Popping the Question – Ensuring a Good Close Ratio

proposalAre you married? How did it go when you proposed? Usually, it goes pretty well. How often do you hear of a marriage proposal that is turned down? It doesn’t seem to happen. Why not? Because you don’t propose until you are pretty sure you are going to get a yes.

There are many steps to take between initially meeting someone until that proposal. A first date? Pizza and a movie – double date. That’s always a safe start. Later, a more romantic, slightly more expensive dinner. At some point, a day road trip, then a weekend getaway.

Dating is about spending time together and doing things that represent a higher level of commitment from each person. Eventually, your commitment to each other is strong, and getting married is the next step. In sales, you don’t have to marry or even date your prospects, but you can still take the same approach.

We are all told to ask for the sale. Good advice. But the important part is timing. You need to ask for the sale, but only when that decision matches the prospect’s commitment level.

If you ask too soon, it erodes trust, hurts your relationship and ultimately, your influence with the prospect. It’s the same reason you start with “Can I buy you a drink?” instead of “Will you marry me?”

Selling anything that takes more than a one-call close, like dating, is a series of steps that advances the sale and your relationship with the prospect.

When you are trying to close a sale that is not transactional in nature, it’s important to sell your process, not your product or service.

Check Your Six

Pilots use the imaginary face of a clock as a guide and know that “check your six” means “look behind you.” When you are selling, you should be leading – or acting as a pilot. The customer should be following. “Check your six” means to make sure the customer is on board and following you.

You want to make it easy for the customer to share any hesitation before you get too far into the process. “How does that sound?” “Would this potentially be beneficial to you?” “What do you think so far?” A negative response is something you need to address. (That’s for another blog.) Once you get a positive response, you have a buying signal. You’ve sold them on what you presented. Now it’s time to advance with a next step.

Match the Commitment Level

Before you start a call or meeting with a customer, you must have an objective. What will happen at the end? What commitment will you get? You should have a few options that involve customer action.

They have to do something to be considered advancing: attend a conference call or a screen-sharing session, participate in a product demonstration or a meeting with another customer, review a proposal with you, or sign the PO. Your job is to match the next step to their commitment level.

If your customer says, “I’m interested, but we have some other priorities right now,” asking them to buy, or anything else that requires a higher level of commitment, is too much too fast, and like dating, it will probably be a turn-off and make you look pushy or desperate.

But closing with “Would it be OK to check back in a few weeks?” doesn’t help the customer determine if and where they should prioritize your solution, and it sure isn’t a commitment. You can follow up anytime, but chances are, it will be hard to get them – just like it always is.

Instead, think of something that helps them take a small step: an upcoming webinar, send some appropriate support literature, or an event. Recommend a specific action on their part that’s in their best interest to help them with their decision process.

Make an Other-Centered Offer

Telling the customer why the next step is in their best interest, not yours is the key to advancing the sale.

I see a lot of reps use a favor-close technique without even knowing it. “Could I get some time on your calendar to come meet in person next week to show you our solution?” or, “I’d like you to come to our office so I can give you a hands-on demo.” Re-read those questions as a customer. What is the benefit to the customer of either of these options? There isn’t one.

If customers don’t understand why it’s in their best interest, they are less likely to say yes. In fact, not only is there not a customer benefit, these options clearly communicate you are going to make a sales pitch. What customer is excited about that?

Instead, give the customer the specific benefit of the next step that involves action – make an Other-Centered offer. At this stage of your sales call, the customer has communicated some interest in your solution – because you “checked your six.” Now, sell your process, not your product. Don’t mention any more product/service benefits, but focus on what the value of the event or webinar, etc. and how it could help them with their decision process.

Customer Hesitation Other-Centered Response
“We are trying to determine our direction right now.” It might make sense for my sales engineer and I to visit your environment. Then we could give you a few ideas to think about as you determine your future direction, regardless of whether you are ready to buy.”
“We do a lot of that in-house.” Understood. Instead of a meeting, I could give you and others a quick look at the details of our program as an example of what an outside partner might be able to do. Then, you can best decide if your in-house process is good, or if outside help might be valuable in the future.”

The Other-Centered offer shows the customer the specific benefit to them from the time you are asking for – regardless if they buy from you or not. It’s about helping them in their decision process, not making a sales pitch.

The Other-Centered offer when making a second date: “We can go to that fancy restaurant you’ve always wanted to try. My treat. You’ll enjoy the food even if you never see me again …” Or something like that.

Good luck.

Marc Lamson


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