In the selling profession, closing is the winning score, the bottom line, the name of the game, the point of it all. If you can't close, you're like a football team that can't sustain a drive long enough to score. It does you no good to play your whole game in your own territory and never get across the other team's goal line.

Many salespeople are afraid to close. They're afraid of asking for the order. They're so fearful, you'd think they were having to personally reach into someone's pocket for their money. To have any kind of success in sales, you have to get over that fear of closing because this is where the money is.

True professionals are closing most of the time. They're constantly trying test closes--questions you ask to determine if they're ready to close--and they can kick into their final closing sequence anytime they smell success. One test close you can use is this, "John, how are you feeling about all of this so far?" If John likes it, move on to your close. If he expresses concern--also known as an objection--you'll have to address it before attempting another close. With the test close, you haven't lost anything by trying to close too soon. (If you close too soon, your prospects will often reject you and getting back on track toward the sale can be awkward.)

Besides not asking for the sale, too many salespeople get so wrapped up in their selling sequence that if the prospect decides to invest before they're through, they won't let them have it. Some people get sold quickly, and if you keep talking instead of getting the final agreement, you might just "un-sell" them. More talk triggers more objections. When the prospect is ready, you must stop talking and start filling out your paperwork.

So how can you improve your closing skills. Just remember the eight most important words in the art of closing a sale: Whenever you ask a closing question, shut up!

The important words here are "shut up." Ask your closing question, then keep quiet! It sounds simple, doesn't it? Believe me, it isn't. That pause between the asking and answering can seem like an eternity.

The first time I tried to ask a closing question and then keep quiet, I was prepared for the prospect's reaction. I expected them to keep silent. What I wasn't prepared for was the intensity of my own reaction: The silence felt like wet sand being piled on my chest. My insides were churning. I had to bite the inside of my lip, and I was acutely aware of every nerve ending in my body. Finally, the prospects did decide they would invest--and I never again dreaded that awful silence after asking a closing question. Learn from my example, and don't utter a peep after you ask for the sale!

Why is it so important to keep quiet? Say your prospect hesitates for a few moments, wondering when they should take delivery. You become uncomfortable and assume they're questioning the investment so you blurt out that you'll give them another 20 percent off the total investment, when that wasn't even the issue.

The average salesperson can't wait more than ten seconds after asking a closing question. If Mrs. Jones hasn't answered by then, they'll say something like, "Well, we can talk about that later," and go on talking, unaware that they've just destroyed the closing situation. And it's probably not just the one close that's been destroyed. Mrs. Jones can certainly keep quiet for a few moments--almost all undecided buyers can. If you're true sale champion material, you can sit there quietly all afternoon if you have to. It takes concentration, but the silence rarely lasts more than 30 to 40 seconds in reality.

Having the skill, courage and concentration to sit still and be silent for at least half a minute is the single, most vital skill there is in selling. Practice this until you get a feel for how long 30 seconds is, and then it won't be so nerve-wracking when big money is riding on how calm and quiet you remain in a real closing situation.