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When and How to Close
I spend a lot of time teaching people that modern selling is mostly about their prospect, not their service or product. I recommend inquiring about prospects in detail before any discussion of what you have to sell – unless you are asked about what you have to sell, and then I recommend you answer the question and return to asking about your prospect’s situation.
When asking about a prospect, a seller should be focused on listening for current PAIN (things that are going wrong for your prospect right now, things that have gone wrong in the past, things your prospect is afraid will go wrong in the future, or things your prospect has heard have gone wrong for other people in circumstances like his). Discussions of pain can be quite lengthy, and, if your prospect’s pain is bad enough, are quite productive in moving people to act – and perhaps to buy – to lessen or remove their pain!
People who are working hard to become better at selling often ask me, "When in a sales conversation should I transition from talking about the prospect to talking about what I want to sell?" Here are some thoughts on when and how to move the sales conversation to a successful close.
Understand that the big issue here is that, once you've started to talk about your company or about your services or product, your prospect may go silent. Many people expect a person who is selling to just lay out what he or she has to offer, with no input from them.
And most people would much rather have YOU talk than reveal their biggest challenges - admitting problems and failures to a stranger is a painful experience! Often, the more trouble someone is having, the less likely they are to want to talk about it - doing so is damaging to the ego!
Yet in order for the prospect to take on the pain of paying you, he has to have so much pain in the front of his mind that he believes you can relieve, that the pain of spending the money is much less than the pain of continuing to suffer with the problem!
If you start talking about your services or product too early, prospects are likely to sit back and "listen" - and when they do, they're likely to hear at least one thing in what you say that they don't feel they need. And that will become the reason NOT to work with you – their “Reason to Reject”!
The best time to close is when you've amassed enough pain that the prospect admits having, to justify his or her taking action on it now. That's always a guess - and I usually choose to let the prospect talk as long as he's willing to, if I'm sure he has the time to spend with me.
Always confirm the time allocated for your conversation near the beginning of it; if she's willing to say that, yes, she has set aside an hour to be with you, it's likely that she will. If she hesitates, saying "Well, I don't want to spend any more time than is necessary," agree with her, and say something like, "Of course, we'll keep this as short as possible. And do you have another commitment within the hour, Ms. Smith?"
If I know the prospect's time with me is limited, say, to an hour, I'd probably spend 40 minutes minimum collecting pain, not talking about my company's services, unless the prospect asks me direct questions about them. If he asks, I'll answer the question, be sure the prospect is satisfied with my answer, and then pose a question that gets us back focusing on his pain.
The way to transition to a discussion of "How we might work together" is to repeat the biggest pieces of pain - unless the prospect has just mentioned MAJOR pain and turned to you and asked, in effect, "Is that what you can fix?" If that happens, answer, "Yes" (if that is true). Then shut up!
If he doesn't speak again immediately, say, "Would you like to talk about how I can be helpful with that?" Wait for him to ask you to talk - thus pursuing The 90-10-90 Rule that underlies contemporary selling: ideally, when you are selling, your prospect is speaking 90% of the time. Of the 10% of the time that you, the seller, are speaking, you spend 90% of your 10% asking questions!
If your prospect has admitted to having significant pain, and you're confident that you can be helpful with this type of pain, say, "Mr. Smith, I'm hearing that you are having a tough time with (say the pain), that you're facing a challenge with (say another pain), and that you're feeling some pressure about (say another pain)." Look at him as you say these things, and be sure he's nodding in agreement at each mention of a pain!
If he says he's NOT that concerned about some pain you're mentioning, say, "OK, let's focus on the (say another pain) then." Get his agreement. When he's agreed to having some major pain say, "Would you like to talk about how my colleagues and I can be of help there?" Wait for him to ask you to talk - or at least for him to nod.
If he doesn't, and just goes on talking about himself, that's fine. Write down the pain you hear, and, at the next logical place in the conversation, say something like, "Oh no! That's on your priority list too? Mr. Smith, do we want to talk about dealing with some of this?" Ultimately, closing comes down to a question, “Ms. Smith, may I go ahead and get started on this?”
Finally, remember: if a contact does not admit to having any pain, he is NOT a prospect, even if he's willing to meet with you! You might consider saying something like, "Mr. Smith, this really seems to be a great situation you're in! I don't see many people who feel so on top of this. May I ask, what's the secret of your success?"
Keep a Clean Heart Position -- your goal is to see the prospect get where he or she wants to go, whether or not you or your company are involved. I'm always surprised at how many people wait until very late to admit that, well, yes, they really do have problems!
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Lenann McGookey Gardner has worked with professionals from over 45 countries around the world and in 32 U.S. states, to help them massively improve sales results. She is an award-winning salesperson and marketing executive, a winner of the New Mexico Business Weekly’s 2010 Top Performing CEOs Award, and winner of the American Marketing Association’s state Professional Services “Marketer of the Year” award. Her book Got Sales? The Complete Guide to Today’s Proven Methods for Selling Services was nominated for the Axiom Business Book Award as the best sales book of the year. Her website is http://www.YouCanSell.com. She also offers executive coaching through http://www.YouCanLeadCoaching.com.
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