You've heard from the rest, now learn from the best-Million Dollar Closing Techniques The close is the last critical phase of the selling process and, often, the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship. Unfortunately, it is also the phase in which many a sure thing has foundered. In this groundbreaking guide, some of the world's most successful sales professionals demystify the art of the close and instruct you in proven closing strategies and techniques. Based on interviews with members of the prestigious Million Dollar Round Table-the top six percent of the international life insurance sales industry-Million Dollar Closing Techniques features fascinating, instructive "war stories" and step-by-step guidance on:
• Closing psychology
• Breaking through the preoccupation barrier
• Setting goals and preparing to close
• Motivating customers to go all the way
• Power phrases that help you to close
No matter what product or service you sell, you won't want to be without this authoritative guide to the art and science of effective closing techniques. Read Million Dollar Closing Techniques and take the leap to a bold new level of professional excellence. Also available in the Million Dollar Round Table series: Million Dollar Prospecting Techniques Paper
• $16.95 USA/$26.50 CAN Million Dollar Selling Techniques Paper
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About the Author
The MILLION DOLLAR ROUND TABLE (MDRT) is an international, independent association comprising the top six percent of life insurance producers worldwide. With 19,000 members representing 400 companies from more than 50 nations, MDRT is a powerful force in the life insurance industry, with a rich tradition of sharing knowledge for the benefit of clients, producers, and companies.
Read an Excerpt
What Is Closing?
Closing is anything that a sales professional does to cause a prospect to buy now. MDRT sales professionals look at closing in a number of different ways. It builds trust, it is the final process in a sales presentation, it educates, and it solves problems. But the secret is always the same: getting prospects to want to make a favorable decision. Let's begin by discussing an important factor in all closing opportunities-- the exchange of trust between sales professionals and their prospects.
The sale is the result of a delicate and complex interplay between you and your prospect. It is delicate because it involves a keen and sensitive analysis of subtleties: What are the unspoken objections, and who is the real decision maker? It is complex; many interrelated technical and personal elements are involved: obvious and hidden costs, current and predicted economic conditions, and human feelings, thoughts and aspirations. Closing is an interplay between two or more people who are similar in many ways yet different in significant ways. You and your prospect enter the sales conversation with limited knowledge of each other, and with biases and preconceptions that may keep you from really understanding each other. On the other hand, the sales conversation may be the beginning of a long and mutually satisfying relationship.
This delicate and complex interplay may lead to the prospects' decision to buy (with significant benefit to you and your customer) or may instead channel the sale and commission to a previously uninvolved sales professional whom the client privately favors. Success or failure in any sales effort depends on many factors. One of the most profound and subtlest factors is the bridge of trust established in the relationship between you and your prospect.
The essence of a professional relationship is trust. We take the advice of a professional in law, accounting, medicine, or finance. We trust that it is in our best interest to do so. We go to a counselor for help and advice when we are in trouble, when we are in doubt about what we should do, or when we sense that our life would be enriched because of contact with a professional who cares about us. Professionals enjoy the highest respect because we believe we can trust them, depend on them, and obtain strength and courage from them.
Research shows that when two or more individuals are involved in problem-solving activity, the level of trust between them has a significant effect on the outcome. Where there is high trust, there will be a greater exchange of relevant ideas and feelings, and more clarification of problems and goals. There will also be more personal satisfaction with the problem-solving efforts, and more motivation to implement the conclusions. These research findings are directly applicable to business sales situations. Building a professional bridge of trust with prospects is an effective sales strategy.
Mutual Trust: An Essential Factor
Strategies for Building TrustThere are definite strategies for building trust. These strategies are effective in building trust in a marriage, in a parents-and-children relationship, in a business setting, and in professional counseling relationships. Choosing the correct strategy requires understanding the characteristics of trust:
- Trust is a feeling. It is fragile. It takes time and effort to build trust, but only an instant to destroy it.
- Trust comes in degrees. We may feel greater or lesser trust toward a particular person.
- Trust is situational. We trust a person in one situation more than in another.
- Trust depends on the task involved. We trust a person to do one thing, but not another.
- Trust depends on the time. We trust a person at one time more than at another.
- Trust depends on the other people involved. We trust one person or group more than another person or group.
- Trust is complicated. We may need to examine the issues involved in the delicate and very human activity of trying to build, or rebuild, trust in a world where levels of trust are not very high.
Begin with Yourself
The most fundamental strategy for building trust begins with ourselves. We cannot make others trust us. In fact, the more we try to convince others that they can trust us, the less likely they will. They may wonder, or even ask, "Why are you protesting so much?" It takes two people to form a sales relationship--( 1) the sales professional and (2) the prospect-- and neither has total control over the relationship or the final outcome of the sales effort. The sales professional only has control over himself or herself. But self-control is a powerful factor in any relationship.
We can start to build the level of trust by increasing the level of trust we feel in ourselves. What does it mean to trust ourselves? Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, defines trust as "assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone...." To trust ourselves is to feel a degree of certainty that we will do what we think is the right thing to do. The definition of what is "right " is highly individualized. Does what we think is right become part of our own definition of trust? How do we implement this first strategy of building trust in a way that increases the feeling of trust in ourselves?
The answer is both simple and complicated. It is simple in that we need only make sure that our behavior is consistent with our basic values. It is complicated in that it takes effort and soul-searching to define and clarify what those values are. Values are personal qualities that we believe have worth. They may include principles of right and wrong, activities that we think are important and significant, and material possessions that we find highly desirable. It is common to value two things that are in conflict. When this occurs, it is almost impossible to behave in a way that is completely consistent with our entire system of values. Anyone who attempts to write down and define a set of personal values will discover potential value conflicts and will become aware of how difficult it is to resolve them. A person with a high degree of self-trust is likely to have the clearest concept of personal values and the most determination to live a life that is consistent with those values.
Sales professionals who have a high sense of trust in themselves will believe strongly in the value of the products and services they sell, and in the worth of seeking out those who need them. No one likes to be told "No" about something that is strongly felt, but self-trust will help a sales professional realize that the prospect who refuses an appointment or refuses to take needed action is the person with the problem. If the sales professional takes the refusal as a sign of personal inadequacy or inferiority, the sales professional has the problem.
