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The Psychology of the Sales Cycle – Closing

I remember when I was young and single I would go out with friends and see pretty girls, but rarely had the gumption to go up and talk to them. The reason was fear of rejection. Nobody likes that feeling so we do what we can to avoid that possible self-inflicted wound.

In the same way I was afraid to talk to a pretty girl, salespeople are reluctant to ask for the sale for fear of rejection. It’s safer for the ego to let the prospect “think it over and get back to you.” In their uncertainty, prospects do one of two things: 1) take the safe route and don’t change anything, or 2) go with the salesperson who fearlessly asked them if they could start on the paperwork.

The number one question salespeople ask during The Principles of Persuasion Workshop® is, “What’s the best way to close?” My standard response is, “The best way to close starts the moment you meet prospects for the first time, look them in the eye and shake their hand.” From that point forward how easy or difficult closing is depends on what you do. I believe closing the sale should just be a natural part of the ongoing conversation with a prospect. The best compliment a salesperson can hear from a client is, “I never felt like I was being sold.”

Early on in this series I quoted Jeffrey Gitomer, “All things being equal, people want to do business with their friends. All things being not so equal, people still want to do business with their friends.” Tapping into liking early and often will make a big difference by the time you ask for the business. Always start your contact with a prospect on a social level bonding over things you have in common and looking for opportunities to offer genuine compliments.

The more you’ve done for the prospect and the more you’ve gone out of your way on their behalf, the more likely they are to look for some way to give back to you. If you’re unable to close the deal for some reason you might still leverage all you’ve done as a way to get some referrals because of reciprocity.

People want to know they’re doing business with an expert because it gives them more confidence in their decision. As you make your way through the sales process, show yourself to be professional and someone your prospects can rely on for answers when they need them. In short, tap into authority.

I believe consistency is the most important principle to tap into during the closing. Reminding people of what they said is a powerful motivator of behavior! This is where the upfront close comes in handy early in the sales cycle. At some point during the initial meeting or qualification stage you need to find out exactly what it will take for you to earn the right to do business with the prospect. If you know you can’t meet their requirements, cut your losses and move on. But, if you believe you can meet the requirements you might want to say something like this: “Shirley, from what you’ve shared it sounds like if we can meet your specifications at the agreed upon price by the delivery date you mentioned, we’ll be doing business, correct?”

You want the prospect to come back with: “Correct. Meet those specs at that price by the delivery date we discussed and you have a deal.”

This is also the time to confirm there are no other hidden reasons that might crop up to kill the deal: “Just to be very clear Shirley, are there any other reasons I’m unaware of that could get in the way of us doing business?”

Again, you want her to confirm what you’re asking. When it comes time to close you only need to refer back to what you’ve already agreed on: “Shirley, great news. We can meet the specs at the price we discussed and can even deliver a little earlier than you requested. Can we go ahead and start the paperwork so we can get everything in motion?”

It would be very hard for Shirley to come back and say no at this point after you’ve done everything she asked for. Will there be times when someone backs out? Sure. But, using consistency in an approach like this will have more people saying yes and will make it much easier and natural for you to seal the deal.

Last, but not least, is scarcity. Pointing out what someone might save or gain by going with your proposal will not be as persuasive as honestly sharing what they stand to lose by not taking the step you recommend. For example, if you are in financial services, talking about how much more someone might be able to save for retirement by setting aside an extra percent of their income will not be as motivating as sharing what they will lose if they don’t save a little extra.

Ineffective – “Ed, if we can find a way to set aside just 1% more you’re going to have more than $100,000 extra in the bank by the time you retire.”

Effective – “Ed, if we can’t find a way to set aside just 1% more you’re going to lose out on more than $100,000 by the time you retire.”

Hopefully these examples of weaving the principles of influence into the sales process will take some of the fear out of closing. There’s one more post in this series – asking for referrals. Next week we’ll look at ways to make that happen as naturally as the close, by effectively working the principles of influence into your sales cycle.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Sell

One of the biggest reasons salespeople fail to make the sale is simply because they don’t ask for it. It’s easy to tell someone all about your company, product or service. After all, a good salesperson will know about these things backwards and forwards. However, asking for the sale (a.k.a. “closing the sale”) can be scary because of the fear of rejection.

Some of the biggest regrets people have are not when they stepped out and failed but when they failed to step out. When we don’t take a chance we’re often haunted by what might have been and ask ourselves, “What if…?”

Studies show people who ask for favors often underestimate the number of people who would be willing to help. In fact, they underestimate it by a lot! In one study, when asked how may strangers they’d have to ask to walk them a few blocks to a location they’ve been unable to find on a college campus, most people assumed they’d have to ask seven or more strangers before one person would take the time necessary to help. However, when they actually asked for help, the number of people they had to approach was only two or three before they got the help they needed. If you knew people would most likely respond positively to you twice as often as you thought they would, you’d probably have a lot more confidence to ask.

Having been a consumer all my life and teaching sales for the past 20 years, I can tell you most salespeople fail to ask for the sale. They might fear being seen as too pushy or believe the prospective customer can sort out all the product features, weigh the benefits against the cost, and make a decision that’s in their best interest.

But here’s the problem – as consumers, when we’re making purchases sometimes we’re overwhelmed by all the choices and price points. And the more money we’re about to spend the scarier it can be because we want to make sure we make the best choice. We want to avoid “buyer’s remorse.” A salesperson can alleviate much of that anxiety throughout the sales process but in the end the salesperson still needs to ask for the sale.

One way to lessen the fear and increase the odds of hearing “Yes” is to learn up front exactly what the customer is looking for. If the salesperson can meet the customer’s requirements, then simply asking the following should work: “If we can get you A, B and C at a fair price, would you seriously consider buying from us?” Most people will agree to that; then it’s up to the salesperson to show their product or service has all the required features. This is known as “the up-front close” in sales circles.

The reason this approach can be so effective is because the principle of consistency comes into play. This principle of influence tells us people generally live up to their word because they feel a little bad about themselves when they don’t. If someone says they’ll strongly consider you, your company or your product/service, then odds are they will if you can deliver what you said you would.

Once the salesperson has asked the right questions up front and then clearly shows how their offering meets the requirements it becomes much easier and more comfortable to take the next step and ask for the sale. It’s like dating. Wasn’t it easier to ask for a date when you knew beforehand the other person was interested in you?

Here’s my persuasion advice. You don’t have to live with the regret of what might have been. Remember, people are more likely to say “Yes” than you probably think. If you use the up-front close the odds that a customer will say “Yes” are significantly better. So remember – Don’t ask, don’t sell.