Soft Skills for CAD Managers: Handling Objections18 Nov, 2020 By: Robert Green
CAD Manager Column: Are your users complaining about their software? Is upper management pushing back on the cost? Are the PMs griping that things are moving too slowly? Here's how to cope.
In the previous edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I began a periodic series on the soft skills required to be an effective CAD manager. We kicked things off with a look at the must-have skills of speaking and presenting. This time around, I’ll share my approaches to another soft skill that I have found extremely helpful — handling objections — by giving some practical illustrations using real-life CAD management scenarios to illustrate the concepts. Here goes.
Objections, Objections Everywhere
It seems like everybody has their objections. Managers, users, accounting personnel, project managers, vendors, and even CAD managers themselves all have complaints and objections about how our CAD ecosystems work — or don’t work. And if objections are a fact of life, then it stands to reason that dealing with them is a soft skill we should all work on. But how can we best do that?
This question brings me to my ground rules for handling objections in a way that provides maximum resolution and minimum hassle:
- You can’t fix everything. Don’t take all the burdens on yourself — you can’t handle everyone’s objections alone, and you’ll just get burned out if you try. Pace yourself and remember that no matter how effective you are, you’ll never entirely eliminate objections!
- You must speak to the right people, at the right time, and in the right language. Users speak CAD, accounting speaks money, project managers speak scheduling, management speaks profit, etc.
- You can establish departmental linkages to help resolve issues. You’ll need to think differently — more strategically — to make this happen, but you can do it if you try.
- You must recommend solutions based on data, not opinion. When armed with the right information to support your recommendations, you can align the different players inside the company (management, accounting, etc.) to overcome objections.
Now, are you ready to develop some new soft skills for objection handling? Let's get started.
The main thing I’ve learned about objection handling is that I need to understand what types of objections come from each different area of the company that I deal with. If I know what to look for, I can listen better, and listening carefully is a key part of objection handling. Here are the objections I hear most often from each group:
Users. They are under too much pressure to be billable and/or get done with projects, which means they have no time to deal with things like standards, attending training, etc.
Managers. Cost and complexity are the thorns in their side. As far as management is concerned, whatever we’re doing always costs too much and is too hard to learn — which they object to strenuously, because it drives job costs up.
Project managers (PMs). They’re usually striving to “just get it done fast,” and they object to anything that slows down their schedule — even if it’s required to get the job done right.
Vendors. You aren’t buying their software — or not enough seats of it, or not frequently enough, or not the newest thing they’re selling.
Accounting. Always pressuring you for cost reductions, and willing to compromise functionality in exchange for false savings (these choices seem to save money up front, but end up costing more in the long run).
CAD managers. Usually stressed out and objecting to all the objections above!
When you think of all these different personas and the wide variety of objections they have, it is a wonder that CAD managers aren’t driven crazy. Well, to be fair, some of us do feel that way, but the savvy CAD manager can use these objections as leverage to make things work better. Interested? Read on.
Objection-Handling Strategies — In Order
To address objections in a way that helps everyone, it’s important to recognize that the different groups of objectors are not islands — they’re connected by many of the same problems, and their objections are often related. Work through objections in the order they’re listed here, and you’ll find that your efforts are much more effective.
- Users. Actually, the easiest objections to overcome are those from this group. Many times, user objections have to do with things that don’t work (or don’t work well). And, by extension, the complaints you hear from users about PM deadline pressure often are related to system problems (software glitches, old machines, etc.) that slow them down.
You may ask, “Why start by listening to user objections, when my boss is yelling at me to cut costs?” A great question, with a simple answer: Because users do the work, so most issues ultimately begin and end with them. We can use this to our advantage in some of the next strategies.
Soft skill: Active listening and recording of the objections. Users will know you’re working on solutions, and you’ll gain an ever better understanding of where the productivity problems are with your users. Even if you can’t solve a problem, you are listening, which makes users feel valued.
- PMs. When PMs complain about CAD work taking too long or a given problem slowing users down, your best objection handling strategy is to use the data you’ve collected from your users (completed in the step above). There’s no better way to diffuse the complaint that “Joe takes too long to do BIM” than by calmly replying that Joe has a 6-year-old dual-core workstation that runs the BIM software at a glacial pace because the company won’t spend the money to upgrade him.
Soft skill: Being able to relate the reasons why users have troubles meeting production deadlines and passing that information along to PMs in a way that is non-confrontational. Your ability to do this makes the PM more likely to help you fix problems (because they actually know what the problem is), and will reduce their objections moving forward.
- Management. Much like PMs, management will also benefit from hearing about user objections. So when you hear department managers complain that “our CAD hours are way too high on the XYZ job,” it would be very helpful to respond, “our users are struggling here because there was never a kickoff agreement on how the job would be handled, so they’ve had to restart work twice.”
Soft skill: Essentially the same as for PMs above, with the added aspect of telling management that you are working with PMs to understand the problems and formulate solutions.
- Vendors/Resellers. Turn the relationship around and insist that vendors don’t just ask you to buy, but that they show you how you can improve how you work. Tell vendors about the problems your users have and the reasons why PMs and management are complaining, and insist that they solve the problem. Turn the sales process into a solutions process.
Soft skill: Making vendors understand that you’re open to any new solution, but that it must solve specific problems — and that the burden is on them to show the solution. You’ll cut down on phone calls this way, and you may find that some vendors can actually show you a better way to do things.
Look for Links
By looking at the various groups and their typical objections, you can draw a few linkages between them that we’ll use to our advantage later.
- The Management and Accounting link. Both are motivated by cost reduction, yet neither really understands the CAD ecosystem.
- The Users and PMs link. Both are motivated by getting things done fast — even though users may not like the pressure PMs put on them sometimes.
- The Vendors and Accounting link. Both parties are linked by a common goal of a product purchase, yet are at odds with each other because accounting wants a low price while the vendor wants a high price.
- The CAD managers and Users link. Both groups want the best tools, lowest stress, and best productivity possible, in spite of all the other objections.
OK, so what do we do with this information? Read on.
Putting it All Together
I use all this information to create a recursive loop of objection-handling communication that can help me solve problems. It looks like this:
Listen to users. So I know what problems I need to solve.
Communicate user issues to managers and PMs. So the problems I need to solve are on their radar screens as well.
Listen to managers and PMs. To get their ideas on how we can collectively solve user issues from their point of view.
Share with vendors/resellers/accounting. So they know what my management teams are willing to support, see how they can help with me software and hardware solutions, and can negotiate the best price while doing so.
Inform users and management teams. So they know what solutions may be possible and what I’m working on.
Repeat. The iterative loop now starts again.
Soft skill: Making each group in the process feel heard, understood, and respected for their contribution. Each piece of the communication loops is different, so listening and speaking to each participant in their “native language” is key.
Soft skill: Performing all this communication in the right order and at the right speed is tricky, but let your gut be your guide, and you’ll become a master of objection handling.
Admittedly, this is a fast overview of a scenario I’ve encountered, but if you take the time to map out how things work in your company, you should be able to use this structured approach to build your plan. Then you can use your newly found objection-handling skills to work the process and solve the problems in your environment. You may find that adding these new soft skills to your toolkit gets you more results than anything else you’ve tried.
Let me know how you handle objections by e-mailing me, and you may find your tip in a future issue of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter. Until next time.