A sales professional who has a high sense of trust will ask questions to determine directly who the decision maker will be. High trust will make it easier to deal with the vexing problem of another sales associate who may be close to the prospect but not visible in the selling situation. It is frustrating and costly to prepare a proposal for a prospect and then have the actual sale go to another sales associate who is favored by the prospect. Perhaps the most trusting and professional way to deal with this potential problem is to raise it directly with the prospect, early in the exploratory stage of the sales process.
Be Consistently Real
We tend to trust people who are consistent in their behavior. We can count on persons whose behavior is predictable. We are likely to be friends with people whose behavior is at least relatively predictable. Knowing where we stand with members of our family, or with colleagues in business, is a source of comfort; we can anticipate how they will react in most situations. But rigid consistency may not provide the flexibility needed to cope with our often changing and turbulent world. Carl Rogers, the internationally renowned psychologist and psychotherapist, believes that, in building a relationship of trust, being "consistently real" is more important than being rigidly consistent. Normal human beings experience swings in mood, changes in interest, and slow but inevitable modification of values as they progress through the stages of life. A consistently real person will acknowledge these changes and be open about them. The concept of openness is inseparable from the concept of trust. As Rogers says, integrity is "utter sincerity, honesty, and candor; avoidance of deception, expediency, artificiality, or shallowness of any kind." The true sales professional would hope to be viewed as a person of integrity; the practice that makes this more likely is appropriate self-disclosure.
Practice Appropriate Self-Disclosure
Self-disclosure is risky, but trust depends on it. The highest levels of trust appear to exist between people who are genuinely open about what they believe, value, and feel; but when they reveal personal aspects, they risk making themselves vulnerable. Others may not like what they hear and may reject the self-disclosing persons. We know that we cannot be all things to all people, nor is it desirable to try; we might wind up with no identity at all. On the other hand, it is unwise to "let it all hang out," or tell anything and everything about ourselves to anyone, regardless of the circumstances or situation. To be totally closed, or totally opened, is to be extreme and ineffective. A balance is needed, but how is it measured? Just how open or honest should we be? How much self-disclosure is appropriate if we want to develop the most effective professional relationships of trust?
Appropriate self-disclosure is a necessary ingredient of effective, high-trust, professional relationships. Appropriate refers to what is proper or suitable, given a particular situation. In business circumstances, the sales professional may approach the prospect either through a strong third-party referral or via a cold call. In the first instance, the sales professional will be "borrowing" on the prospect's trust in the referring person, and that trust is likely to be temporary. Even with a good referral from a trusted friend or associate, the prospect will quickly move into a test-and-search process to learn: "Can this strange sales professional really be trusted?" In a cold call, the sales professional will be dealing with whatever level of trust the prospect has for sales professionals in general.
If the prospect is a cold call, the sales professional is likely to have an uphill campaign. First, the sales professional must build sufficient trust for the prospect to reveal information that is necessary for the preparation of a sales proposal. Then he or she must further strengthen that trust or the prospect will reject the recommendation. Whatever the situation, appropriate self-disclosure by the sales professional will tend to increase the level of trust in the sales professional prospect relationship.
What is appropriate self-disclosure? Common sense tells us that it would be inappropriate to bring up personal problems and anxieties associated with a sales professional's private life. Attention should stay focused on the problems and issues that are important in the prospect's life and business. But the sales professional remains a thinking, believing, feeling, and valuing person during the sales conversation. To attempt to hide all these aspects of the self would not only take effort but would be a form of deceit. Disclosing nothing about the self would be inappropriate, and an attempted cover-up of personal history probably would be detected by the prospect. Some advisers suggest imitating professional counselors who reveal nothing personal but probe and attempt to open up their clients to gain intimate knowledge of their values, feelings, aspirations, fears, goals, and objections (to the counselors' recommendations). A counselor may have learned that being "professional" in an interview means (1) being careful not to reveal any personal reactions, feelings, or judgments toward the client, and (2) maintaining a neutral or nonjudgmental attitude throughout the interview. This so-called clinical approach may be interpreted by the prospect or client as indifference or coldness. A more enlightened view would expect no greater degree of openness from the prospect than we are willing to risk for ourselves. Common sense also tells us that a person will speak more freely with another person who is obviously open or nondeceitful and who has little to hide.
In dealing with a business owner or a high-level manager in a corporation, the psychology of the sale is often similar to that of a personal sale to an individual. The decision-making process may depend heavily on the emotional impact or degree of empathy generated in the prospect relationship. In selling to a publicly-held corporation and dealing with professional managers, there is more questioning because of distrust, a less personal relationship between agent and prospect, and perhaps more emphasis on the numbers involved. But even in this situation, human beings are involved. Feelings do influence decision making, even if those feelings are not disclosed or acknowledged. The agent who is more open in that situation is likely to be more sensitive to the emotional factors and the numbers involved. Sales strategies are likely to be more effective when they are based on emotional as well as numerical information.
Practicing more emotional openness offers four distinct advantages to sales professionals, managers, parents, spouses, or anyone interested in increasing levels of trust in relationships. They will be: (1) more authentic, (2) more human, (3) models of coping behavior, and (4) persons with whom others will be more open.
To be authentic is to be "worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact," the dictionary tells us. Successful businesspeople are realists. They make excellent decisions based on fact, not hope. They have become sophisticated skeptics not just to be skeptical, but to have knowledge and awareness based on how things are. A typical business prospect has years of experience in trying to separate truth from fantasy and real people from phonies. These judgments are not always correct, but businesspeople are unlikely to be sold on a sales approach that is contrived and presented by a person who is attempting to display emotions that are not genuine, or pretending to have skills that are not possessed. A sales professional who shows more enthusiasm or more personal interest in the prospect than is felt is trying to build a relationship of trust on a base of deceit. Especially in a sales relationship that is likely to extend over a period of weeks, months, or years, sales professionals who have authenticity will have a higher probability of winning the client's confidence and retaining the account.
