Closing The Sale


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Earlier today, I was interviewed for an article on “Closing The Sale.”  The article is in a publication focused on small business owners.  As we concluded the conversation, the interviewer said, “Your answers were completely different than I expected.”

I think too many of us–entrepreneurs and sales people, alike, have mistaken impressions of closing the sale.  As a result, we close far fewer deals than we might.  Leveraging (and paraphrasing) Adriana’s questions, I thought I’d refresh your thinking about closing the sale.

What are the key components that lead up to closing any sale?

Implicitly, this question focuses on the final few things one might do at the end of the sales cycle, leading to the close.  In reality, the most critical elements of the close are in prospecting and qualifying—long before we even close the sale.  The two most critical things are:

Is the customer/opportunity squarely in our sweet spot?  Our sweet spot is defined by two elements, what problems are we the best in the world at solving, and who has those problems?  It’s the intersection of these two elements that maximize our ability to win.  We are focusing on those customers in which our solutions are most differentiated and where our value creation is likely to be the greatest.  Sticking to our sweet spot is critical if we want to maximize our win rates and our ability to close with a favorable decision.  The problem too many organizations or sales people have is they don’t take the time to define these well.  Consequently, they tend to cast a very wide net, trying to close any one that shows interest.  As a result, however, we find ourselves wasting our time and that of the customers competing for deals we don’t deserve to win.

The second critical thing is:  Does the customer have a compelling need to change?  Everyone fears change, people tend to avoid change.  Consequently, the easiest decision for any customer is to continue doing what they currently are doing, or to do nothing.  Most of the time, sales people present a vision of a great future.  They talk about how great things might be.  But until the customer has said, “Our current state is unacceptable.  We can no longer continue doing things the way we have, we must change,” the likelihood of closing the sale is very low.  There is too much going against us in getting the customer to make the change and take the risk of changing.  Great sales people overcome this by disrupting the customer’s thinking.  They do this by focusing on the current state, helping the customer identify the problems preventing them from moving forward, or operating at the highest levels of performance, or the opportunities they may be missing.  Any talk of solutions or the future is wasted until the customer is dissatisfied with the current.

How do you instill confidence in the customer that they should be selecting you instead of someone else?

The natural response from most sales people is to demonstrate our superior value, to convince them we have a better product/solution.  Under pressure, many sales people would add another element:  Offer all that at the cheapest price.

Given that’s the way most of your competitors will work, focusing on their solutions and offerings, trying to outcompete each other on features, functions, feeds, speeds, pricing, the best way to compete is not to.  Instead, make all your focus on the customer.  What is it they are trying to achieve?  What are the risks, challenges?  How do they organize themselves to make a decision (remember we are dealing with the famous 5.4)?  How do we help them buy, how do we address the personal and group fears about the change and decision process.

Since most sales people tend to fall into bad habits, thinking about what they want to achieve and their goals, distinguishing ourselves with the customer by focusing totally on them.  It makes the need to differentiate the solution smaller, because the deal becomes less about the solution the customers choose, but of helping assure they are making the right decision and they will be successful with their project.

How does one overcome customer objections or hesitations?

This is a pretty short response:  Listen, probe, understand.  Only once you’ve done this, can you begin to address their concerns.  The problem with most of your competitors, consequently, the opportunity for you, is they tend to react and respond before they have done this.

Enough said.

Are there different techniques for closing a sales based on the type of business?

There are endless articles, books, courses offering the 15 guaranteed closing techniques, the 27 ways a customer can’t say no, or any other outlandish number of manipulations.

Moving to the close is dependent on two things:  How well the opportunity has been set up in qualification, and how successful we’ve been in helping the facilitate the customer buying process.  It has nothing to do with anything else.

Remember, a couple of questions ago, I suggested the most important thing in qualification is to get the customer to say, “Our current state is unacceptable, we must change.”  If we’ve done this well, the customer has to move to a solution.  The costs, risks, problems of doing nothing have become unacceptable, so they must do something.  Sometimes in their buying process, they loose track of this, we need to gently remind them.  Sometimes, it’s as simple as saying, “Every week you wait, this is costing you $10M in revenue.” (This was the clincher in reminding a client on a project with my company).  If they believe they can’t not take action, then we don’t need any closing techniques.

Having said that, it’s easy for them to get derailed on the way.  It’s their own ability to organize themselves (the 5.4 again), align agendas, priorities, goals, objectives, and dreams to make a decision.  Too often, they get overwhelmed with the complexity of their own organization, so they give up–they make no decision.  It’s our job to facilitate the process, to help them help themselves.

After closing the deal, what should be the next steps?

One thing:  Make sure they are successful!

The risk to each person involved in the decision is far greater than the risk sales faces.  Customer failure has profound impacts on their company, and everyone involved.   They will miss opportunities, fail to achieve the savings or improvements they expected.  In some cases, it can cause companies to fail.  Personally, each person involved is at risk, they fail to achieve their own goals–and may lose their jobs.

We have an obligation to do everything we can, before and after the close, to make sure they can be successful and support them in achieving that success (not necessarily for free).  If the customer fails, then we have failed.  That means, it is difficult for us to do more, to expand, within the account, to find more opportunities to grow the relationship.  We never get the opportunity to leverage the power of referrals.

So the deal is never closed until the customer has achieved success!

Thanks for stimulating my thinking on this Adriana!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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