How to Close a Deal: A Step-by-Step Guide
There are 26 working days remaining in 2019.
After accounting for holidays, this number drops to about 24. Many can expect this number to drop even further after factoring in additional time off taken. The result: sales professionals have a handful of days remaining in the year to drive the sale across the line. For most, it is this last sale that will make or break the quota requirement for the year.
Sales professionals need ways to drive the customer’s momentum in these final days.
However, doing so is difficult because the customer faces challenges of their own. They are occupied with year-end responsibilities, time out of the office and internal distractions.
Breaking through these obstacles to close the deal requires three steps:
A customer’s objection indicates that they are thinking critically about the solution. This level of engagement is good for the sale. However, if the sales professional does not handle the objection appropriately, they will erode the value of the sale or lose it entirely.
Handling an objection correctly means understanding the difference between overcoming and resolving an objection. Overcoming an objection means giving in. For example, when a sales professional relaxes payment terms or reduces the scope of the sale to deliver a lower-cost option, they are choosing to overcome an objection. In the heat of the moment, overcoming an objection is too easy a trap. Selling is difficult, and it gets more challenging every year; therefore, rescuing the sale, even at an enormous cost, is often preferred over losing it entirely.
In contrast, resolving an objection means understanding the needs and concerns underpinning the objection. Learning these underlying factors requires questioning. For example, a sales professional might ask, “What are you comparing us to when you say the cost is too high?” By asking this question, a sales professional might learn that the customer thought the cost was excessive under the assumption that it had only the capabilities of similar low-cost options.
A sales professional focused on resolving the objection will go further and explore needs. They will follow the objection with a question about the details of what the customer needs to solve the challenge at hand. Doing so takes the conversation in a more productive direction. The result is a conversation that keeps the sale advancing toward a close.
HOW TO DO IT
- Instead of addressing the surface need (e.g., a lower cost, relaxed payment terms, etc.), ask questions to understand the underlying
- Avoid the natural defensive responses that can occur when hearing a customer’s objection. Slow down and encourage the customer to say more.
- Embrace the new information that comes from discussing objections, and continue the pursuit of details without tabling the conversation until a later date.
Get to Implementation
“Yes is nothing without how,” explains Chris Voss, a former lead International Kidnapping Negotiator for the FBI. He is an expert at compelling people to take actions they would otherwise refuse. He continues, “While an agreement is nice, a contract is better, and a signed check is best.”
However, getting to “how” is not as easy as simply articulating the next steps.
Meaningful implementation discussions that drive the sale require the customer to articulate how they will execute the deal. Why is this important? “The customer is more likely to follow through knowing that the plan came from them,” explains Chris.
Too often, it is easy for the sales professional to fall into the trap of outlining the “how” of implementation themselves. This approach is understandable; the sales professional has worked hard to reach this point, and they want to be proactive in solidifying the deal. Doing so, however, removes the customer from the engagement.
The key is to ask questions that will get the customer to describe their blueprint for making the agreement happen.
Once the customer has provided the “how” of implementation, the sales professional must summarise those answers. The sales professional will know that they have succeeded in gaining the customer’s full commitment when the customer hears these summaries and replies with, “That’s right.” This phrase is critical to success. When the customer uses tentative language like, “I’ll try,” they expect to fail.
Sales professionals must elicit these responses from all stakeholders involved in the buying decision. A deal in the final stages can derail if a previously unseen stakeholder vocalises hesitation.
HOW TO DO IT
- Ask the kinds of questions that will get the customer to articulate how implementation will unfold so that they have a sense of ownership of the process.
- Summarise what the customer says after asking these questions. Pause and allow them time to validate that what you have said is correct.
- Ensure that these strategies reach all of the stakeholders; otherwise, a last-minute no could end the agreement.
Normalise Discussions of Risk
A sense of risk pervades every buying decision. The customer faces reputational risk and financial risk. In the urge to win the sale, it is tempting to assure the customer that all risks have been identified and eliminated. In truth, risk can never be fully removed. Every decision carries risk. Even the choice to preserve the status quo presents risk.
What’s important is that the risks are calculated, rightsized and outweighed by beneficial outcomes. Achieving this end means normalising discussions of risk.
Sales professionals must help acclimate the customer to an environment in which a degree of risk is commonplace. Discussing concerns in an open manner makes the risks less abstract. Bringing clarity to these issues helps the customer develop more comfort with the decision to move forward.
The sales professional should reduce the customer’s fear and anxiety by adopting a tone that allows concerns to be discussed openly. As the discussion unfolds, the customer will become more comfortable with the change involved in adopting the solution.
This characteristic of selling is the priming effect at work. The priming effect is the practise of using a stimulus now to prompt an idea later. Sales professionals normalise risk through the priming effect by citing the risks associated with a purchasing decision or the status quo early in the dialogue. Bring concerns of risk out and into the open where they can be addressed.
Discussing risk is helpful for another reason: it helps clarify the real risk factors. As risk consultant David Ropeik explains, “When we don’t have the facts, we rely on our sense of potential danger to protect us.” Those “senses,” however, can lead us astray because they are often based on what is most perceptible, not what is most real.
HOW TO DO IT
- Acknowledge that the buying decision involves risk. Help the customer understand the weight of those risks by labelling them and making them normal.
- Be aware that customers, like all people, will rely on mental shortcuts to make sense of incomplete information. Be sure to provide all of the necessary information in whatever medium is clearest.
- Proactively elicit the customer’s thoughts on the risks they believe to be most burdensome. Just the act of describing them will make those risks appear less towering in stature.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Closing a sale requires an intensive and intentional approach. The hurdles at the end of the buyer’s journey are the tallest. Therefore, sales professionals need to be prepared with the skills to help the customers overcome objections, implementation concerns and looming risks.
- Address the underlying need
- Avoid defensiveness and encourage the customer to say more
- Pursue details without tabling the conversation until a later date
- Ask the kinds of questions that will get the customer to articulate how implementation will unfold
- Summarise what the customer says after asking these questions
- Ensure that these strategies reach all of the stakeholders
- Help the customer understand the weight of the risks
- Provide all of the necessary information in whatever medium is clearest
- Proactively elicit the customer’s thoughts on the risks
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