My first sales job was selling Apple Computers to business customers who visited the Pittsburgh Computer Store.
Our top rep was Joe. He arrived to work earlier than everyone, focused his entire day on selling, and always asked for the sale. He sold at least 2x what the rest of us did.
One day, when a bunch of us were complaining about people coming to the store who wouldn’t buy, Joe told us a story about a rep used to work there.
That rep said, “I wish that whenever a person entered the store, a light over the door would come on telling us if that customer was going to buy.”
Joe’s response was, “That light does come on. You just don’t see it.”
As an inexperienced sales rep who had talked my way into this job, I was in over-my-head when it came to closing a sale.
I was nervous. I had no sales training nor sales aptitude. And to make matters worse, I lacked self-confidence and had a difficult time asking someone for the sale.
Fortunately, my customers had no problem helping me out by saying things like:
“I am ready to buy this now.”
“Can you deliver this to my office?”
“Can I take it with me today?”
I was a pretty weak sales rep, but even I was able to manage to close those deals.
I was in awe of reps like Joe, who were adept at closing deals. I couldn’t imagine ever being that good.
But with experience, my confidence and skills grew. I tried to analyze every opportunity I worked. Over time, I began to recognize things customers said that would signal a sale would happen.
Working with reps like Joe, who coached me, bailed me out, and taught me the ropes, was invaluable. Within a few years, I developed an effective sales method that enabled me to move from the Computer Store into progressively better sales and management roles.
Today, I don’t suffer from a lack of confidence. But I’m still not as smooth as Joe. Nor have I ever been comfortable using scripted “closing tactics” that are taught in sales books. I just don’t operate that way.
If your reps are struggling to close, here are a few things I learned that might help.
#1 Look for the Light Over the Door
Without a doubt, the easiest way to close a sale is to listen intently to what the customer is saying.
90% of the sales I have made were to customers who told me they were ready to buy. Sometimes, they explicitly told me like in the earlier examples. Other times they said things that opened the door for a sale like:
- How would I get this to work in my environment?
- How long does it realistically take to setup?
- What are your payment terms?
I;ve found that if I engage my prospect in a meaningful conversation, am attentive, and am curious about what he is saying, he will tell me everything I need to know to close the sale.
I just need to be paying attention.
#2 Go for the “No”
I’ll admit it. I don’t like to lose a deal and I don’t like getting shut down.
When I worked in consultative sales I had a Closing Problem.
These sales were complex. I’d meet with a prospect, investigate his needs, develop a solution and draft a solution. Then I’d present it. We’d discuss it. I’d make revisions and deliver a final proposal.
It often took another 30 days or more before a decision was made. During that time my prospect would review competitive bids, do evals, present internally, negotiate prices, etc.
I found that many deals went from the presentation stage to —– silence. The prospect wouldn’t tell me “No”. He wouldn’t tell me “Yes”. He would simply would go dark.
I believed that if I invested all this time, I at least deserved a response. It became my mission to receive a response for every prospect I pitched.
I decided that success was getting a prospect to tell me “No” as quickly as possible.
I figured if I did this,
a) I would never be disappointed because I had such low expectations
b) At least I know where I stood. I could focus on deals I had a shot of winning.
I would deliberately and methodically contact every single prospect I had pitched until they gave me an answer. Some I reached out every month for a year or more. Others responded within 2-3 attempts.
This follow up didn’t require much time on my part. I would keep a stack of “open” proposals on my desk. Every Friday, I’d go through the stack and make a note on the cover page of the date and message I left when following up. (Today, I do this in a CRM).
Sometimes, I’d tell the customer how much we wanted to win his business. Other times, I’d mention a new technology or something that might help him with his business. In a few instances, I’ven said, “I’m going to keep calling until I hear from you because I know this is the right solution”.
Something unexpected happened. Many of these turned into “Yes”.
#3 Would You Buy If It Was Free?
Some prospects seem to be a perfect fit for my solution. They have a problem that we can solve. They have a need to solve the problem. Price isn’t a concern.
And yet, they still don’t buy.
They’ll postpone meetings. They’ll push the timeline out. They’ll throw up objection after objection until I feel like we’re playing a game of “stump the chump” (with me being the chump).
When this happens, I’ll ask this question:
“Would you take it if I gave it to you for free?”
That usually gets a laugh. But then I say,
“Seriously, would you take it if I can pull some strings and just give it to you at no cost?”
If I’ve established any rapport and credibility with my prospect, this will help ferret out the truth. I’ve been told:
“I cannot get any new vendor approved in less than 6 months. It’s not worth the effort.”
“I never purchase version 1.0. Come see when you release the next version.”
“There are layoff/merger/acquisition rumors. Budgets are frozen indefinitely”.
The truth is sometimes painful, but it gets me to “No” faster so I can move on.
#4 What do you think? What would like to happen now?
When I am selling, I am trying to have an authentic, honest conversation about how I can help my prospect.
What better way to close a sale than to ask him what he wants to have happen next?
It’s also perfectly acceptable for me to respond with, “That’s not going to happen – but here’s what we can do.”
What Happens After the No
I’ve lost far more sales than I have won.
I encourage every rep to “Go for the No”. If you can get to “No”, then follow up by asking,
“Would you tell me why so I can try to improve this when I’m working with others?”
When I did this and listened to the feedback, I learned some valuable lessons.
More than a few prospects who told me “No” who later returned to buy from me. Others never bought but referred business my way.
If you want some help building your sales team or improving sales, contact me here. I’d love to hear from you.
If your reps cannot see the light over the door, send them this article or better yet, pair them up with an experienced rep who can teach them what to look for.
And as always, if you liked this article, please forward it to a friend, send me a note, comment, or like it on LinkedIn.
Want more like this? Subscribe to receive new articles each week via email