A long time ago, I had a conversation with a struggling sales counselor. They were frustrated that a prospect who seemed like a great fit had broken off the conversation and wouldn’t respond to calls. It turns out that the prospect had some objections, but each time the sales counselor thought they had an answer, a new and more difficult objection would pop up. It started out as concern about apartments being too small, then too expensive, then suddenly the whole place was in the wrong neighborhood.

This was a classic trap of the sales counselor “jumping to solve” surface objections before exploring what was at the heart of the matter. When we “jump to solve,” our prospect will almost always come up with another, more difficult, objection for us. This is a vicious cycle that will often lead to an unassailable objection, like “your community is in the wrong city for me.”

I use ACTS to drill down to what really matters without getting out of alignment with the prospect. There are several online descriptions of the “ACTS” technique for dealing with an objection in a sales conversation. What I haven’t found is an adequate explanation for why it should be used and how to apply it to uncover underlying objections–perhaps the most valuable aspect of this technique.

ACTS is an acronym for Acknowledge, Clarify, Test and Solve. Each word describes a step in addressing a particular objection during an argument or sales conversation. Each has a particular function and skipping a step can lead to an unwanted outcome. In this longer-form blog entry, I’ll explain each step and then pose a sample objection followed by some sample responses.

Sample Objection: Your apartments are too small!

Step 1) Acknowledge

An acknowledgement is critical. It tells your prospect that you are on their side, that their objection is reasonable and normal, and that you are LISTENING.

Sample Acknowledgements:

  • It’s perfectly understandable to want to have a lot of room to yourself. We all grew up with the American dream of a big house to raise our kids in.
  • For most people, their home is the biggest investment they ever made and it’s natural to think of bigger as better.
  • This is a beautiful house—you probably have many fond memories tied to this place.
  • It’s really hard to visualize a different kind of living from what you’re used to. It probably felt the same way when you left your parents home to go to school or the service

Step 2) Clarify

Clarification questions allow you to shift from general to specific. They allow you to focus on an aspect of the objection rather than the overall, and they strip away your initial assumptions that can lead you in the wrong direction.

Sample Clarify Questions:

  • When you say our apartments are too small, is that specifically our apartments or any apartment that is smaller than your house?
  • Are you considering your personal apartment here as the only space you will be living in?
  • How much of your current space in this house do you use on a daily basis?
  • Didn’t you mention that this big house was becoming hard to maintain?
  • If you were looking for a house to buy today, would you buy this one that you’re living in?

Step 3) Test

This is an extremely important step, and the one most often skipped. The answer to the test question tells you whether to proceed with a proposed solution, or whether there is more to the story. A test question temporarily sweeps the objection off the table in order to determine if there’s another objection waiting beneath it (often the underlying objection is more personal, more significant, and more related to emotion than practical matters).

Sample Test Questions:

  • What if you discovered that the space you use daily is actually much smaller than the apartment and living space you will use here?
  • What if we doubled the size of your apartment?
  • If you could have all of the other services of this community brought to your house, would you want them there?
  • If a tornado destroyed your house tomorrow, what would you look for in a new home?

Step 4) Solve

NOTE: Don’t solve the objection UNLESS it is the last objection prior to a decision. Test questions most often will not lead you to this step–they will more often reveal an underlying objection instead. When that happens, STOP and go back to the beginning and ACT this new, deeper objection. At some point, you might need to solve this first objection but not now. This process of cycling deeper down into the more emotional causes of hesitation, like guilt or fear of change, builds a deep bond of trust between the sales counselor and the prospect. The conversation becomes much less like a tennis match and more like a hand-in-hand journey of exploration.

Sample Solve Questions:

  • Did you know that many people who move to our communities realize that the space is much better suited to their current needs?
  • What if you kept your house for a few months after your move, so you had a fall-back plan?
  • With your arthritis, had you considered the benefits of taking FEWER STEPS from the living room to the bathroom to the bedroom?

If you got this far, thanks! I can tell you this process has been extremely valuable to me as a parent, a leader, a trainer, a coach and a salesman. It takes practice, patience, and a willingness to stop yourself when the solution is staring you in the face. Feel free to comment below if you want to talk about it more!