Everyone sells for a living. Whether you’re a sales rep, a parent, a leader, a manager or a coach, on a daily basis we all find ourselves in situations where we must sell others on our way of thinking. The more closing skills you have under your belt, the better equipped you will be to land a sale.
In sales, this process is referred to as “closing.” Since “closing skills” derive themselves directly from the sales industry, I’m going to discuss them within a sales context, but bear in mind that these skills are universal in their application and value.
It is typical for a novice persuader to encounter resistance. There are as many different reasons for resistance as there are personalities, so the trick lies in knowing which closing skill to use for which person. A crucial closing concept to learn as soon as possible is that you should actually employ closing strategies throughout your entire presentation. Most people think of the close as the final wrap-up. While this is the sales point where the deal is formally and openly acknowledged as “let’s do it” or “thanks, but no thanks,” the masterful persuader builds the close in stages throughout the entire sales process.
The last phase of the selling exchange is only the culminating step of several deliberate but less evident steps that have taken place beforehand. It is crucial, not only for your own good but also for your prospects’ good, to help them through this process. Incrementally moving them closer and closer to agreement is much more effective than springing it on them at the end. There is nothing worse than seeing a shocked prospect with her/his mouth wide open following the close. Waiting to lunge with your close until the very end of your sales presentation could be compared to plunging unprepared into the deep end of the pool versus wading comfortably from the shallow end to the deep end only as you feel well prepared, well informed and well instructed to do so.
The incremental close helps avoid the old hard-close approach of the past. Remember the hard close? Old tactics used such strategies as bullying, pressuring or forcing your prospect into a decision. We’ve all experienced the hard close at one time or another. Unfortunately, some “persuaders” still employ the hard-close strategy, but when they do, they’re really not persuading at all. Even if a prospect succumbs to one of these sales tactics, it is likely with resentment, buyer’s remorse and discontinued business in the future. What’s more, you can rest assured that unbeknownst to the offending salesperson, a prospect who is bullied into a sale will deter all her/his friends and family from patronizing the business where s/he endured such treatment.
Since studies show that how you open a sale is more important than how you close it, think of starting your close earlier on in the persuasive process. Let’s call this “collecting yeses.” We’ll discuss this concept more in-depth later on, but for the time being, what it basically means is that you concern yourself with drawing in your prospects early on. That is, you warm them up in stages until the ultimate conclusion is obvious to them and they decide for themselves exactly what you were hoping they’d decide in the first place.
Because you’re going to focus on closing as a process that begins early on in your presentation, it is important to consider the messages you are broadcasting right from the beginning. Superficial or not, people are going to draw conclusions from their earliest interactions with you, and those first impressions tend to be the longest lasting, too. It is said that the first and most lasting impression is made in about the first four minutes of a first encounter. Hence, be sure those first four minutes are positive ones because the cement dries fast! It is extremely difficult to overcome a bad first impression.
Even if you try to make up for it later on, that first impression will linger. The most obvious advice is to be sure you look professional and well groomed in any persuasive situation. In other words, dress appropriately for the setting. Next, exude confidence that is not arrogant but rather is upbeat, positive and encouraging. This positivity in your demeanor will allow your prospects, who hardly know you, to take comfort in your ability to educate them about the product or service they are investigating. Direct eye contact and a sincere smile accompanied by a firm handshake and addressing your prospects by name always help.
I have identified what I call the “Three Rs” for solid closing. After the first impression, your next focus is to effectively weave your close throughout the entire presentation. That is, the three Rs are at work throughout your presentation, aiding your prospect in becoming more and more inclined to buy. These three Rs are reason, resources and representative.
Let’s look at the first R. “Reason” must be viewed from two different angles—first, from your prospect’s and then from your own. Early on in the persuasive setting, seek to understand exactly what your prospects’ needs are. That is, determine what their reason is for coming to you or listening to you in the first place. Then, you have to give them the reason to buy. Essentially, their problem and your solution match. Do not fall into the trap that many rookie salesmen do of spouting off a laundry list of features, benefits or all the reasons why you think they should buy. This sales strategy is useless because your prospects have come to you with their own reasons for buying already in mind. If you talk too much about what you think the reasons are to buy, you’re going to talk your bewildered prospects right out of the sale. When the sales representative talks too much, s/he sucks the emotion right out of the sale. It is draining and frustrating for prospects to hear a salesperson’s incessant babble about all of a product’s bells and whistles when they just want their own key questions answered.
There is a great story that illustrates the importance of your reason to buy ringing true with your prospects’ reasons to buy. A gentleman by the name of Airman Jones was assigned to the induction center, where he advised new recruits about their governmental benefits, especially their GI insurance. It wasn’t long before Captain Smith noticed that Airman Jones had an extremely high success rate, selling insurance to nearly 100 percent of the recruits he advised. Rather than asking him about his successful track record, the Captain stood at the back of the room during one of Jones’s presentations and listened to Jones’s sales pitch. As he presented, Jones explained the basics of GI insurance to the new recruits and then said, “If you are killed in a battle and have GI insurance, the government has to pay $200,000 to your beneficiaries. But if you don’t have GI insurance and get killed on the battlefield, the government only has to pay a maximum of $6,000. Now,” he concluded, “which group do you think they are going to send into battle first?” The resounding secret to his sales success was that Airman Jones gave the new recruits a compelling reason to buy.
The second R of solid closing is “resources.” Resources cover all those things that factor in to whether or not your product is appropriate for your prospect. Resources would include time availability, financial backing, support from family, physical ability, etc. For example, investing vast amounts of time and energy into selling annual ski passes to nursing home residents would not really be giving wise consideration to such prospects’ resources.
The third R of solid closing is the “representative.” This is where you, as a person, factor into the selling equation. How readily can your prospect feel a strong rapport with you? Is there an instinctive sense of trust? Does your style rub this person the wrong way? Whether you realize it or not, you are a part of the selling package. There have been many times when a prospect walked away from a sale, not because of the product—in fact, the product might have been just what s/he was looking for—but because of the rep s/he had to deal with. People buy from people they like. They don’t buy from people they don’t like. It’s that simple. Be sure you conduct yourself in such a way that your prospect can like you.