The Art of Convincing Customers to Buy

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Every salesperson has been told multiple times that they must “close the sale.” Every new sales manager needs to treat the process of motivating their team to “close the sale” as a rite of passage. Therefore, to be a sales manager, you must train your team to be more effective at the “close.” Isn’t that just expected of you?

There is no shortage of suggestions in sales training books. It’s primarily repetitive and meaningless, like “If he says this, you say that.” Extravagant tips abound, such as “35 new sure-fire closing techniques.” The other is also hazardous. “Overcome that objection,” as if B2B sales were a competition between you and the customer, with one of you coming out on top (victorious) and the other (loser). That’s not a productive mindset to have.

There is a unifying theme to all of this guidance. It’s been overused to excess. No component of sales (at least in the B2B market) attracts more unwarranted attention and conversation than the topic of “closing the sale.”

To be clear, there is a definite need to “close.” Each endeavor has a finish, and each deal needs to be settled. It’s just that I’ve never had any success closing an agreement, thanks to fancy wordplay. Neither my smooth talking nor my memorized “objection over-comers” nor my manipulative persistence has been the source of my business success. Instead, it was the fact that my solution was a good fit for what the client wanted and valued.

When my product or service satisfied all the customer’s wants, needs, and preferences, I made a sale. In cases when a competitor’s offer was more competitive with mine, I lost the contract.

I don’t want to give the impression that all potential business deals are so cut and dry. There is a lot of ambiguity involved. However, in my experience, the personal qualities of rapport, relationship, and trust, rather than the tactical manipulations of the salespeople, were the deciding variables in cases of ambiguity.

Early in my sales career, I realized that a solid “open” was significantly more crucial to making a deal than a mighty close. There was minimal reason to worry about closing if I invested significant time, effort, and mental acuity into learning the particular dimensions of the customer’s wants and produced an offer that fit those properly.

Countless sales managers, trainers, and consultants have gone before me, and I recognize I am treading on their sacred land. However, I am giving serious attention to the thirty years and counting that I have spent selling various items and the eighteen years and trusting that I have spent training and developing salespeople. I’m confident the most reasonable salespeople will take my side in this debate.

We can find guidance by adhering to a few fundamental laws and concepts. Let’s get our language straight first. The term “closing the sale” can be misleading, so let’s start with “resolving the next step.” Every sales encounter (a chat with a prospect or client) should have as its purpose the identification of a next step in the sales process and the natural and logical commitment to that step, just as the project as a whole should have a conclusion.

When meeting with a potential client for the first time, securing their commitment for a second session is a significant next step. You may forget about getting the final purchase order without that. Leaving a sales call unfinished and useless because the question of “what happens next” is common.

Meetings, where you gather information about the customer’s demands, should culminate with the consumer agreeing to see your presentation of your solution.

In a perfect world, the buyer would commit to the next logical step in the purchase process after a sales call in which you present your solution.
We keep on going. Every sales conversation should conclude with an agreed-upon next step, even if that step is “no next step with you.”

In each of these examples, the “next step” is a promise from the prospect or customer to take action that advances the project. Successful salespeople often try to gain that commitment during every transaction. What we are doing is “resolving the next step.”

The astute salesperson knows that there is a process that must be followed if they are to get the desired outcome. The consumer has to put in effort and time for every sales call. In addition, every effort should lead to a tangible next step. Unless you’re so engaging that the consumer sees spending time with you as a viable alternative to going to the movies this weekend, he or she doesn’t want to waste his time with you. He has spent time with you and wants to get something out of it. That something will be the “next step” in his method.

A good salesperson will be aware of this and ask the client what they think the next step should be. There will be a firm deadline attached when he does. The work progresses, the sales process continues, and everyone involved in the project and with the client is on the same page.

One of the most effective “resolution” tactics emerges from all this. Another set of possible actions is what I’m calling “Alternate next steps.” An alternative next step is an offer provided to the customer after they reject a prior request, either explicitly or implicitly. As with any plan B, the customer’s risk is permanently reduced. If the client accepts the alternative proposal, you can continue participating in the project and ensure its success.

Here’s a case in point. You’re presenting a 12-month commitment to a product the consumer consumes monthly. The buyer makes clear he is not prepared to sign that. You decide to fix the problem rather than face it head-on. You propose a backup plan, another way to proceed.

Instead, you recommend that the client commits to a two-month supply of the product to evaluate its efficacy before deciding whether or not to continue using it. Your two-month trial period sounds better than a one-year commitment.

Is there less of a chance of something terrible happening with that deal? And, of course. Are you still in the running if the consumer agrees to that? Is progress being made on the project? The answers are yes and yes.

The customer probably has concerns that have nothing to do with you or your goods that prevented him from accepting your initial offer. You can lessen his anxiety and give you both a win by suggesting a different path forward. He didn’t respond positively to your initial request because you lacked verbal fluency but were missing something crucial in the customer.

In a nutshell, then:
First, throw out the phrase “closing the sale.” Instead, try to focus on “resolving the next step.”
Second, remember there is no silver bullet for closing and that a strong “opening” is the best single strategy.
Third, train yourself to request a next step to close every sales conversation routinely.
4. Make it a habit to provide “optional subsequent actions.”

You’ll be able to outsell the manipulative “closers” around you if you can consistently do the following four things better and better, and your clients will appreciate you for it.

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