Imagine if you started a sales cycle in reverse order. Instead of prospecting and qualifying, you asked for referrals and discovered additional sales opportunities. While this may seem insane, the Backwards Closing technique, when performed correctly, is not only an effective sales tool but usually is one of the most stress-free closes you, and your customers, will ever experience.
Where It All Begins
To serve as a quick review, a typical sales cycle starts with prospecting and ends by asking for referrals. Most salespeople work very hard at moving from step one to the final step and often lose a sale because either they don't do a good enough job in one step or the customer loses interest during a step. While losing sales is part of sales, what if you employed a backward approach to your sales cycle? In other words, what if you began a sales cycle by asking for referrals?
It may sound a bit insane to those who have been in sales for a long time, but there is a proven bit of psychology behind this approach. "A basic human need is to be consistent with our self-image." In other words, if you say something to someone about yourself, then you will be driven to demonstrate proof that your statement is accurate and reflects who you are. Getting a prospect to give you a list of referrals of people that she knows who may benefit from your product or service, puts them in a position of having to support their recommendation by learning more, and eventually using your product.
Getting the Referrals
Walking into someone's office and asking for referrals will probably get you kicked out of the office quickly. If you were to present yourself and your product or service professionally, gauge the level of interest of the person to whom you are presenting, then ask for a few other professionals who they think might be interested in what you are representing, your chances increase dramatically.
What most "backward closing" technique users experience is that they feel that the customer is immediately put at ease when they realize that you are not trying to sell them something. This removal of tension causes the customer to relax a bit and to drop their guard. If you are going to get a referral, it will most likely come seconds after the customer drops their guard and before they have a chance to give deeper thought to your request.
If you are successful in getting a name or two, your follow-up must be to ask your customer's permission to use their name when approaching the person they referred you to. In most cases, the customer will balk when asked this question and, hopefully, want to learn more about your product so that they can either be more comfortable about having given you a referral or to discover if your product will benefit them in some way. Either way, know that if you reach this point, you are in a strong position.
Remembering that people want to live up to their self-image and to how they present themselves, many customers who give a referral end up buying the product. They've already given their friends or business associates a recommendation by giving their name(s) to you, and know are driven to remain consistent with their actions.
An important part of this style of selling is to be keenly aware of buying signals. Questions that often come after your request for referrals must be seen as opportunities to demonstrate, or at least discuss the values of your product. Since most customers are quite adept at meeting with sales professionals, using the backward style will, in many cases, create some curiosity in your customer's mind. With curiosity comes questions. Questions are buying signals in disguise.
This "Backwards Closing Technique" is not for everyone and most likely will result in more denials than actual referrals. The opportunities that do close usually end up resulting in additional sales when you approach the referrals. The final benefit to this style of closing is that you always remember one of the Golden Rules of Sales: Ask for Referrals!!!