all big decisions is a perceived level of the risks involved in what will happen as a result of taking that decision.

Here are a few common customer concerns when they’re making a decision in complex sales:

  • What if it goes wrong?
  • What if I don’t like it?
  • What if things change and I can’t afford it?
  • What will happen if this goes south?
  • What will people think of me?

These types of concerns can prevent the decision from going ahead.

Diving headfirst from a cliff edge into something new or something different is a scary thing to do, so it’s no surprise that we need to be satisfied that the waters are safe before we take the plunge. To stretch the analogy a little further, we need to know that there are no sharks in the water; that we know where the rocks are; we know how deep the water is; if there are any currents that will make it hard to swim, and that our swimsuit won’t slip off when we hit the water leaving us fully exposed.

It is only when these concerns have been resolved and the risks have been managed that we are ready to dive in. If not, we will back away from the cliff edge and go and find something to do that feels much safer.

Similarly, in business, decision makers will feel the same way about the big decisions they have to make. It is predictable that they will have concerns similar to the ones above. Ok, maybe not about their swimsuit falling off – but certainly a fear of being exposed for taking a high visibility decision.

From our observations of successful salespeople over the last 50 years, we have learned that they don’t ignore the fact that their customers will have concerns about making a ‘big’ decision – they take steps to deal with them early.

If you are seller, surfacing and hearing concerns the customer has about selecting you as a supplier may not be comfortable to hear, but at least you have opportunity to help them resolve it. If not uncovered, the concern won’t magically disappear, and the customer may slowly and quietly back away from the cliff edge.

In a recent conversation with a seller who deals in high value decisions for his customers, he stated that he would normally ask his prospective customer a question like ‘Do you or anybody else involved have any concerns about making this decision?’. On its own merits, a great question. He then said that following some insights gained during his SPIN® Selling training, he changed the question he asked to ‘What concerns do you or anybody else involved have about making this decision?’ Although subtle in its framing, it sends a message that there is an understanding that there will be concerns. The customer was happy enough to share what turned out to be quite a long list!

How to resolve customer concerns

1. Ask the question

First of all, to uncover customer concerns, you need to ask them outright. There’s no need to beat around the bush. As I mentioned previously, asking the question early on in the sale makes it clear that you know there will be concerns, and shows you’re dedicated to overcoming them. This may also provide you the opportunity to understand the customer’s decision-making unit, and could provide other points of contact within the company.

2. Address the concerns head on

Actively listen to the customer's concerns and address them directly. Be empathetic and show a genuine interest in understanding their needs and worries. Tailor your responses to address specific issues they may have and provide solutions or additional information that can alleviate their concerns.

3. Show case studies

Share success stories, case studies, or testimonials from other customers who have faced similar challenges and found success with your product or service. Real-world examples help build credibility and demonstrate the value your offering can provide. This can be particularly effective in instilling confidence in the customer.

4. Be transparent

Foster open and transparent communication throughout the sales process. Clearly communicate pricing structures, terms, and any potential challenges. Building a relationship based on trust and transparency helps establish a foundation for a long-term partnership. Addressing concerns with honesty and openness can strengthen the customer's confidence in both the product/service and the salesperson.

5. Provide ongoing support and training

Assure the customer that the support doesn't end with the sale. Emphasise the availability of post-purchase support, training programs, and resources. Knowing that there is a plan in place for onboarding and continued assistance can ease concerns about the learning curve and implementation challenges.

No matter how experienced you are, or how safe you think the waters are; your customers are predictably going to be worried about jumping in with you. Before you ask them to dive in, take the time to understand and clarify those concerns long before they are expected to take the plunge. Using phrases like ‘trust me’ or ‘don’t worry, we’ve done this a thousand times’ are unlikely to take away their worries. Find out what is important for them to see, know or experience, so that they dive into the water with confidence.

Learn more about overcoming customer concerns. Download the "Concerns – The end of cycle sales killer" whitepaper.


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