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The No. 1 Key to Closing the Sale

Want to know the secret to getting your customers to buy? It's simple--just ask!

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Without proper training and application, it can be uncomfortable to ask people for their money. Too many businesspeople put their offering out there and wait. If a prospect doesn't quickly see the value and jump right in to buy it or participate in some way, the salesperson may start to lose confidence in their product. This wavering of confidence weakens their desire to close the sale. In other words, the salesperson doesn't ask for the order, call for a decision, or otherwise try to get a commitment from the prospect.

My company conducted a little survey that asked people who weren't persuaded to buy why they didn't go ahead with whatever it was they were offered. Interestingly enough, the most common answer was they were never asked. The prospects were contacted, a product or service was demonstrated to them, and their questions were answered. In some cases, they were convinced of the value of the offering and probably would have gone ahead, but nothing happened. The salespeople didn't ask the prospects to make a commitment or to part with their money, so they didn't.

Don't ever let the fact that you didn't ask someone to make a buying decision be the reason a prospect doesn't go along with you.

Knowing when to ask, however, is just as important as doing it in the first place. Sometimes salespeople wait so long to ask for the sale that the right time to ask passes them by. To get past this timing challenge, figure out how to take a prospect's buying temperature. In other words, learn how to determine if they're ready to buy from you. You do this by asking an ownership question, like the following:

"Not to be assumptive, but if everything we've discussed here makes sense, how soon would you want to begin benefiting from your new computer system?"

Because you're asking what could be considered an assumptive question, soften it by beginning with "Not to be assumptive, but. . . ."

If you were asking a personal question, you would start with, "Not to be personal, but. . . ." Sure, you're being personal; but by stating it that way, you show respect for the prospect's and give her an option not to answer if she's uncomfortable.

You never want to purposely make a customer uncomfortable, but you'll face situations in which you need to ask questions of a personal nature. If the prospect answers such a question enthusiastically, in the affirmative, she's probably ready to go ahead. But if such a question brings up another concern or hesitation, then she's probably not ripe yet to make a commitment. This strategy is commonly referred to as the trial close.

It's wise to know a few different ways of handling the trial close. One way, called the alternate advance, involves giving your prospect two choices. The key to this strategy is that either choice advances the sale. This way, no matter which option your prospect chooses, the sale moves forward because the prospect isn't given the option of saying "No."

Here are a couple examples:

Salesperson: "Mr. Hall, which delivery date would be best for you, the 8th or the 13th?"

Mr. Hall: "I need to have it in my warehouse by the 10th."

What happened in this exchange? As long as the salesperson can meet that delivery date, Mr. Hall owns it. If Mr. Hall is uncertain, he'll raise an objection here or try to change the subject.

Salesperson: "Jim, would you be the one trained on the use of the new system, or would you want someone else to be involved?"

When Jim tells you who to train, you know he's going ahead with the sale. The test close was positive, and now asking for Jim's money shouldn't cause you or him any discomfort. It's a natural follow up to his positive response.

There are several strategies you can use to close a sale, but they all boil down to the same common fact: you have to ask! Don't let your fear of appearing assumptive or rude keep you from selling a product or service your customer is already willing to buy. It's your confidence in the product that'll guarantee the sale--or at least persuade the customer to consider your in the future.

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