6 Ways to Avoid Being Duped by Your Prospect (how to handle smokescreen objections)

Are you being duped and mislead by your prospects?

Do you ever get that sinking feeling that the objections they are giving you are false? Or worse, do you suspect your prospects are dodging your follow up calls and ignoring your voice mails after you have send out literature or faxed a quote or e-mailed out a lengthy proposal?

If this sounds all too familiar you are not alone.

Everyday and everywhere tele-sales reps around the world are falling victim to the common smokescreen.  A smokescreen is a false objection or a misleading request uttered by your prospects in effort to slough you off and get you off the phone. But the real problem is this: a smokescreen is identical to a legitimate objection or request for action. Recognizing and handling a smokescreen and differentiating it from a legitimate objection can save you considerable time and effort and a whole lot of frustration.   Here’s how you do it.

Recognizing a Smokescreen

The first thing to understand is this: smokescreens occur at or near the end of the phone call usually when you are trying to close or advance the sale.  Because they occur at the end of the call there is often a strong belief that they are legitimate: after all, you got this far in the call, certainly the prospect is keen, right? Don’t fall for it. You need to determine if you’ve got the real thing or if you are being duped.

Vague Smokescreen

The second thing to understand is that there are two types of objections.  The first type is the ‘vague smokescreen’ and as the name implies, it is an objection that is elusive, unclear, odd or out of place; vague. It could well be legitimate but you kind of get the feeling it could be hiding something else. Here are some classic vague smokescreens:

“It’s too pricey”

“I need to think about it’

“It’s not in the budget”

“I need to speak to my partner/boss/co-workers”

Specific Smokescreen

The second type is the ‘specific smokescreen’ and it has all the earmarks of being the real thing because the prospect is seeking some sort of action from you; you have to DO something. And because you have to DO something, specific smokescreens are the worst because you need to invest time and effort.  Here are some classic specific smokescreens:

“Send me something in the mail”

“E-mail me a proposal and I’ll take a look at it”

“Fax me a quote and I will get back to you”

“Call me next month”

The 2 Step Process

There are two simple steps to determining if you have a smokescreen and if you are being duped: pause and clarify.

Step #1: Pause

The first step is easy. Simply pause after the prospect has tossed out the possible smokescreen. The primary reason for pausing is that it prevents you from responding too quickly (and perhaps too flippantly). It also buys you time to figure out what clarifying technique you will used to determine if you have a smokescreen.

Step #2: Clarify

The second step is to seek clarification. Your objective here is to get the prospect open up and explain and/or justify their vague or specific smokescreen. To do this you need to question your prospect.  Here are the 5 best clarification techniques for smokescreens:

6 Ways to Avoid Being Duped

1. The Deafening Silence Technique

Here is one of the most powerful techniques for smokescreens.  When the prospect tosses out a smokescreen don’t reply. Don’t say a single word. Let the silence do the talking.

On the telephone, silence is perceived as three to six times longer than it really is. You’ll feel awkward with the silence but so will your prospect.  When you don’t respond right away, it creates a noticeable vacuum in the conversation and that in turn creates a sense ‘discomfort’ with your prospect. They are not sure why there is silence and they feel the compelling need to fill the gap.  What usually happens is your prospect rushes to fill that empty space by elaborating on their initial smokescreen. Often you will get the real objection by sitting quietly.

2. The I-Am-Not-Sure-I-Understand Technique

This is a really wonderful technique to handle vague objections and requires only six words. When a prospect gives you a vague smokescreen, simply say,

“I am not sure I understand…”

Your tone is important here. You must sound like you are a bit confused, humble, hesitant and a bit surprised as though to say “your objection doesn’t make sense, help me out.” The prospect will pick up your uncertainty and most of them will seek to explain further.  By the way, this technique is extremely effective for the “I need to think about it” smokescreen. Just remember that after you utter those six little words, don’t say a thing. Let the silence do the talking.

3. The Advance Technique

The advance technique is superb for specific smokescreen because it forces the client to commit to an action in return for your action. For example, suppose the prospect says, “E-mail me a proposal and I will take a look at it.’  Your reply goes like this:

“Horatio, I would be glad to e-mail that proposal over to you. I can get that done by tomorrow afternoon and what I would like to recommend is that we set up Thursday – the day after tomorrow, to discuss it in detail and determine the next steps, if any. How does 8:40 on Thursday look on your calendar?”

The key to making the advance work is getting the client to commit to a follow up DATE and a follow up TIME.  If Horatio agrees to your date and time, you probably have a legitimate request. If he balks, offer an alternative date and time. If he balks yet again, ask him for a specific date and time within the NEXT week.  If Horatio can’t commit, you probably have a smokescreen.

If that’s the case, try drawing a line in the sand and say,

“Horatio, I am a little uncomfortable with preparing a proposal if we can’t commit to a follow up time and date. If now is not the time to quote on your needs, I understand, and what I would like to recommend is that I give you a call next quarter and assess your situation then. How does that sound?”

If your prospect agrees to a follow up sometime next quarter, great, you’ve just dodged the smokescreen.  Mission accomplished. And while you didn’t get the sale, you did avoid the time and effort in preparing the proposal and the time in effort in making follow up call after follow up call.

4. The Removal Technique

This technique is particularly good for vague smokescreens especially price and budget. The idea is to remove the objection and see how the prospect responds. For instance,

“Ms. Sidle, “I understand your concern about price (or budget). Let me ask, if price (or budget) was not an issue, would you proceed with the purchase?”

If the prospect says ‘yes, absolutely’ then you have any number of options available to you. For example, you could negotiate, you could offer special terms, you could research other places where funds might be available or you might defer payment…whatever. But if they balk at these suggestions or ideas, chances are you have a full blown smokescreen. It means something isn’t sitting right and it’s your job to figure out what’s the objection behind the objection.

5. The Are-You-Bought-In Technique

Here is a great clarification technique for the prospect who tosses out a vague objection like ‘I need to check with my boss.’ You reply,

“Mr. Wolfe, I recognize it is important to speak with your boss on this purchase but let me ask you: are you personally bought into the solution I have recommended.  Do I have your endorsement?”

Listen carefully here. If the prospects waffles or if he hums and haws or if he tosses out another concern, you’ve got a smokescreen. Most prospects don’t want to totally misrepresent themselves. If they have other concerns, they will often utter them and now you have a better idea of what is holding them back.

6. Call Their Bluff

This last technique is somewhat similar to the above because it calls for a little boldness. It works particularly well for specific objections.  Delivered sincerely it can quickly help decipher if the prospect is yanking your chain or not.  Suppose the prospect asks you to send literature (brochures, white papers, case studies etc.). Here’s how you might reply:

“Catherine, I will be more than happy to send all this material to you but let me ask you candidly: is this material something you’ll be seriously reviewing with an intent to purchase? If not, I understand, and I would be glad to follow up next quarter.


When you think you’ve uncovered a smokescreen, you need to question further to determine the true objection. Sometimes you need to back up and verify if there is truly a need and the urgency of that need. Whatever the case may be, don’t be duped by what the client says. Take the time to test the objection or the request for action.  What this will really do for you is help you focus your time and effort on those who are truly interested in purchasing.

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