Close Encounter

Sometimes you need more than a handshake to seal the deal.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the April 2001 issue of Entrepreneurs Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

I've been in the business of sales my entire adult life. I'm either selling something myself or training others to be better salespeople every day. I've studied all the closing techniques. And I've interviewed thousands of the top sales reps in the country, who've all come to the same conclusion: If you can't say, "Why don't we go ahead with this?" to your customer, then there's something wrong-not with your closing, but with your approach to sales.

And remember, your closing technique only works if it's built on a strong foundation. To prepare for sales seminars, I interview my clients' customers to understand what my clients' salespeople are doing right and wrong. The people I interview tell me things like: "The best sales reps come in here and know my business. They know who I sell to, and they know what I need. They don't approach me with some generic presentation they learned by rote. They make me feel like I'm their first and best customer."

How do you develop the best closing technique? There are four main stops along that road:

1. Rapport: If a customer doesn't like you, trust you and feel comfortable with you, it doesn't matter what closing technique you use. You don't have to be friends with all your customers, but you do have to establish some kind of bond. Get to know that person and his or her business-then figure out how your product or service can benefit him or her. You also need to be yourself. It's the only way I know to make a meaningful connection with another person. If that connection doesn't happen, you may be better off not doing business with that individual.

2. Relationships: The objective of establishing rapport is to form relationships. Some relationships develop quickly; others take time to blossom. Some are purely professional; others are more personal. Part of building a relationship is being able to adapt to each customer's personality. When I met with one recent potential customer, we didn't even talk shop for the first half-hour. He needed time to make a connection with me. Then we were able to proceed with the sale, and I closed by asking, "Why don't we go ahead with this?" Of course, along the way, I asked simple questions like "Wouldn't you agree?" to get a series of "yes" answers. When you go after these small agreements, or trial closes, you test the buyer and build toward the sale.

3. Needs analysis: I heard a story about a guest who appeared on The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson was the host. The guest was billed as the greatest salesman who ever lived. Johnny started by saying, "You're the greatest salesman in the world-sell me something." Johnny expected a razzmatazz sales spiel. Instead, the man said, "What would you like me to sell you?"
"I don't know," Johnny replied. "How about this ashtray?"
"Why, Johnny?" asked the guest. "What is it that you like about that ashtray?" Carson listed the things he liked: It matched the brown color of his desk, was octagonal and fulfilled the need for someplace to put his ashes.
Then the guest asked, "How much would you be willing to spend for a brown octagonal ashtray like that one?"
"Maybe $20," said Johnny.
"Sold!" said the guest.
The concept behind this interchange is understanding the customer's needs. The secret lies in persuading the customer to state his own needs and then getting him to sell himself. After that, closing becomes a natural progression.

4. Asking for the order: It's amazing how many salespeople miss the close because they don't ask for the order. Usually, they're afraid the customer will say no. But you hardly ever get a flat no. What you get is an objection. And once you discover a solution to the customer's objection, you simply say, "Why don't we go ahead with this?"

The first close I tried was, "Would you like to put 15 percent down on that, or is 10 percent easier?" And it worked because, without even realizing it, I had established rapport, formed a relationship, discovered the customer's needs and asked for the order. Without that foundation, the sale is being built on sand and won't stand.

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