The Definitive Guide to Closing a Sale

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Closing a sale isn't always easy, but it's always necessary—if you want to actually get that sale. Prospects simply won't close for you, even if they're really interested. It's up to you to take the final step. But don't worry, closing doesn't have to be a frightening experience. In fact, if you do it right, closing can be as simple as saying, “Do you want it delivered this week or next week?”

The Importance of Selling the Prospect

Generally speaking, the better you've sold the prospect during the early stages of the sales process, the easier your closing will be. You can't rush the close; first, you need to uncover your prospect's needs, reveal the product benefits that meet those needs, and respond to any objections. Once all that stuff is out of the way, you can then starting thinking about closing.

Before you head into the close, though, you've got to confirm the prospect understands the benefits you've offered. This is easily accomplished by asking a few open-ended questions. For example, if your prospect shared that he needs to cut costs in his manufacturing process, and you then explained how your product would reduce wasted materials and thus save money, you could pause and say, “Does that make sense to you?” or “How does that sound?” The prospect's response will usually clue you in as to how he feels about the benefit you've just mentioned.

If you've picked the right benefits and checked with the prospect to be sure he agrees with your viewpoint, the close should be a piece of cake. You can do a trial close by saying something like, “All right then, is there any reason you wouldn't like to place this order right now?” If he takes a step back at this point, you messed up somewhere. Either your benefit isn't compelling enough to get him moving immediately, or there's a problem you didn't uncover. Perhaps the person you're speaking with needs someone else's approval to buy, or he's already under contract with another vendor.

At this point, rather than moving into the close, you need to step back and ask more questions.

If a lack of urgency is causing the problem, then giving the prospect a deadline is a great way to get him motivated. Your deadline can be related to a company-wide promotion, such as your company running a campaign during which the product comes with added features that normally cost extra but are temporarily free. Or you could give him a scarcity deadline: if the product you're recommending is a popular one that sells out sometimes, you can tell the prospect that he needs to place his order right away to be sure that he can get the model he wants.

If he waits too long to place an order, the product may not be available until your company can restock it. However, you should never use this deadline unless the product truly is in danger of selling out.

One deadline that you should rarely use, if ever, is the limited-time discount. In other words, you offer to knock off part of the price if the prospect closes the deal by a certain date. Like all discounts, this one will hurt your company's profit margin and may cut into your commissions, too. It also gives customers the impression that your original price was deliberately inflated, and that the new, lower price is the “real” price. This attitude is particularly common in industries where discounts are also common—buying a car is an obvious example.

Everyone knows that the sticker price on cars is a joke, and that the salesperson expects you to negotiate a better price. If you're not selling cars, you definitely don't want to give your prospects the same idea.

In situations where you feel like the prospect needs just a little nudge to get him to buy, you're better off adding value rather than discounting price. The thing to remember in these moments is that price is usually not the deciding factor when a prospect is considering a purchase. After all, if the price was the most important thing for most people, then most people would be driving Kias. In reality, there are far more people in expensive cars, whether they're environmentally conscious folks in Priuses or comfort-minded folks in Lexuses, than there are people driving the cheapest possible vehicles.

The trick to closing a sale without resorting to a discount is to identify the most important factor for your prospect and then offer just a bit more corresponding value. For example, if reliability is really important to the prospect, offer him an extended warranty or maintenance plan at no additional cost.

How is this different from offering a discount? First, your new customer may never use the extended warranty or need extra maintenance, in which case it's costing your company nothing. Second, even if the customer does use them, such services will have a much smaller impact on the profit margin than cutting the price by the same amount (since maintenance likely costs your company a lot less than the amount it charges for such a warranty). And third, because you've sold it at the original price, when your customer makes future purchases he won't automatically expect a discount.

Closing Techniques

Sometimes, when you reach the point of closing, your prospect just keeps pushing back at you. At this stage, it may be worth your while to get a little tricky and try using a closing technique. Because these techniques are based on manipulation, they're not a great start to a long-term relationship with a customer. In some cases, however, they may be worth using. If you're positive that this product will be beneficial for the prospect and you feel that he's holding back just out of fear or a general resistance to change, closing techniques may give your close just enough oomph to push him off the fence.

