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The Powerful Question You Should Ask Yourself During Every Sales Conversation

The Powerful Question You Should Ask Yourself During Every Sales Conversation
Image credit: Milos Milosevic | Flickr

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If you sell for a living, if closing that next deal is always on your mind, if your bills don’t get paid unless you makes sales, then you undoubtedly hold this one goal: how do I close the next customer I talk to?

Trainers, experts and sales managers tell salespeople to close every prospect. Perhaps your own self-talk takes on a similar tone: “I will make a sale to the next person, dang it!" You begin seeing customers as targets, opponents or even victims in the process. There is just one problem: closing every customer is impossible.

If you have been a salesperson for more than three hours, you already know that you cannot close a deal with every person you encounter. And yet, too many salespeople (and their managers) maintain this unrealistic goal. Everyone knows it is unrealistic, but no one wants to admit it.

Fine, I’ll admit it: closing every single prospect is impossible.

Related: The 10 Biggest Mistakes in Sales

Did you just feel the earth move? Me neither. 

An excuse not to close

I realize this admission appears to open the door for timid sales souls to say, “I knew it! My wait-for-them-to-ask-me approach has been right all along!" Sorry to burst your bubble, but no, that is also not true. I am not saying that you should not consistently attempt to close. In fact, far more salespeople err on the side of timidity than on the side of aggressive closing.

The question is not whether you should close. The question is how frequently can you do so effectively?

The real objective

If closing 100 percent of your prospects is not the be-all, end-all then what should our objective look like? I suggest that you adopt this mental approach: “Did I take this sale as far as it can possibly go?” That’s it. That’s the mindset and the mantra sales people should maintain at all times. The objective is not to close every prospect -- it is to maximize every sales conversation.

The strategy 

Taking every sale as far as it will go means that you do not end the sales process until you hit one important milestone: the conversation is no longer beneficial for the customer. When you reach this point, you have diligently done your job and need to think carefully about your next steps.

Related: 3 Ways Your Startup Can Earn the Trust of Prospective Clients

Here’s an example: You sell recreational vehicles and you are talking with an interested couple with whom you have spent more than an hour. They are looking at a nice rig that will set them back $100,000. You have a good rapport with them and everyone is having a great time. But they have some serious budget concerns, which they clearly explain to you. While they are definitely interested in the RV, they are on a fixed income and they do not ever make a significant financial decision without the counsel of their long-time financial advisor.

Let’s pause there and consider two possible strategies: You close anyway, or you lose the sale and let them walk away. I don’t believe that either of these options is best. To close anyway would be too aggressive and you would damage the relationship you have established with them. But if you let them walk, you have to ask yourself a question: “Did I take the sale as far as it could go?” I believe you did not.

There are other options that extend the sales conversation with a customer such as this: You can offer to get a customer’s financial planner on a conference call allowing you to discuss the purchase as a group. You can call the planner yourself and ask if they are available to come down to the showroom. If it is consistent with your company policy, you can discuss a sales hold while the financial advice gets sorted out.

The key is to always ask yourself: “Did I take this sale as far as it can possibly go?”

I suggest you start to dissect your own sales presentation. Whenever a customer leaves without purchasing, stop and ask yourself this important question. Discuss your experience with a colleague or your manager. Brainstorm on what might have been the next step to have taken the sale as far as it would go. And then, sleep well at night -- you did your job!

Related: 4 Tips for Persuading People by Listening to Them