Pop the Question Close the Deal


  • Selling is like courting. For any relationship to move forward, be it personal or business, somebody has to pop the question. “Will you marry me?” is a first cousin to “Would you like to order some widgets?” Each is a question that moves a relationship to the next level, be it from date to fiancé or prospect to customer.While bringing in new business can be scary, very few salespeople actually run the risk of being killed or assaulted by a customer because they asked for an order. Yet I still get many letters about the fear of closing.What those writers need to remember is that, while rejection isn’t life-threatening, not finding enough customers to buy your outfit’s wares can be career-threatening! How well, and how often, you close determines how many sales you generate and how much money you make. For all its lack of finesse, blurting out a blunt “Wanna’ buy some?” is still a better approach than giving prospects the silent treatment.

    That was what my husband and I recently received when we met with a salesman from a well-known financial-services outfit. As the three of us talked, it became clear that the organization could do what we wanted and at a price we could bear. The sale was moving along swimmingly — until the meeting came to an abrupt stop. After we had invested a full 90 minutes of our time, the salesman didn’t pop the magical question.

  • Specific Targets At first, my better half and I were shocked. We had a need and the salesman had a solution. So what was the problem? Was our breath so foul, our jokes so lame, our company so uninspiring that he just didn’t want our business? We felt as if we had been insulted. Both of us had made time in our calendars for the meeting, and the reward was to be disrespected by a salesman who declined to close with a pair of busy, qualified, ready-to-move-ahead prospects.What happened? Simply, the salesman forgot his basic ABC: Always Be Closing. While that doesn’t imply you should start your sales call with, “Hi, I’m Mary. Want to buy something?”, it should always be a reminder that salespeople need to keep closing at the front of their minds.

    The best way to make sure that pitch never skips the closing stage is to craft your entire sales process around that most important moment. Like so many other things in life, viewing the steps in the sales process in reverse order clarifies priorities and shortens the mental distance between the initial handshake and pocketing the purchase order.

    Starting with the end in mind also has another benefit: It helps you to target those customers most likely to prove the fastest and easiest to sign.

  • Ask and You Will Receive When it comes to closing, there’s one big difference between selling and courting. While both making a sale and agreeing to get married involve contracts between equal parties, your customers probably don’t see the selling relationship that way. In their minds, they’re the prettiest girls at the dance, the ones who accept only the nicest invitations to cut the rug — and they expect to hear lots of them, too. Fine. If you’re selling, play by the rules. After all, that’s what you’re there for: to ask for the order.Apprehension about closing a sale is not a new problem. I have a friend, Howard R. Sobin, who has over 40 years of sales and sales-management experience. He wrote me recently: “Back in my Middle Ages of selling, I came across a timid salesperson who would present the product, answer all the customer’s questions, but never ask for the order! When I went back to the customer to assist that salesperson, the customer told me, ‘I thought he was only detailing the product, not actually taking an order for it.’ On two occasions, I found out that customers had actually placed orders with a competitor for the product!”

    Concludes Howard: “This reluctance to ask for the order may still be true today.”

    Sadly, it is still true today — and the consequences can be dire. Even if a timid salesperson loses only a single sale, if he or she had overcome shyness, pressed ahead, and walked away with a purchase order, it might well have represented the first installment in a stream of business that could have continued for decades.

    As my husband and I discovered with that financial-services rep, shyness about customers alienates customers. At the end of the encounter, the prospect has nothing to show for his or her patience, not even the opportunity to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

  • Touchdown! Remember, when it’s time to close, relax. You’ve already done the hard work. You’ve found the energy to identify a prospect, screwed up your courage to get past secretaries and other gatekeepers, secured an appointment, presented your dog-and-pony show, and hopefully made sure in advance that your target’s credit is sound. If selling was a football game, you would already by on the 10-yard line. So don’t hesitate to ask the big question and go for a touchdown.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   If all else fails, when the heat is on and it’s time to close, just imagine you’re a Girl Scout selling those classic cookies. (Memo to macho men: you won’t compromise your masculinity with this mental image, just fatten your bottom line.) According to Girl Scout headquarters, 80 percent of those approached buy the sugary treats. Imagine if you could achieve that closing rate! Those pint-size sales pros just keep asking for the orders — and there’s no reason in the world why you can’t, too.  Happy selling!
  • Michelle Nichols  is a sales consultant, trainer, and Vistage speaker based in Houston, Tex.

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