You can find examples of the more common closing techniques based upon your level of experience and expertise:

Perhaps you've gone through all the above steps and even thrown in your favorite closing technique, and the prospect won't budge. He hasn't said “no,” but he insists he's not ready to make a decision today. Does that mean you've lost the sale? Nope. It just means you're not going to win it today, and you need to back off and give the prospect more time.

Allowing the Prospect More Time

Prospects like to delay making a buying decision for a lot of different reasons. First, the more time they take, the better they'll feel about the decision once it's a done deal. A prospect who takes his time might still regret it later, but at least he'll feel like he did his very best to get the right product—looking at all the options, comparing various features, trying to get the best possible price from each vendor, and so on.

Second, any change is a frightening thing, even just buying something. The bigger and more expensive the purchase, the more frightening it is. Taking plenty of time during the buying process helps a prospect deal with that fear. The longer he thinks about whatever he's buying and the more he knows about it, the more comfortable he'll be with the idea of actually owning and using it.

Third, smart buyers are usually aware that salespeople want to close the deal as fast as possible. For professional buyers, whose job is basically to get the best possible deal for whatever they're buying, delays can be a powerful negotiating tool. These buyers will stall deliberately to try to panic you, so you'll be willing to cut them a better deal just to land the sale.

All of this goes back to the importance of backing off and allowing the prospect to have more time. Whether he's doing it to provoke you or because he's feeling scared, letting him take whatever time he needs will defuse the situation. Calmly let him know you're there for him with whatever information he needs to make his decision, and that you're happy to let him think things over for a few days. This will reassure the prospect while showing the smart prospect that you won't fall apart and make a ridiculously good offer.

Once you quit pushing, your prospect will start moving forward again on his own steam. Some experts argue that the slower you sell, the faster the sales process will go. The idea is that it's the pressure from salespeople that causes or worsens the prospect's fears, and if you let things proceed at his natural pace, he'll be far less nervous and, thus, will speed up the process on his own initiative.

On the other hand, if you get to the close and, after giving you the green light the whole way the prospect suddenly does say “no,” does that mean you've lost the sale? Maybe, but it depends on why he's suddenly decided not to buy. When a prospect calls off a sale at the last minute, your new mission is to find out what went wrong. Sometimes you'll be able to retrieve the sale or at least keep the opportunity open for a future one. The only way to do so, though, is to figure out what happened.

The first and worst possibility is that the prospect never really intended to buy. Some prospects just hate to say no and hurt your feelings, especially if you've worked hard at building rapport and he genuinely likes you. Such prospects may agree to meet with you and listen to your presentation even though they don't intend to make a purchase. They may even tell you they need time to think when you try to close, instead of telling you there's no chance at a sale. Then they'll simply vanish—they'll stop returning your emails and never take your calls.

If this is the case, you obviously have no chance at closing this sale, so you might as well quit wasting time on the prospect.

Another common cause for losing the sale at the last minute is talking to the wrong person. In other words, the person you've been selling to isn't really a decision maker or isn't the only decision maker. After you set up a meeting with this prospect, he took the information to the decision maker and was shut down, leaving him with no option but to tell you the deal is off. You may be able to try again later, this time making sure that you're talking to the actual decision maker, but you'll want to give him some time first.

Otherwise, it will look like you're pressuring him to change his mind, which won't help matters.

Lastly, you may have said or done something to alienate the prospect at some point earlier in the sales cycle. Maybe you were late to the meeting and gave her the impression you don't respect her time, or you made an off-color joke and offended her. Such sales are usually not retrievable because everything you say is now tainted by the prospect's impression of you. If you can get her to tell you just what you did wrong, you may be able to make amends, but it will take a lot of hard work to earn her trust after such a gaffe.

Close Every Sale

If you only remember one thing about closing, remember that you should always try to close every sale. Don't just close on sales that you're pretty sure you'll win; try closing on sales that you think are lost causes. You might be surprised how often the prospect will say end up saying "yes" when you were positive you'd get a "no."