How to Handle the "Economy Objection"

When times are tough, the business of selling gets that much harder. Here are a few tips to make the downturn a little less daunting

By Michelle Nichols

A famous bullfighter once said, "To do something when you are not afraid is nothing. To do nothing when you are afraid is nothing. But to do something when you are afraid is something!" That doesn't just apply to bullfighting, it's true for selling, too. Many of your prospects are telling you they can't buy right now because the economy is tough. If you keep coming across that same objection, it can destroy your resolve to keep trying.

It's hard to take the "economy objection" lightly, and smart sellers never do. Remember how, back in 1992, soon-to-be President Bill Clinton emblazoned the message "It's the economy, stupid," on the wall of his campaign headquarters? Playing to the voters' economic concerns was the strategy he wanted his staffers to remember at all times. It worked. He stayed "on message" -- and took the White House.

In selling, unlike politics, objections must be contronted head-on. When I keep hearing the same objection to my sales efforts (and it's not personal, like I have bad breath or I'm blinding them with my loud suit,) I take a page from David Letterman, force myself to compile a Top Ten list of the ways I could overcome, or at least intelligently respond to, customer concerns.

Here are 10 responses to deal with the dreaded economic objection. I hope the list will get your mental wheels turning, so feel free to modify them to fit your situation. Remember the bullfighter's wisdom, and don't forget that practice doesn't make perfect -- practiced perfection makes perfect, so you may want to role-play with a co-worker or friend before taking the following tacks with potential customers.

1. Smile, lean in, and welcome the objection. Some people see buying as a sport, like deep-sea fishing. Even when times are good, if they already plan to buy, these folks will bait you with objections just to watch your reaction. When times are bad and sales prospects blame their reluctance on the economy, they probably expect you to walk away. When you do the opposite, when you respond with a whole-body smile, you grab their attention –- and their respect. Then you can really start to sell. Like the slogan says on my coffee mug, "Salesmanship begins when the customer says 'No!'"

2. Prepare thoughtful, open-ended questions. Not the yes/no sort -- your objective is to find out more about their situation. Exactly how is the economic downturn impacting their business? Remember, your prospective customer is already in shock that you didn't call it quits when they laid the economy objection on you. Give him or her another surprise and listen carefully.

Remember: While everyone likes to be heard, most people feel no one really pays enough attention to what they say. One of the benefits of a slow economy is that people have more time to hear you out. In sales, we say, "People don't care what you know until they know that you care." Here's your chance to show them just how much.

3. Is there another way to help their company. Maybe the prospect can refer you to a different department. If you sell paper and are calling on an office manager, for example, you might find that the company's off-site print shop needs a lot more paper than the prospect with which you started.

4. Help prospects see themselves as long-term winners. Try, "Tell me honestly, do you think this economy is going to turn around in the next year or so?" If they say "No," then it really is time to cut your losses, head for the door, and make a note to return when things improve. Don't regard it as a defeat, but as a strategic and temporary withdrawal.

5. If they are optimistic, show them how your product can give them a running start when the economy revives. Buying now -- right this minute -- can maximize the return on their purchase. If you are selling a tech gizmo, say, point out that they will be fully trained in all the great things it can do by the time the economy roars back. Remind them that it makes sense to add new products or services when things are slow, when they have the time to really plan and implement the integration.

6. Point out that big companies are using this time to expand or enhance their offerings. Maybe their competitors are, too. When the economy slows, that's the most dangerous time to go on autopilot.

7. Reassure them that the economic objection is a normal and rational concern. Say something like, "You know, my other customers said the same thing but ended up buying from me anyway. Do you want to know what changed their minds?" That last sentence allows prospects to remain in charge of the conversation, which is the way they will feel most comfortable. No one likes to feel controlled.

8. Can you offer attractive financing? The auto companies are using this strategy, maybe you should, too. Or here's another thought: Can you strengthen your offer -- make what you are offering more attractive -- if they refer you to their friends and contacts? This will help your prospect list grow.

9. Explain that the economy is affecting you, too. This is the moment to share some ways you've maintained or grown your business in this harsh economic climate. You can be more than a salesperson, you can be a business peer.

10. Tap your creativity and imagination. Ask yourself these questions: Who else could use my products or services? How else could they use them? How could they use more of them or do so more often? How could they maximize the benefit so that I can more easily justify my prices?

Small businesses (I prefer to call them "growing businesses") are the engine of America's economy, indeed, of the whole world. It is up to us to get things rolling again. Just imagine, if every business, regardless of its current size, put the above ideas into practice and grew 5% by doing so. The rippling result would see our government go back to discussing how to spend the resulting budget surplus!

Just as spring follows winter, the economy will recover. But no matter what the state of the economy, salespeople are going to hear objections. Accept this fact and prepare for the most common ones, and then, when the heat is on, you will sell with invigorated confidence and, let's hope, success. Happy Selling!

Michelle Nichols is a sales consultant, trainer, and speaker based in Houston, Texas. She welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at

Edited by Roger Franklin

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