A degree of humanness is necessary in any professional to whom we turn when we are in need. Dehumanizing or mechanical approaches to people in management or sales-- or in our families-- lead not only to a lowering of trust, but also to lower levels of productivity and human growth. A manager, counselor, spouse, or parent experiences a whole range of feelings: self-doubt, self-confidence, depression, elation, confusion, certainty, and so on. People are different in some ways, but seem to be alike in many more ways. A personal relationship based on friendship or a professional relationship based on confidence seems to offer a perception of similar interests and values. What better way to establish a relationship than to have each person acknowledge basic human needs, feelings, and aspirations?
A sales professional can be a model of coping behavior for clients, colleagues, and family. We obtain strength and courage from such a model-- especially when we can observe how the professional copes with stress or uncertainty. If the professional is low in self-disclosure, we will not recognize the coping skills that may be there. If, however, he or she is open about experiencing normal human stresses, frustrations, minor depressions, and confusions, we can see how these are dealt with successfully, and that lesson is of value to us.
Perhaps an even greater advantage of higher levels of self-disclosure is that they stimulate higher self-disclosure from others. In counseling, sales, or management, it is advantageous to be aware of the thoughts, feelings, and doubts of a client, prospect, or subordinate. We work better with people we know well. Highly self-disclosing professionals will find that people with whom they interact will tend to be more open in return.
The Importance of Being a Good Listener
The ability to listen well helps build a bridge of professional trust. Most of us are sensitive to when we are actively being listened to, and when the "listener " is merely pretending to listen. But what happens when two excellent listeners get involved in a conversation? If you are imagining a lot of silence taking place, you are visualizing poor listening. A good listener talks a lot about what the speaker has just said. A poor listener talks a lot, but may be changing the subject or roaming far from what the speaker has said or is feeling. A good listener listens to what is said, what is not said, what the speaker would like to say but does not know how, and what the speaker is feeling.
Professional listening helps build trust in four ways:
- It emphasizes points the prospect or client is making.
- It helps focus the conversation on important issues.
- It encourages the speaker to reveal more of the aspirations and doubts that exist.
- It demonstrates that the listener understands.
Good listening is not just repeating what the speaker has said, but it does include that. Excellent listening involves thinking of examples to illustrate what the speaker has been saying. The speaker may then say with delight, "Yes, that's exactly what I meant."
Listening creates the feedback needed to confirm that communication is taking place. There is nothing more disconcerting than talking to someone who maintains a poker face and does not even nod or say "Uh-huh" occasionally. A good listener has a responsive face; it registers the puzzlement, concern, delight, and enthusiasm of a genuine listener who is getting to know another human being. When a financial counselor meets a skeptical business or professional prospect, both have the task of understanding and learning from each other; this is a necessary process for effective problem solving. Ideally, both are good listeners, but the counselor must have real control over his or her listening ability. There is much evidence that an excellent listener, by example, will encourage better listening in others. Good listening enhances trust in a relationship.
Avoid a Stratagem
A stratagem is an artifice or trick to deceive or outwit an enemy. Shortly before D-Day in World War II, the Allies leaked false information to the enemy in an effort to divert some of the resistance from the planned invasion at Normandy. On a much lesser scale, people use stratagems to gain an advantage over other people, especially in adversarial relationships. We tell part of the truth, we f latter, we pretend, and we falsify when we try to dominate others or to be the winner in what we see as a win lose situation. If the selling relationship is seen as adversarial by either the seller or the potential buyer, the stratagems will be part of the sellers "pitch" or the buyer's objections. If the selling relationship is seen as professional, or as a psychological partnership, then stratagems will interfere with the best possible outcomes because they will prevent high levels of trust from evolving as two or more people work together.
Develop the Capacity to Care
Not all people who work in caring professions really care about their clients or patients or students, but a great many people in all professions and areas of business do care about clients, customers, and the population in general. Is your business a caring profession? Perhaps you feel strongly that it is. Sales professionals usually experience a renewal of faith in their profession when satisfied customers not only provide positive feedback but refer to their business to friends and associates.
To care is to be vulnerable. To avoid the pain of disappointment and the anguish of rejection that accompany most human relationships, we would have to discontinue our psychological and emotional involvement with others. We may not experience discomfort, but we will not experience love and companionship either. Loneliness is like a disease; it reduces the quality of life for millions. All of us experience loneliness in some form occasionally, but overcoming it is largely under our individual control. No one can reach out for us; we must do it ourselves. Love and caring are personal responses, and we individually create our internal levels of those feelings toward others.
Become a Model of Professional Trust
Trust is a feeling shared by two or more people and built more by example than words. Verbal efforts to assure others that we can be trusted may have the opposite effect. They may wonder why you're protesting so much. Trust is subtle and fragile. It grows slowly and may be destroyed at any moment. Trust is built by using strategies that are essentially ways of living. It is destroyed by using stratagems. Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us: "What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so I cannot hear what you say to the contrary."
We do our part in building relationships of trust when we increase our trust in ourselves; when we are consistently real in disclosing who we are; when we listen; and when we avoid stratagems and develop the capacity to care. All of these contributions to trust are under our control and can become part of our way of life. We convey trust more by being someone than by saying something. We can think of trust as a fund of resources to be spent in a relationship, an organization, a nation, and the world. We might increasingly make deposits to that fund through our example and the degree of openness we allow ourselves. By making trust deposits, we add to our personal growth. When we withdraw from that fund of trust, we leave it and ourselves impoverished.
Membership in the MDRT suggests leadership beyond the number of dollars involved. It states that leadership has already been acquired and its full potential is yet to be reached. Effective leadership involves delegation of many things, but trust is not one of them. We cannot delegate trust; we must model it every day. When we minimize our concern for ourselves and maximize our concern for others, we endorse a principle of human growth and we exhibit our personal approach to building bridges of trust. This is our ultimate responsibility toward ourselves and those whose lives we touch.
