You know face of selling has radically changed.  The profile of the salesperson has shifted to consulting and educating.   Customers expect expertise.  Unless you are proactive with insights and ideas you have less time to consult and educate because your customers are zooming along in their buying process without you.  Protracted sales cycles are attributed to risk aversion, decision by consensus, financial pressures on customers, poor quality of leads, and absence of qualifying—all valid points.  But where do closing skills come into play?  Closing is time sensitive.

I have never been a proponent of “closing techniques” from the assumptive to the alternative close to the now or never close and so on.  I will always remember early in my career the client who asked me if I would teach his people the “Raccoon Close”.  Not only hadn’t I taught it, I didn’t know what it was. That question led to our talking about the multiple phases of closing and how it is not a bag of tricks or the big bang at the end of the sale.  With all the focus on the new selling today, building industry, client, and customer knowledge, generating demand, bringing insights, focusing on outcomes, there seems to be less focus on the block and tackling of closing.  Maybe it is because closing has been belabored for so long.   Not so fast.

A few months ago a long time colleague and friend shared with me that she was moving from her role as V.P. of Client Services to sales.  Seven months later she questioned that decision.  “I’m just not meant for sales.” she confided. Knowing her I was skeptical.

As she explained her disappointment it was clear she was remarkably successful at reaching prospects who took her follow-up calls and spent time with her, she knew her industries and product offerings cold, and I know first hand she is natural at building warm relationships.  But none of that was helping her close. Delay after delay was the course of every opportunity.  We analyzed the average length of the sales cycle, the quality of the leads, how she was qualifying, her proactive reaching out to prospects.  We could identify only a small gap in qualifying which we worked on.

Then Eureka!  She asked for an introduction to one of my contacts.  The referral went well and the contact immediately sent her an email requesting she call him the next day.  Copying me on her reply almost knocked me off my chair.  Her response was enthusiastic and warm but rather than setting a time and sending an invite she padded in an unnecessary extra step that extended the sales cycle and risked losing this busy executive’s attention.  She made extra work for the client and could have set herself on a path of delays.

This drew my attention to the role of “old fashion” closing skills play in inaccurate forecasting, missed quarters, and personal frustrations.   What do we mean by “a closer”?  Certainly not the disturbing image created by Alec Baldwin in Glengarry, Glen Ross.  Closing is a mindset to do everything possible to ensure every contact ends with the best possible customer action to meet the customer’s goals and move the opportunity forward.  And it is your job to plan for and make it happen.

Certainly having a sales process in which moving to the next stage in the process is triggered by the customer’s actions ties deals to the customer’s buying process and moves the sales to the close.  But there are numerous micro opportunities within in each stage that demand a go-getter mind set, radar to pick up on the opportunities, and solid closing skills.

In the past closing meant the activities that salespeople took to gain agreement to move forward with the sale.  Today it is more collaborative and is the actions you and your customers take together.  But it is still your job to lead the trip and to do so in the most economical way that achieves the objective.  It is asking yourself what is the realistic action I will ask my customer (as well as you) to take at every small and big juncture.

To close:

  • Recognize closing is time sensitive.
  • Set a measurable objective and the action the customer must take.
  • Close incrementally by checking for feedback each time you present key ideas and information. For example after you present an insight ask for the customer’s perceptions or experience.  Effective checking helps you know where things stand at all times.
  • Ask pre-closing questions about the desired outcome, what has to be in place for that outcome to happen, those impacted by the actions, decision makers/ users/influencers, competitors, questions customers are asking themselves, concerns about their risks to achieving the outcome, funding, projects you are competing with, board approval … Always thinking what you can do to make it easy for your customer take this action? For example, if the customer says, “I will put together and outline of what we have discussed and present it to my team.” ask if you can prepare a draft (which of course will be as perfect as possible) for the client to work from.
  • Gain consensus.
  • Prove value by showing the financial impact of changing the status quo compared with current costs and cost of doing nothing.
  • Know what is on your customer’s “to do “ list to give your reasons to follow-up and be of help, including what you don’t get paid for.
  • Give first.
  • Ask for the next step whether it is gaining access to an executive—To ensure we … so we can … would it make sense for us to meet with … to …” or asking for the business—“We can be begin … and … on Monday start…. Do I have your go ahead?”

The new profile of the salesperson is shifting to that of a teacher, consultant, and advisor.   This may seem more passive but it actually demands more active closing process because education is not traditionally associated with the assertiveness of selling.

This shift has raised the game and for many professionals it is a stretch.   It is in my view not just the new face but the best face of selling.   It is great when customers say, “How do we get started?” but when they don’t it was and is the role of sales to move the customer to the close and close.

Shakespeare offered some good advice on this:  “There comes a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune…And we must take the current when it serves or lose our venture.”