Becoming fluent in sales takes time, repetition, a willingness to adapt on the fly and a dedication to improving on a daily basis. And while there are certainly a stable of proven strategies that are widely applicable to growing your sales, that wealth of experience and knowledge takes years to accumulate. Here are some sales closing techniques I’ve learned so far.
Open to Close
Closing is a misnomer. The fact is, great salespeople lead their prospects to the logical decision—they don't "close" someone. If anything, a salesperson "opens" the mind of a prospect to a better option for their business. We’re walking our prospects down the path to an informed decision. When effectively presented, prospects come to the realization all on their own.
Knowledge Is Power
At ITA Group, our IMPAX sales process teaches us the value of coaches and research. Research is so critical. If you don’t “have an ear in the boardroom” you won’t align with the buyer. You have to attach your solution to a current or planned initiative or it won’t get funded. We call it a business fit. Research with multiple coaches identifies the business fit.
You’ve probably heard this before: “Oh, this is THE guy—he totally owns the decision and everyone else is just an influencer or rubber stamp.” Whether or not it’s the case, don’t be fooled into ignoring any prospect. Some of the most critical research will come from gatekeepers, influencers, suppliers, ex-employees, etc.
Before your meeting, try to anticipate the hard questions you might face, and address all the issues of your prospect before they are raised. This will prevent you from coming across as defensive since you are providing context to concerns before being asked.
Using the IMPAX process, we’ve proven that with 3 coaches and access to the decision-maker our close ratio is over 80%. When we’re single-threaded we close 20%. With the average tenure in the U.S. at 2.8 years, if you’re single-threaded you’re easy to break.
Salespeople that don’t listen miss the opportunity to build rapport, uncover buyer needs and let the prospect know you understand their concerns and desires. The problem, however, is listening can be very difficult. Too often, salespeople tend to be waiting for their turn to talk or thinking about what to say next, instead of truly listening to the prospect.
The best sales closing techniques in this situation is to ask smart questions and then shut up and listen. Stop your question at the question mark. Too many people ask their question, then clarify; clarify some more; or influence the answer with extra sentences after the question mark. Stop this. Truly attentive closers can ask “then what” or “and so that leads to …” and get to best answer quickly.
When listening, try to wait for the third sentence. People tend to answer in 3 sentences:
- The first sentence is off the tip of their tongue.
- The second sentence clarifies that first thought.
- It’s the third sentence that crystallizes and reveals the true response.
Rookies in the sales game tend to react to the first sentence—or worse they react to the first thing they can talk about. Sales pros can use silence, note taking and/or a raised eyebrow to draw the third sentence out of a prospect. If you’re getting to the third sentence, and avoiding over-clarifying addendums to your initial questions, there’s a strong chance you’ll be closing more sales than anybody on the team.
Remember: listen, read people, acknowledge when you’re missing the mark and adjust, and stop your sentence at the punctuation to give others a chance to answer.
Align and Connect
We are in a very disruptive industry. The sales techniques for motivating people change every day and everyone has an opinion. Combating people’s natural tendency to defend against change requires strategic planning.
Appeal to the emotional and financial side of the purchase. Like any investment, there’s some emotion involved and some rational/financial worries. Balance emotions with ROIs—we find that emotional people attach to nostalgia, compassion, respect and corporate social responsibility.
How many times have you been in a presentation where you knew you were presenting the right solution but the prospect was set in their ways? They tell you things like, “We’re not bleeding-edge—we want to stay with a traditional solution.” If the account is worth it and you want to close the deal, you have to sing their song. Don’t confuse this with giving up on what solution is right—but if you want to close you have to ask multiple prospects what they’re expecting and then align the best solution to those expectations.
Occasionally, you might come across an RFP that states something along the lines of, “you’re not allowed to talk with anyone at our company!” This is laughable. Who buys like that? Really? In order to close sales deals, you will have to speak with everyone “at the table” to align with their expectations, their vision, their risk threshold, etc.
Getting the right salespeople in front of the right prospect is key. As a VP of Sales, I find myself playing match-maker because it is critical to put the right person at the plate. We’ve all seen a personality mismatch in selling situations—ouch. Best matches are made with people of similar interests, visions, values and subject matter expertise.
Reaching Mini Milestones
Far from a one-time event, closing a sales deal is a series of mini milestones.
Small meetings and one-on-ones connect prospects and salespeople, which lead to the next meeting with a broader audience and some decision makers. During a presentation, the skilled salesperson can see dozens of mini closes he or she will want to note for follow-up—a subtle nod of the prospect’s head or a note jotted down during a pivotal point.
A great way to find the magic moment (to close) is to use self-service spreadsheets or custom calculators to allow the prospect to play around with an ROI calculator and view various scenarios. It’s the same tools and process that finance experts use: cash flows, net present value and betas to determine viable investments.
The sale is made when the sum of mini milestones eclipses the fear or risk of the prospect.
You’ve done the research, listened to your prospects, connected with the right people and aligned your solution with their expectations—the close is in your grasp. While the salesperson acts to help answer questions and guide a prospect’s decision to their solution, it can also be said that prospects can “close” themselves. This happens when:
- Their friend/peer/trusted advisor tells them do something or refers to your solution.
- Their competition is already doing it successfully.
- There is data/proof/ROI clearly articulated.
- They read about it from multiple trusted sources during their own research/buyer’s journey.
Present Your Personality
Before going into the next presentation, remind your salespeople to be themselves. When you allow prospects to see you and your team for who you are—you have fun together, respect one another, defer to each other—they will see a good crew to work with. Once you secure that, closing the deal is just a matter of time.