Close It But Don't End It
No aspect of selling has been as completely misunderstood and shamefully neglected as the closing. Sales professionals who have focused their attention on getting acquainted, on finding a favorable atmosphere for a sale, or on following up leads and having an enviable familiarity with the problems of their prospects, have often stumbled into failure because they did not understand the meaning of the closing. Sales professionals who have generated admirable enthusiasm for their products have been unable to translate their inspiration into sales because they did not know how to add the finishing touches of a strong closing.
What is a closing? For too many businesspeople, it is the striking of appropriate keys on a cash register, a pleasant smile, and a "thank you" as a package or receipt is placed in the hands of a waiting customer. To others, it is a form letter that thanks a buyer for an order, before turning to new prospects, new orders, and new closings. Or it may mean placing a signature on a contract-- a legal requirement and nothing more. To these people, closing is a brief moment. The most tenuous of threads connect it with the interview that has preceded, and with the relationship and future sales that should follow. In other words, these sales professionals consider a closing an ending.
But closing is not the end or the beginning. It is a climax in a continuous process. Why struggle to become acquainted with customers' needs, problems, and economic positions so that only the shortsighted goal of closing a single sale is accomplished? The final goal-- the really worthwhile goal-- is to win a permanent customer who brings in consistent sales.
Whether the product being sold is something as intangible as an insurance plan or as real as a glittering diamond, the psychology of closing scarcely varies. In the body of the interview, the sale is promoted through a combination of solid logical arguments and reasons to have confidence in the sales professionals and everything they represent-- a company, a product, a trademark, and their own integrity. Every logical argument is advanced to establish and close the sale.
But logic alone is not enough; logic stimulates only thought. Proceed on the theory that emotions stimulate action. Digging deep into the wallet is a step that requires an emotional stimulus. The feeling of pleasure derived from satisfying a need or simply obtaining something new must be greater than the difficulty that we all feel-- even the most generous giver or the most notorious spendthrift among us-- as we sign a check or part with hard-earned cash and all the security it supposedly represents.
"Appeal to the hearts of prospects as well as to their minds." This guiding motto will see you through many years of hard and tough selling. Whenever possible, appeal to prospects' hearts by linking the sale with the happiness of a spouse or a child. Nothing melts the resistance of buyers as quickly as the suggestion of how the loved ones in their life will enjoy and appreciate the purchase of the product under consideration.
The following example, narrated by an MDRT sales professional, illustrates how you can use this type of appeal in your own selling. It requires little imagination to understand that similar appeals are applicable in any other field of selling. This experience can be applied to almost any situation where one person is attempting to use his or her persuasive powers to convince another to take some action. Selling is merely an effort to persuade another person to buy an idea, a thought, a product, or a service.
In the very early days of my group insurance activities, I was having lunch at a favorite rendezvous with a man who had just become vice president of a rather prominent firm. Through years of persevering struggle, he had worked his way up to a position of eminence in his industry, and was still climbing. However, he seemed deeply perturbed that day, and upon questioning him I learned that he had had an unpleasant and disturbing experience just before leaving for New York the previous afternoon.
A week earlier, one of the firm's employees, a man in his late thirties who had been working for the firm for over fifteen years, had died. Without warning, he had been snatched away from his wife and children. There had never been any intimation of poor health. Like many other wage earners who look forward to years of life and work, he had saved little and had invested hardly a penny in insurance.
Here, sitting with me, was a man as sympathetic and humane as any who could occupy a chair in an executive's office. Deeply interested in every employee in his enterprise, he had known John well. They had smiled to each other with "Good Morning" almost daily over a period of years, had stopped to chat about production problems in John's department, had exchanged best wishes alongside the company's Christmas tree in one holiday season after another.
And then John was ill and, a day later, dead; and my companion was grieving deeply over the tragic and untimely loss. A few days after the funeral-- the afternoon before our meeting in New York, in fact-- John's widow had come to my friend's office. She was obviously unprepared to carry the burden of being mother, breadwinner, and widow.
She came to explain her position: she was left practically penniless, and her children were too young to allow her to go to work. She had no parents or in-laws to whom to turn. "John worked for you all these years," she pleaded. "Surely you owe him something-- some help. You can't let his family lie down and die. He was a trusted employee; he worked hard for this company, defended it as if it were his very own, if anyone dared to breathe a word against it. Even when he took sick, awakening with a headache or a cold, he always went to work-- he felt he owed this to you." On and on this continued, until it reached the inevitable: "You're not going to let us down, are you?"
On the other side of the desk, my friend had sat and listened. And he had answered that appeal with help, although he knew that the aid extended was far from adequate, and knew, too, that it was not a sound financial policy for a company to solve a problem of this sort in an individual, almost haphazard manner.
As I listened to this story, I realized that one could not hope for a more favorable atmosphere for consummating a sale. What more would be needed than to show the client that there is one, and only one, answer to a situation like this? Nothing can alleviate the grief of the young widow, or of the children who must face the future years of life without a father. However, the very real physical hardships may be reduced by a far-sighted insurance plan.
In this instance, the emotional appeal had already been made for the sales professional. The logic of cold argument was to come later.
Now let's reverse the roles and draw from a sales professional's experience as an impartial observer at a sale. A friend of this sales professional was going to buy a new car, and invited him to come along. The friend had a pretty good idea of the price range he could manage, had heard the usual conflicting reports about the relative merits of the various makes and models, and finally took the step of walking into the local showroom of one of the leading car manufacturers. A sales professional, almost as shining and dazzling as the cars around him, walked up and engaged the two friends in conversation.
During the early part of his monologue, the car sales associate concentrated on the advantages offered by the manufacturer whose car he was selling. He discussed some of the safety devices in highly technical language, thus flattering the prospective buyer by assuming he understood them; he explained fluid drive, power steering, springs that cushion the shocks from the bumps in the road, and the mileage obtained per gallon of gas, as compared with other cars of equal weight.
The impressive arguments were based on good sales psychology; not only was the buildup of logic convincing, but there was little opportunity for rebuttal. Even if there were errors in what was being said, this sales professional was unlikely to encounter customers so familiar with features of new automobiles that they could raise serious objections.
