How to close a sale

Written by Nate Hendley

Closing a sale involves more than telling your prospect to sign on the dotted line. In fact, a bad closing attempt can ruin an otherwise excellent business presentation and dash any hope of making the sale. According to sales and marketing experts, a good close is relatively easy to achieve if you follow certain steps.

Lay the groundwork. “The close really starts in opening,” says Neill MacMillan, president of Toronto-based sales training and research firm Communicare Inc. “A successful sale is the result of small commitments gained from the prospect throughout the sales process,” he says. “[The close] is not some magical question asked at the end of the sales call.”

Don’t ask coercive or funnel questions. Coercive questions put a prospect on the defensive. Example: “I think we should go ahead with this right now, don’t you?” or “You wouldn’t be foolish enough to miss out on this opportunity, would you?” A prospect subjected to coercive questions isn’t likely to maintain a long-term relationship with you, warns MacMillan. No one likes high-pressure sales tactics.

A funnel question is a query that’s so biased and one-sided that the prospect almost has no choice but to say yes. Example: “Do you think it’s important to protect your family from car accidents? Would you like to own a car that offers excellent airbag protection for your family?” The idea is to move the prospect “down the funnel” and trick them into a sale.

Granted, the funnel closer can be effective in telemarketing, door-to-door and one-off retail environments. But it’s counter-productive in business-to-business environments or when you’re trying to forge long-term relationships, says Derek Gatehouse, CEO and founder of Vendis, a Montreal-based sales-training firm. Relationships are built on trust, which is something that can’t be established when you’re asking glib questions and getting forced responses.

Recognize when to close. Knowing when to close is largely a matter of knowing when your prospect is ready to buy, which he’ll subtly indicate by doing such things as:

  • leaning forward and listening intently
  • writing notes while you speak
  • agreeing with all your points
  • requesting another person join the conversation

Take advantage of the moment and slip into closing mode.

Choose the right closing technique. Closers are typically categorized:

  • The “direct close” is straightforward. A salesperson simply asks the prospect if they wish to make a purchase. Example: “If you approve, I would like to send this order in for you right away.”
  • In the “preference” or “alternative” close, you offer your prospect options. Customers like to feel they have a choice. Example: “Would you want it delivered Saturday or Monday?”
  • The “concession” or “let’s make a deal” close gives the prospect the opportunity to take advantage of a bargain if they make their purchase within a given time frame. Example: “If you purchase this now, I’ll give you a 20% discount and an extended payment schedule.”
  • The “authorization” close is similar to the “direct” close. Example: At the end of a sales discussion, ask the prospect if he has any additional questions. If he says no, you take out a contract, mark where the customer should sign, and say, “If you could authorize this, we can get going right away.” The word “authorize” is more effective than saying “sign here” — which sounds pushy.

All that said, beware: while many salespeople swear by them, some experts simply don’t believe in these techniques.

“There’s the Ben Franklin close, the puppy dog close, the snooze or lose close … . It’s all crap,” opines Gatehouse. “They are manipulative and insulting.”

Instead, says Gatehouse, closing should be about saying what feels right to you, rather than memorizing lines: “People who are successful in sales have their own natural way.”

Work towards a prospect-initiated close. With hard work and a bit of luck, your prospect will initiate the close himself. He may say something like, “Sounds good, show me the contract.” But you’ll only achieve this fruitful reward if you lay the proper groundwork throughout your sales presentation. “A successful closing requires effective management of any issues or objections raised by the prospect,” says MacMillan. “If all of those criteria are met, and the sales person has done a good job, the prospect then may initiate the close themselves.”

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© 2004 Nate Hendley

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