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The lost art of closing sales

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Most top performers in sales are good closers. But, instead of just focusing on “doing deals,” effective closers are keenly aware of the importance of securing smaller commitments on the way to consummating larger transactions.

Closing ‘deals’ in sales is easy if the customer has an immanent need, and they recognize the value of your product or service, and you’ve successfully differentiated your offering to the point where the customer believes their return on investment far exceeds the cost. What’s not to like? At that point, all the salesperson has to do is place an order form in front of the customer and say, “Press hard, five copies.”

I talked at length about closing strategies in my first book, Secrets of Question Based Selling, and one of my focus points was how the final phase of the sales cycle should be somewhat anticlimactic. Meaning, if a customer is indeed ready to buy, then you don’t need a magic formula or clever one-liner to coerce the decision maker into wrapping up the transaction. But when the customer is not ready, that’s when an effective closing strategy can be the difference maker.

Because buyers are increasingly skeptical toward vendors, it’s only natural that they hesitate before pulling the trigger at the end of the sales cycle. This trepidation shouldn’t surprise anyone, as most customers know what it’s like to make a bad decision they later regret. Hence, this natural hesitancy on the part of potential buyers is the new reality that forms the backdrop for most sales opportunities.

That’s why I teach sellers to rely on logic when closing sales, rather than doing anything like pleading, or pressuring or coaxing the customer into buying? To understand how to maximize your probability of success when closing, one must first understand the fallacy of those older-school approaches. Here’s a scenario you might relate to — and an example of how not to close:

Salesperson: “Mr. Customer, what do you say we go ahead and sign the paperwork and put you behind the wheel of this beauty?”

If you were the buyer, what’s the first thought that pops into your head upon hearing these words? I’m thinking, “This salesperson just turned up the pressure; he wants to close the deal right here and now. But, why should I care what the salesperson wants? I’m the one who has to live with the decision.” Another popular closing question goes something like, “Ms. Customer, what will it take for us to do business today?”This salesperson is clearly trying to turn the screws to press the customer to ‘put up or shut up.’

There are very few times in where I recommend exact wording, as the context and circumstances of one sales opportunity may be very different than the next. But there are times where specific wording and verbal precision can help a lot. How to secure commitments needed to close more sales sooner is one of those times.

While I’m not searching for a foolproof or surefire closing trick, I am happy to share the single most productive closing question that I know with you. The reason it works so well is because it taps into the customer’s motivations to act as opposed to sounding beggish or desperate. As you near the end of the decision cycle, and you think the customer is ready to be closed, simple ask the following:

Salesperson: “Ms. Customer, would it make sense to move forward with your purchase decision, so you can start reaping the benefits of our solutions?”

Notice I specifically asked if “it would makes sense” to move forward with a purchase. The underlying strategy here is pretty simple. If, for whatever reason it does not “make sense” to move forward, they will surely respond by saying, “No,” in which case, it’s easy to ask more questions to find out where the opportunity really stands. On the other hand, if it does make sense to move forward, you’ve made it easy for the customer to say, “Sure, let’s do it.” Either way, you get to know where you stand relative to the opportunity, rather than just closing and putting your head on the proverbial block and hoping it doesn’t get chopped off.

Critics of this straightforward approach could argue that I’m giving the customer an “out.” Perhaps, but in today’s day and age of buying and selling, the vast majority of customers already know full well that they don’t have to buy from you. So, I’m willing to trade the “outs” I’m giving for the volume of accurate information I get in return by not verbally backing the customer into a corner.

Additionally, asking if it would make sense to move forward is just as viable early in the sales process as it is when you’re trying to wrap up the transaction. On the initial call, for example, if you’re able to pique the customer’s interest and establish enough credibility where they want to explore how your solutions might meet their needs, all you have to do is ask:

Salesperson: “Mr. Customer, would it make sense to get the appropriate people together onto a Web-x or conference call, to further explore your options, how they might impact your business, and review the associated costs?”

The significance of this technique is sometimes lost in its subtlety. Asking customers if it makes sense brings logic into the equation, thus taking the emotion out. Essentially, you’re just asking for their thoughts relative to taking the next step, which sidesteps the perception that you’re only focused on padding your own pocketbook.

As an added bonus, if the customer does agree, there’s a good chance your suggestion of involving other key players in a conference call, Web-x or meeting, could significantly shorten your sales cycle. The net result translates into closing more deals sooner, and more easily!

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