And then, subtly and gradually, the tenor of his sales arguments began to undergo a change. The appeal to reason, he must have figured, had been successful. Next, an appeal to the emotions. The brain was won; the heart was waiting patiently to be conquered. "You have a wife?" he asked, and when the client answered in the affirmative, he spoke glowingly of the pride of ownership, the convenience the car would offer, and the feeling of good grooming and success the owner would experience when he pulled up in front of a country club in this vehicle.
"Would you like to surprise her by driving up to your home in the car," he asked, "or would you prefer to have her come in and help you make the final choice?" Sales resistance was dropping to a new low! The friend said that his wife preferred being in on the buying rather than being surprised with an accomplished deal. The sales professional followed that tack with remarkable persistence. He might be able to reach the wife by telephone; if so, he could have someone pick her up and bring her right over to the showroom. In fact, they could do a demonstration drive at the same time.
No sooner said than done. Before long, the wife was riding over in the car that her husband was already almost committed to buy. In the meantime, pending her arrival, the sales talk continued; but it had again shifted in emphasis. The deal was deep into closing, and the observer could recognize a technique that he himself had frequently used: "Not whether, but which."
In the moments of culminating a sale, when the last element of resistance appears to be disappearing, there should be a change in the emphasis of the interview. No longer is the customer to be presented with a "yes-or-no" choice. No longer is it a question of whether the customer wishes to buy. An assumption is made that the customer will buy, from you, now. The customer is therefore asked: "Which one do you prefer?" and is given a choice of colors, of price ranges, and of styles-- depending on the nature of the product or service being sold. The shift from whether to which takes place almost imperceptibly. The query is not which one will be bought, but which one is preferred. Even when a very large variety of choices is available, only a limited few are offered because too many choices will lead to confusion and may postpone, if not entirely kill, the budding sale.
As he eyed the attractive dashboard, the observer recognized the "Not whether, but which" technique that was so much a part of his own selling philosophy. "Which color do you like best?" he was being asked (not "Which color are you going to buy?"). The form of the question could not possibly repel customers, or even put them on guard. People have preferences, but as soon as they state their preference, they have moved much closer to committing themselves to the purchase. A preference for a black car was finally expressed; it was almost implied that a black car should be set aside. By the time the wife arrived, the husband was bubbling over with enthusiasm, and, given their similar tastes, they soon agreed to purchase the car. The sale was made and a binding check was signed and delivered. The man and his wife were pleased with their new car, and his friend was happy to have been an observer at such an excellent closing.
Another story centers on a sales executive in a wholesale firm that sells ladies' handbags. This woman is fortunate in having an excellent product: the handbags are among the best that are made. If you could eavesdrop at one of her presentations to an important out-of-town buyer, you would observe a master sales professional at work.
First, she resorts to logic. She exhibits the whole line and carefully points out the special features, advantages, superior craftsmanship, and style of each bag. Then, taking into consideration the buyer's market-- what size town he comes from, what clientele he has-- she selects the type of bag she thinks his customers would find most attractive.
She shows the buyer that the handbags are roomy without being bulky. Then she calls attention to the smooth, hardy, long-lasting leather on the outside, and the durable and fine materials that have been used within the bags. The safety feature that prevents accidental opening is demonstrated. Gradually, the conversation is shifted from the practical to the aesthetic aspects-- the equivalent of the change from logic to emotion. "This is a model for people to admire-- one that is useful both in business and when going out; one that will complement any color ensemble and will be appropriate with a suit as well as with a dress."
Finally, approaching a climax to the sale, she glides into the closing, smoothly working in her own version of "Not whether, but which." The exact nature of her closing is, of course, dependent on the course the sales interview has taken until that point. "Do you like the rectangular one or do you think the square bag is smarter?" she may ask the buyer, or she may give a choice between a smaller and a larger bag, suggesting that the smaller one may be better if only the most essential needs are to be carried.
As we leave this sales professional to close her sale, it's appropriate to state basic principles and definitions. A closing is the action individuals take to commit themselves-- almost beyond recall-- to the purchase of an article or service. In the insurance business, it is the process of signing an application and giving a binding check. In a department store, it may involve signing a sales slip and showing a store charge account number; or it may be effected merely by saying, "I'll take this one," and producing cash or a credit card.
Up to the point of closing, the seller and prospect have been talking about something that is needed. Now, action is taken. Once the sale is made, reversible action is not impossible, but relatively few sales are lost after a closing. If individuals change their minds, the goods and services not yet received can usually be canceled. Even those delivered can sometimes be returned, but such action is relatively rare. Stores that facilitate the return of merchandise actually receive back a very small percentage of all the goods shipped from any one department or in any one period of time.
The closing is the step taken by buyers to implement and legalize a sale. It is an affirmative and positive step. People who like to talk, or have a need to procrastinate, or thrive on discussions and investigations, find any closing distasteful. They do not like to take steps that commit them to anything, especially a binding contract or an expenditure of funds. They may like something, they may want it, and they may even be "sold on it," but their minds keep searching for new exits so that they will not be forced to embark on a program of action.
Such people raise objection after objection, but their objections are only camouflage. Without ever attempting to railroad anyone into a sale, and without giving an impression that the customer cannot retreat and reconsider, sales professionals must get a decision so that they can go on to their next opportunity.
"I can take no for an answer," such a customer must be told. Realizing that the sales professional is no longer willing to tolerate procrastination, the customer will either pick up a pen and sign the agreement or put an end to the interview.
If, by that time, the selling has been accomplished properly, the prospect will realize that a refusal will be a greater loss to self than to the sales professional, and the closing will be made. To back this point, let's review the story of a great sales professional who, many years ago, failed to close a sale-- after the customer had said "Yes." The sales professional was Jules Gleason, who at one time was a high-ranking executive of Cartier's, the celebrated store that handles millions of dollars' worth of jewelry each year. When he was a young man, selling in Cartier's Paris store, he was sent to meet an Indian maharajah who wanted a sapphire ring. Gleason had such a ring to sell: its oval 150-carat stone was worth $40,000, and the ring had once been among the crown jewels of France. He arrived at the hotel where the maharajah was awaiting him, displayed the stone to the Indian potentate and his companion (an appraiser), and awaited their decision while they spoke to each other in their own language. They then stated that His Royal Highness would purchase the ring. Gleason immediately started to quote the price, but he was summarily interrupted. The ruler would take the ring, he was told. Price was not to be mentioned.
