Do as Marketing Does – Part 6 Objections

Posted by

It is very clear that the changes that will impact learning and development in 2017 and beyond will require very different skills than what we depended upon in the past.   We need to look to other fields for practices we can borrow.  Learning from our colleagues will not only accelerate our abilities to serve our learners and organizations better, but the collaboration will enhance our efforts to integrate with the businesses we serve.

In 6 Things That Learning Professionals Can Learn from Marketers, Todd Kasenberg provides ideas that we can learn from our colleagues in Marketing.  I think he’s dead on with these suggestions.  The 6 things are:

  1. Address learner motivations to get engagement
  2. Be relevant
  3. Get your channels right
  4. Manage cognitive load
  5. Get then trying out (“trialling”) behaviors quickly
  6. Anticipate and handle the objections

Over the next six days, I’m going to flesh out each of these topics and how they fit into the work we do in Learning and Development.

Anticipate and handle the objections

Marketers and sales leaders spend a lot of time anticipating the barriers to adoption for their brands, products, solutions.   In my 15 years of sales work, I  spent a huge amount of work digging for potential objections to the productions and services I was selling.  In many cases, it’s not the features and functionalities of a product or service that makes or breaks a buying decision.  Objections may be emotionally based.  We need to anticipate that there will be resistance to change.

Twelve years ago in my first meeting with an IT colleague who was a key stakeholder to L&D’s success I was promoting the “new”  concept of workflow, just-in-time learning.  This dialogue was a part of that meeting:

HIM: “To be honest with you, Dave. The only training I go to is the training I can’t get out of.”

ME: “So, I assume you are coding in a different language than what you were taught in college.  Where did you learn the language you use today?”

HIM: (looking at me a bit puzzled) “On the job.”

ME: “In other words, learning in the workplace as you needed it.”

Because I anticipated his objection (training is boring and irrelevant) I was able to address it and I eventually won him over.


Now, it’s seldom that a stakeholder will be so upfront and as clear about their objections to your project or idea as my colleague was.  It usually requires an amount of trust before they are willing to share with you at a level where objections can be uncovered.  As I mentioned above, objections are often emotionally based.  In many cases, emotions that they may not want to surface in the workplace.  Perhaps they wanted your job (whether they applied for it or not) and are jealous you got it.  This has happened to me twice.  Once I was blindsided and my proposal went down in flames.  The second time, I overcame this objection by building trust with her by involving her in the project planning.

As I mentioned above, objections are often emotionally based.  In many cases, emotions that they may not want to surface in the workplace.  Perhaps they wanted your job (whether they applied for it or not) and are jealous you got it.  This has happened to me twice.  The first time, I was blindsided and my proposal went down in flames.  The second time, I overcame this objection by building trust with her by involving her in the project planning.

Maybe they are afraid their objection is petty (I just don’t want to deal with one more change.), will place them in a position outside the majority (I know this is exciting, but should we really be spending our limited resources in this way?) or make them look stupid (I barely understand what you are talking about so how can I support it.). Ironically, they might be holding back their objection for fear that they might hurt or offend you (yeah, because they actually like you).

In other cases, it may be a legit business concern (cost, it doesn’t address their issues, concerns about the reaction of their employees, will it be effective in meeting their operational goals, etc.).In either case, they need to trust that you will take their objection seriously before they will share it, even indirectly, with you.


It takes time to uncover objections. Building trust takes time.  Time for conversations with them.  Time for them to process the proposal. Time for you to listen to the grapevine.  They might have shared their objection with their boss or a colleague – sometimes actually wanting it to get back to you.  If you have a strong Needs Assessment practice, you may already be doing some of the necessary work to uncover all aspects of your stakeholder’s needs.  If you aren’t hearing objections, then look at revising your questions.  Make sure you are asking probing questions about their goals.  Get to know their motivations.  Ask questions like:  Where do you think this proposal will run into resistance?  Do you think I have all my bases covered?  What else do you need to know/have included for you to be supportive of this project?

Uncovered Objections are IEDs

Why spend all that time looking for objections?  If you fail to uncover stakeholder objections they can end up acting like an IED (Individual Explosive Devise) along your project path.  They can do massive damage to your proposal if not found and handled.  They could be the deciding vote in a decision.  If they voice their objection in a meeting, they could shut down further discussion until you present on the objection at next month’s meeting.  They will look for “legitimate” issues with your proposal that they will then try to influence others with those concerns (rather than expose their emotionally-based objection).

Ultimately, anticipating and handling objections is a matter of really getting to know your stakeholders – those people who will have influence – formal or informal – on the success of your proposal or project.

What do you think?

  • Have you ever been blindsided by an unanticipated objection?  What could you have done to overcome it had you known about it?
  • What are good questions you use to uncover objections?

Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.


  1. I’m always interested to see how lessons learned from Marketing can be applied to Teaching. I have in the first, little in the second. From my own experience of selling there is this crucial moment when the sales person (me btw), has to stop speaking. This moment when you realize the other party don’t listen anymore but starts growing rejection. This is the time where you have shut up and start listening. Empathy listening they say now. So it’s less a question of trust than being humble, admitting you don’t have all the answers and being concentrated on fully absorbing what the buyer has to say. This can be expressed rationally but also being expressed by body language, moves etc. At that point either you relate to an anticipated situation and you take the risk of missing the particularities or you address the objection in the context of the buyer. This means you really take on you to do the extra mile and refrain from having canned answers. This is where you win the hearts of the buyer.

    I realized today while writing a post on microlearning design as I imagine it that encouraging complete feedback is rarely part of elearning design. Not just a smile page but really encouraging objections, critics, requests for more. So in a sense, the control stays on the designer side but it’s illusory. The learner does like the buyer, he quits and sees somewhere else.


    1. Bruno: Thanks for the comment. I agree with you 100%. The buyer (in our cases the learner) will trust me when they realize I’m listening. A quick story.

      Years ago, when I was selling college textbooks, I had been calling on a customer for 3.5 years, but I didn’t have the right book for him. Every time I met with him, I listened. I used active listening techniques to assure him I was listening. One day, he asked me how long I had been calling on him. I told him 3.5 years. He said, “and you’ve always listened. You never pushed a book on me that wouldn’t meet my needs. Do you have a book that meets my criteria?” I said I did. He chose my recommended book sight unseen saying to me, “You’ve earned it.” $100,000 sale closed.

      Needs Assessment must be about listening. It shouldn’t be about confirming my assumptions or opinions. Only our customers (learners, managers, senior leadership) know what they need.


      1. You got it.

        Fun fact, earlier today, I was doing my research for the #PKMChat tonight on microlearning and I came across a microlearning as a video precisely on this topic:

        I like how the guy explains the steps. he really insists on something I’ve lived too: One objection, easy to voice can hide another, less easy to share. It’s only by active listening that it can be uncovered.

        Now how to implement it in learning? I think first is to add some transparency on the outcomes and being reachable, open to rethink some options. If objections are taken as groundless critics it can’t work.Why not discuss the outcomes for example? Learners might have some opinions on what they need.

        Got the video via


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s