Let’s Make a Deal: Sales Success

Effective salespeople ask for—and obtain—commitments. To grow your business, you close deals.

In the past, companies hammered on closing techniques when training salespeople. Recruits almost certainly would have been taught to “tie your prospects down” with a series of rapid-fire questions to which they could answer only “yes.” They were trained to ask prospects something like, “You would agree that you need this product, wouldn’t you?” Immediately after that “yes,” the salesperson followed up with, “And you would agree that what I’ve shown you today will produce the results you need, wouldn’t you?” Before another “yes” escaped prospects’ lips, they were hit with, “Then please sign here. Press hard; there are three copies.”

This closing tactic is built on the psychological principle that people want to keep their actions consistent with the statements they make (see Robert Cialdini’s great book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion). So once your prospects agreed to your earlier statements, it was difficult for them to act in a way that didn’t align with their responses.

You also would have been taught the either/or close. “Would you like that in red? Or would you prefer it in blue?” You might still be using this one when you prospect today if you’re asking, “Is 1 p.m. Tuesday or 10 a.m. Wednesday better for you?” This assumptive technique, designed to eliminate the possibility of a “no” answer, is built on the same idea of gaining lots of little “yes” answers so it becomes difficult to say no later.

Techniques like these still work sometimes. But your prospective dream clients—where you want to seal big deals—find them offensive. They don’t want to feel trapped or “played” into making a bad decision. They don’t want to be forced in any way.

And largely due to the Internet, they don’t have to put up with hard sells. That’s because buyers now have more information about what you sell, so there’s no longer the imbalance of power that made old-school closing techniques effective. Clients also have many alternative vendors (the Internet again!) if they dislike your approach.

You still need to close, but past techniques are off-limits. They do more harm than good. So how do you close now?

In the past, too much time and emphasis were placed on teaching salespeople to close and not enough on how to create value for clients. Now salespeople are great at creating value but haven’t been taught much—if anything—about closing. If it’s bad to use poor closing techniques, it’s worse not to close at all. You do have to ask your prospects for their business.

You need a closing technique that builds your status as a trusted adviser, that allows your buyer to collaborate with you throughout the buying process, and that makes it easy for you to obtain a commitment. You don’t need to use uncomfortable, unnatural or trust-violating language. And you never have to come across as self-oriented, as if you are making the sale for your benefit instead of your dream client’s benefit. While you must still ask for the business, you can be direct, professional and collaborative.

Here are examples of new closing language.

The small, simple sale: In a basic deal, the closing should sound like this: “I believe we know enough to move forward with the solution we’ve proposed. I believe it makes sense at this point to get started, and I’d very much like the opportunity to work with you. Is there something else you need to happen first, or can we begin to put this plan into action?” This language is natural, direct and collaborative. If your client needs to take some other step, you’ve given him or her an opportunity to share that with you.

Business-to-business (B2B) sales: The new closing for more-complex B2B deals might go something like: “Thank you for letting us present our solution today. What we’ve built together will help you achieve the outcomes that you’ve shared with us over this process. I want you to know that we will own and deliver our part of those outcomes. We would really like the opportunity to work with you. If we’ve done enough to earn an opportunity to partner with you on this project, can we begin implementing our plan?”

Your dream-client prospects like working with someone who wants their business. They want to team with someone who understands they’re accountable for the outcomes that they sell. Asking directly—as the two preceding examples do—lets clients know you want their business and that you understand your role in producing results.

Transactional sales: This is a sale in which the customer already knows what he needs, so the salesperson supplies little to no product knowledge to him or her. In this situation, you can close for the business quickly (and even more directly), because there isn’t a lot of value to be created through a long sales process. You can close by saying something as simple as, “Do you have an order I can start working on for you now?” In these situations, your clients don’t have much at risk, so one of the best ways you create value for them is by making the transaction quick and efficient.

These collaborative, direct closings make your clients comfortable and happy. And happy clients mean repeat business.

Salespeople need tools, too, to succeed. Read about essential utensils for effective sales on SUCCESS.com.


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