At this point, Gleason volunteered a little extra information. He told the interpreter that the ruler might like to know that this ring had once been worn by Louis XIV of France. The information was given to the maharajah, who, after a moment's reflection, made a curt remark to his companion. The latter translated: "The order is canceled."
Jules Gleason looked up, dismayed, and asked why the maharajah had changed his mind. He was informed that His Highness did not want his head chopped off ! When he returned to the store to report his failure, Pierre Cartier told the young man that if he had remembered to point out that the ring had once belonged to "the great Louis XIV," he would doubtless have made the sale!
Close of the Sale: A Permanent Relationship
There are no secrets to effecting a close. Although much has been written about the existence of a mystique or a sequence of miraculous activities that sets the close apart from the rest of the sales process, this slant is patently untrue. Actually, the success of your efforts at the close will be directly proportional to the soundness with which you have built the foundation for a complete sale.
Your sales presentation must be made in terms of your prospects' interests. Their desire must be aroused and their conviction secured through proper handling of any objections. Closing techniques can be applied with assurance and effect only after these stages have been covered.
A sale cannot be closed if the other stages in the selling process have not been completed. A solid foundation, composed of an honest value story that satisfies customers' wants and needs, makes the close possible. The close does not evolve from the sales professional's manipulating strings so that the buyer does the sales professional's bidding; it is the logical culmination of all that has happened since the beginning of the sales encounter.
Sales professionals direct their efforts toward helping buyers resolve to make the purchase. They realize that any individual who must express a preference for one item over another is making a decision. Such a decision goes beyond just selecting one product over another from among a group of competitors. The product must compete with all others, in every industry, for the consumer's dollars. In accepting one product, consumers must forgo others. This is why buyers move reluctantly toward the close of the sale and the moment of decision.
The Many Psychological Moments
Experienced sales professionals put their stress on an adequate sales story before they use any of the closing techniques; they know that this is the only "secret" to successful closes. They also know that many "psychological moments"-- not just one-- are available to them for closing a sale. This is why they try to close from the moment that they believe the prospect has received an adequate sales story. Experience has taught them that prospects will usually provide certain indications that they are ready for the close, and these indications occasionally take the form of some physical action. Prospects who have been listening quietly to a presentation may nod their heads in agreement with some particular sales point, or they may reach again for a sample that they looked at earlier.
Sometimes, an emphasis on a genuine objection is the green signal that tells you the prospect is ready. There may be a serious question about a guarantee offered by your company, or about whether the product will do exactly what the manufacturer is claiming. A customer, in voicing an objection, is saying, "Answer this and I'm going to buy." A statement by a prospect--" I think this feature is best," or "This seems to be the best line of hardware on the market" --is his or her closing signal.
Naturally, sales professionals have a variety of trial closes. Remember, trial closes are designed to help you smoke out a prospect's mental reservations. These techniques will often point the way, but the green light that says, "Close now!" is something you must learn to see through experience. You will often find it flashing more than once-- with some "caution" signals in between.
Assurance and expectation should characterize your attitude toward the close. Your every word and action should convey the complete confidence you have in the outcome: a closed sale to another satisfied customer. When that attitude is conveyed to the prospects, it helps to dispel any doubt they may have harbored. Confidence, like enthusiasm, is contagious, so look, feel, and think like a sales professional, a person who makes sales.
Your attitude is also important because it determines the income you will receive and the profit your company will realize. Regardless of what you may have done to develop the prospect's interest, there is no commercial value unless the sale that is closed satisfies your customer's interest, the order is sent in and filled, and the payment is collected. By definition, a successful sales professional is a reliable closer.
Techniques for Closing Sales
The techniques you use in the close are your own choice. Creative selling does not permit a "prescription approach"-- an attempt to pigeonhole each prospect as a certain type for whom only one rigidly followed technique will work. Sales professionals should be conditioned to be flexible and adaptable. They might fruitfully combine two or more of these techniques. Their final choice of a single closing technique or a combination will be determined by the facts of the sale and the personality of the prospect with whom they are dealing.
Among the techniques used most often to close a sale are:
- Presumption technique.
- Choice technique.
- Inciter technique.
- Ask-for-the-Order technique.
- Report technique.
- Comparison and contrast technique.
With this technique, you imply that you absolutely believe that your prospect will buy the item being sold; there is not a shadow of a doubt in your own mind that a sale is pending. You are so certain the major buying question has been settled that you perform an act (such as writing up the invoice) that must be stopped by the prospect if the close is to be postponed. Success in the use of this technique is founded on your own positive feelings of confidence. Your presentation pictures your prospect already in possession of the product.
The following scenario depicts how this technique is illustrated. The office manager of a small manufacturing company has been looking at a floor model of a specific copy machine in a sales professional's showroom. During the discussion, the sales professional established the advantage of the low cost of making copies on any kind of paper, from ordinary bond to fine stationery. He had learned from their discussion that the prospect had an immediate need for a copier that would produce copies that would be impossible to distinguish from the originals. Here is their dialogue in addressing their respective concerns:
SALES PROFESSIONAL: ". . . and this copier will provide such rich detail that you will have to look several times to see if they are not really originals."
PROSPECT: "Well, I was kind of worrying about the...."
SALES PROFESSIONAL: "You mentioned earlier that you had some special copying jobs to get out. Let me see if I can arrange to get the machine here on Monday. I'll call my office now."
The sales professional moves toward the telephone and knows that the sale is closed because an action has been performed that the prospect did not interrupt. To halt the sale, the prospect would have had to stop the sales professional from making the call.
A variation of the presumption technique uses a series of affirmative decisions by the customer to secure the order. In the following exchange regarding a real estate transaction, these favorable decisions are made as the sale progresses.
