Contrary to popular belief, the secret to successful sales isn't necessarily the "close." While asking for the business is an important and crucial step, sales is a process that requires careful strategic planning. The "close" should be a natural next step in the sales process, not just a question you ask your prospect out of the blue such as "Are you ready to place your order?" Here are a couple of ideas to consider when walking your customers through the sales process so that closing the business is seamless, and the natural next step.
A philosophy I live by in my business is "the purpose of a meeting is to get another meeting." In other words, the purpose of a meeting is not necessarily to close the business, unless you're in a business where "one-call closes" are common. If your business is like most, it will require more than one meeting, as well as other forms of communication such as phone conversations, e-mail exchanges, and other written correspondence before you actually close the sale. By ending the first meeting with agreeing to the next step with your prospect, you're ensuring that the prospect is willing to move through the sales process with you.
Another key factor at the end of the first meeting is to ask your prospects for a commitment that they will, in fact, respond to you when you follow up. How many times have prospects asked you to follow up, and when you do, they don't respond to you? Maddening, isn't it? I don't know about you, but if the answer to doing business together is "no," I'd rather know that sooner than later so I don't waste my time following up with someone who isn't really a prospect anyway.
One way to insure that your prospects will respond to you when you follow up is to give them an "out" if they decide not to do business with you. To do this, after you've agreed to the next follow-up step, say something like, "Can I ask you a favor? When I follow up with you in two weeks, if for some reason you've decided not to proceed, will you please let me know? There's a saying in sales that 'a fast no is better than a slow no' and if you've decided to go another way, that's okay, just let me know so I won't waste your time or mine."
Sounds a little bold, I know, but most prospects will respond positively to this because one, it gives them the out they need if they decide to go with another solution, and two, it shows your prospect that you are a busy professional and you don't want to waste anyone's time. This technique also works well because suddenly you're not a desperate salesperson, but rather a confident consultant who has something of value to offer.
I've found it necessary to practice this technique over the years when coming across prospects who are just too nice to say "no." As much as we hate to hear "no," I know you'll agree that you'd rather hear it early on in the process so you don't waste time working with someone that's never going to become a customer anyway. The funny thing is, more often than not when using this technique, based on my personal experience, you will not hear "no" and will actually end up closing the sale.
Next, you'll need to prove your solution doesn't just show a return-on-investment, but actually creates a profit center for your prospect. For example, if by implementing the solution you provide your customer will invest $10,000 but actually save $15,000 in other operating costs within six months, you can show not just an ROI of six months, but an actual profit (or savings) of $5,000. (Savings can also be viewed as profit since it ultimately affects the bottom line, which is probably the thing your prospect cares about most.)
Finally, creating a sense of urgency will help move the sale along through the sales process. Creating a sense of urgency requires your solution to be so compelling that it doesn't make sense for your prospect to go another day without it. A sense of urgency is created by emphasizing the pain your prospects are experiencing by not having your solution and showing that by comparison, your solution will help. Now all you have to do is show that the sooner your solution is implemented, the sooner their pain will go away, and the next logical step in the sales process will be the sale, but don't forget to ask for it.
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