Perhaps no aspect of the sales process has been more misunderstood than the skills of “closing.” The word itself implies an end to the process when, in reality, it should signify the beginning of a relationship. Closing is “opening,” and the process of successfully closing a sale need not be mysterious nor as combative as many salespeople have been taught in their careers.
Closing is not an action or a singular step in the selling process but is the sales process itself. Unfortunately, most salespeople have been taught the fallacy that closing is an all-or-nothing moment of tense confrontation in which the salesperson “asks for the order.” In reality, salespeople rarely, if ever, utter those words. The actual moment of the close is merely a casual and sequential process with ebb and flow that culminates in casual agreement to conduct business with little conflict at the final moment when the deal is made.
Consider how the New York Giants amazed the football world to win the Super Bowl in an upset victory. The question one must ask is: What was the key moment in the championship season? Naturally the celebration comes at the conclusion of the process, but the factors leading up to the ultimate success are hardly mysterious.
Was it the tremendous off-season trading and acquisition of key players that spelled the difference? Was it the intensity of the preseason practices? Perhaps it was the way in which the team handled several key moments of adversity during the season. Coaching was a factor, but so were the outstanding efforts of the quarterback, receivers and blockers. In the end, the only thing you can say is that all these factors contributed to the ultimate success of the team. It is not different when closing a sale.
The Sales ProcessClosing is a series of little victories, and the close is not an event but is rather a process. The foundation of sales success is the ability to manage each of these little victories. Just like a football team strives to achieve small victories leading towards a touchdown - e.g., a key defensive play to get control of the ball, a first down, and then another and another until a touchdown is scored - a Sales Leader intentionally focuses on creating incremental success leading towards the ultimate goal of a sale.
The beginning of the sale occurs when a salesperson picks up the phone and does the hard work of prospecting. It may require many phone calls by the time an appointment is finally scheduled. Thus the salesperson should recognize that sales success was not based on the ability to garner one appointment, but instead occurred because of the commitment to make dozens of sales calls leading up to the single appointment. The salesperson should take great pride in his success and celebrate a successful close. The “close” was the agreement to meet, and it is the first step in the sales process leading towards a new customer.
The next step occurs when the Sales Leader plans his first meeting. While the average sales performer meets the prospect in order to promote products and push for an instant sale, the Sales Leader takes a completely different tack and strives only to learn about the client’s business objectives and challenges. The result of the first meeting is another “close,” a prospect that is thrilled with the professionalism displayed by the Sales Leader and an eager commitment to schedule a follow up meeting to receive a formal sales proposal.
In business-to-business situations, the Sale Leader recognizes that many meetings may be required before a proposal can be developed. But, at some point, a proposal must be created for the client. The average performer quickly prices out products and creates a bid. The Sales Leader never “bids,” recognizing that a bid is nothing more than a price based on the assumption that all companies are created equal. A Sales Leader produces a “proposal,” a very specific document that outlines the work to be offered exclusively for one prospect. It is a very special document that the Leader treats with care and respect and a moment to be celebrated as yet another “close” in the process.
After the initial meeting, the Sales Leader sends a thank you note and reassures the client that a solid business relationship is valued and never taken for granted. The successful writing, stamping and mailing of the letter is yet another “close” to be celebrated in the process.
Before delivering the proposal, a Sales Leader next ensures that the information is completed accurately by utilizing the expertise of his staff members and his own skill sets. When the proposal is complete and priced at a level that is competitive (although by no means necessarily the lowest price in the market), a meeting is scheduled to present the bid, whereas the average performer may merely drop the pricing at the builder’s office.
After concluding the meeting during which the Sales Leader presents the hard work he put into his proposal, he very often wins the business, but not necessarily. In reality, the Sales Leader does not win them all. Sales success is a percentage game and the professional approach, in which attention is intensely paid to detail, wins the business more often than not. In reality, the method by which many sales are made follows this exact sort of path.
As a disclaimer, I feel compelled to share with readers that sell reroofs to consumers that the process of selling may include less time and only one or two meetings, but the reality of closing the sale is identical. In this story, the successful completion of the sale was not a single pinnacle moment of confrontation but was based on a series of sales victories that included telephone prospecting, a thank you note, a carefully crafted proposal, professionalism and the ongoing intention to do what was best for the customer.
Just like the Super Bowl champions put in months and months of hard work for one successful moment in time, the same effort needs to be recognized in the sales arena. Success is incremental and dedication to a professional approach every step of the way is critical to success. Try the following three tips to create more momentum in the sales process.
1. Listen carefully. Most experienced sales veterans believe in “sale at first sight.” In other words, the top performers recognize quickly whether a prospect is serious about conducting business. Years of practice enable Sales Leaders to listen and hear the true desires of their clients and prospects. If you can’t identify a reason to move the sales process forward with an incremental step - e.g., a next meeting - then you may not be listening clearly enough … or maybe you have the wrong prospect.
2. Create momentum. You need to create and state a reason for a future meeting. Your clients will not do it for you. Rather than ask the poorly phrased (ubiquitous) question, “What else can I do for you?” figure out what you actually can do for your client. You can’t expect your customer to do your job for you. It is up to you to identify and state what you can do for your prospects and customers. Use the phrase, “We ought to meet because I have something that would truly be of benefit to you.” Then state what the purpose of a follow-up meeting would be.
3. Sweat the details. Your credibility is based on your expertise and there is no better way to demonstrate your expertise than in the details.
The reality of the “close” is that it has less to do with manipulation and tricks and more to do with sincere intention to help prospects and clients grow. When you keep that intention in your heart, you’ll discover it is easier to schedule meetings and create an ongoing series of miniature closes that lead to greater confidence and systematic sales success.