SALES PROFESSIONAL: "With a growing family like yours, I'll bet these three bedrooms are appealing to you, aren't they?"
PROSPECT: "Yes, and we may be needing four not too long from now...."
SALES PROFESSIONAL: ". . . and did you ever see a better place to add a fourth than that northeast wall, adjoining the bathroom?"
PROSPECT'S SPOUSE: "Just think, this kitchen is bigger than the living room of our apartment!"
PROSPECT: "That may be so, but at least our landlord pays for the heat now. The furnace here is going to eat up oil!"
SALES PROFESSIONAL: "Well, of course, you're going to have to spend money to heat, but the small extra cost of heating will more than be justified by the increase in living space for your growing family."
PROSPECT'S SPOUSE: "What's that?"
SALES PROFESSIONAL: "The isolation of the sleeping area from the living room-- not so much chance to get on each other's nerves as there is in an apartment. And you haven't overlooked the fact that the house itself is separated from other houses and from the street. Your kids are at their most active now, aren't they?"
PROSPECT: "They sure are. They can use the space on this corner lot."
PROSPECT'S SPOUSE: "And ask their friends over without disturbing."
SALES PROFESSIONAL: "Well, tell me frankly, have we looked at anything else that's better-- for your family?"
PROSPECT: "This does look like the pick of the lot...."
SALES PROFESSIONAL: "It wouldn't surprise me if some others thought so too ... but I do know that you can hold it now with your deposit. Let's get back to the office now and make the arrangements."
These are excellent closing techniques to use if an honest and sincere presentation has been made. They make it difficult for the customers to refuse to buy. The prospects above have been placed in a position where to say no would contradict all of the features they have been looking for in a house.
One of the most widely used methods of closing is the choice technique, which closes the sale on a minor aspect of the product or service. Sales professionals avoid the major buying decision by having their customers make their selection on the basis of a minor or secondary point. The technique's effectiveness is acclaimed by most experienced and successful sales professionals. The prospects always make their choice from among the various products that have been presented-- their ultimate choice is never between buying or not buying the product. Whatever the decision of the customer, the result is always the same: a sale.
As simple as this technique is, skill is required for its successful use. Never try to rush a customer with it, and be certain that the choice you offer is the correct one. The technique can be effectively used to test your progress toward the close. Most importantly, it can leave you no worse off than if you had not tried to close. If the customer is not ready to buy, you can resume your sales presentation and, at another propitious moment, try again. If the customer is ready to accept your proposition, the answer to your question on choice will, in effect, give approval to your proposition.
The following questions illustrate various uses of this technique:
- "Do you prefer the two-door model in blue, or did you like the red one better?"
- "Would you like to use our deferred payment plan, or would you prefer to pay cash for your purchase?"
- "Is it convenient for you to take this with you, or shall we deliver it on Saturday?"
- "Which finish do you prefer, the rough or the smooth?"
- "Would you prefer an IBM computer or a Macintosh?"
- "Do you wish wall-to-wall carpeting, or the new area rug?"
- "Is it more convenient to schedule delivery in this month, or early next month?"
Used with tact, this method can only enhance your sales presentation. It can produce positive results if you are certain that your prospect is close to a favorable decision.
With a little practice, this relatively easy method will serve you exceptionally well. It should, however, be regarded as a last-resort tactic. The inciter or incentive urges and impels the prospect to act at once. It may be an offer of an easy payment plan, a worthwhile free gift to the prospect, prompt delivery, or some other feature that encourages the prospect to act immediately. The sales professional's efforts are directed at preventing the prospect from putting off until tomorrow, or any future date, a purchase that should be acted on now. Some sales professionals use this technique where a final, powerful extra reason is required to impel the buyer to act.
The technique has great effect, largely because of the entirely natural desire to get something extraordinary at no extra cost. In addition, the technique addresses itself to the drive, in almost all individuals, to protect what they already have and to avoid losing something of value that they possess. People will go to great lengths to hold on to what they have. Note carefully, in the following dialogue, how the inciter contributes to closing the sale because the sales professional keeps stressing a theme of "Protect what you have."
[The house that the paint salesperson is visiting needs decorating inside and a full exterior painting. The imminent result of further neglect will be rapid deterioration of the entire house. The prospect is trying to procrastinate.]
SALES PROFESSIONAL: "This house you own must represent a large investment."
PROSPECT: "It certainly does. But what with the taxes, interest, and insurance on it, I don't want to put any more money into it right now."
SALES PROFESSIONAL: "To delay painting now means that you will have to wait until next spring to...."
PROSPECT: "I'm still going to wait! I've got plenty of other things to do with my money."
SALES PROFESSIONAL: "Sure, but you know what the severe winters in this area can do to a frame house that isn't properly painted. Enough damage was done last year by the freezing rains and heavy snows."
PROSPECT: "Last winter was a severe one, but it didn't do any damage I can...."
SALES PROFESSIONAL: "Notice? That's just the point-- the elements do their damage underneath, where you can't see it."
PROSPECT: "It can't be that much, or it would have pushed through."
SALES PROFESSIONAL: "That's the trouble! It gives no warning-- just comes through completely and then the damage is really done."
PROSPECT: "Well, I still think I might wait another year."
SALES PROFESSIONAL: "That's up to you now. Just let me say this: You may suffer a double loss by waiting. First, you will probably have a major repair bill, far in excess of what it could cost to do the job now; second, you will have permitted your investment to depreciate."
PROSPECT: "Well... I sure wouldn't...."
SALES PROFESSIONAL: "You can prevent both losses. Let's see what we can do to keep your home in the condition you really want. We can give it the protection that will maintain its value for years to come, and, at the same time, save you a costly repair bill next year."
A word of warning: Use this sales tool only if it is forged in truth and based on genuine facts. Only an unscrupulous individual would apply such a device if the impending event or condition were not going to occur.
In a variation of this method, the sales professional might describe a situation in which certain consequences are highly probable-- for example, a change in prices-- based on past experience. The sales professional must be sincere in the prediction and would be well advised to state clearly that probabilities, not facts, are involved-- lest the future confidence of the prospect becomes forfeited. Any sales professional who wants to build a permanent career should not violate this trust.
This technique does not in any way humble or demean the sales professional who uses it. You need have no sense of inferiority when you make it work for you as a closing strategy. However, you still can't say to the prospect, "Please give me the order."
By using the approaches listed below, you ask prospective buyers to accept your proposition. You invite them to buy what you have for sale. When other methods have not succeeded, your best strategy, always, is to ask for the order. The customers will in no way feel that you are begging. They will be impressed with your sincere determination to serve them-- but only use this method for occasions that demand it.
- "Then I'll reserve 500 for you."
- "Will you take six this week?"
- "How about my sending a trial order?"
- "Why not give me your deposit now and be sure?"
- "May I have your initial payment now?"
- "Shall I write up your order now?"
Many prospects will not buy unless you do exactly what this technique suggests: Ask them for their order. You, as a sales professional, came to get an order; therefore, it is perfectly natural to ask for it.
To use this technique, you must relate an occurrence or story that in some way parallels your prospect's situation. Choose an anecdote or incident that permits you to draw an analogy to the circumstances of the customer you are trying to sell to; create a word picture of how another customer, in similar circumstances, benefited from your product or service. Then apply the lesson learned to the present prospect, and make an effort to close. Simply tell an old-fashioned success story that is intended to convince your customers of the merits of your proposal.
PROSPECT: "What you say sounds very good, but...."
SALES PROFESSIONAL: "[ Prospect's Name], you're acquainted with the Andrew Company, aren't you?"
PROSPECT: "Yes, I am. Usually run into some of their people at the convention."
SALES PROFESSIONAL: "It's a pretty good outfit, isn't it?"
PROSPECT: "Well, it's pretty common knowledge they have one of the shrewdest management organizations in the business."
SALES PROFESSIONAL: "They had an inspection problem, too, of a type very similar to yours. Well, they've licked it, and without hiring any additional help. Fact of the matter is, they are using fewer personnel for the inspection task than ever before."
PROSPECT: "How did they do that?"
SALES PROFESSIONAL: "With the same method I've outlined to you. Here's the story. Incidentally, they gave me permission to tell it. The same test I described to you earlier in our discussion conclusively proved to them that the solution to the inspection problem, where close tolerances must be maintained in a production operation-- the same problem you are facing with a different product-- was the application of quality control standards. The results were so outstanding they are going to install these methods in three of their other operations...."
PROSPECT: "The results were that good?"
SALES PROFESSIONAL: "They certainly were; their rejections were reduced to the absolute minimum; customer complaints due to delays and bad production runs were eliminated. Naturally, their profit position has been substantially improved."
PROSPECT: "It sounds like it could be the answer."
SALES PROFESSIONAL: "Based on all our experience, I know that once the installation is made in your operation, your principal regret will be that you didn't do it years ago."
If you have documentary evidence for your statements, so much the better. The technique is especially effective if you can put the individuals concerned into direct contact with each other. But be careful: Customers often do not wish to have their names, or any information about their activities, used for private reasons. Be certain to maintain any trust given to you, and never accidentally disclose confidential information. To do so violates the ethics of professional selling.
Comparison and Contrast Technique
This is one of the finest methods of clarifying and emphasizing what you have been trying to demonstrate. It is effective because prospects understand new facts much more readily when they can be compared with or contrasted to familiar ones. Remember that a good comparison requires exactness and vividness. The strength of this technique rests on your carefully pointing out to your prospects how the product or service that you represent is the best one for them.
This is no time to knock your competition. Customers do not buy because somebody else has an inferior product; they buy because they have been shown that one product-- your product-- is better than any others. It will never hurt to admit that your competitor has a good product, but always show that your product or service is superior for the customer's purposes. Summarize your product's features, and emphasize the benefits to the customer. This summary method can be used to advantage at any time.
Find out what the sales professionals who represent your competition are saying about their products, and what features they are stressing. This may require real initiative and serious study, but your efforts will be rewarded many times over. Armed with this knowledge, you will have absolute confidence in your ability to make comparisons with your competitors and to emphasize the contrast between your product and theirs.
This technique is carried to its ultimate conclusion by a summarization of the features of your product as you approach the close of the sale. You know that when your prospects make their decisions, they are going to engage in a mental weighing of the pros and cons of a proposition, so why not help them as they do this?
Top Sales Professionals Are Closers
These various techniques have been tested and used by successful sales professionals. Your success with them will depend on your belief that you can attempt to close every prospect upon whom you call. No one with practical experience in selling will expect every call to result in a sale. The important thing is: Keep your attitude positive. Combine it with customer and product knowledge. Provide a value-packed presentation keyed to your customer's basic motivations and objectives, and you will succeed in selling.
Study and practice these techniques carefully; they will serve you well. It is mandatory that each one be mastered through practice and then proven through experience. This is the road to becoming a good closer.
After you close a sale, use the few remaining minutes of your interview to ensure your sale remains closed. Express your appreciation for the order and compliment the customers on the wisdom of their decision. Assure them of your continuing interest and your willingness to serve them regularly. While you are packing your samples or rearranging your portfolio, strengthen the sales professional customer relationship by pointing out the personal wisdom they have just exhibited.
When You Fail to Close the Sale
Every interview will not result in a sale. But even a sale that is not closed can be made to work for you. You can accomplish this by sound merchandising. Indicate to prospects that you are always ready to serve them whether they buy from you or not. Make every effort to set the stage effectively for you to call on them in the future. Always " keep the door open" for a future visit. Every prospect respects an individual who can merchandise a disappointment. Goodwill-- the most precious commodity that sales professionals and their companies can possess-- is built on a constructive and positive attitude.
Good selling is based on the concept of helping every prospect and customer to buy wisely. This type of selling also guarantees a future for you. As a creative sales professional, your objective is always to provide your customers with satisfaction in your products and service.
Table of Contents
What Is Closing?
Prepare to Close.
Anticipating and Handling Objections.
Phrases That Will Help You Close.
A Final Note.