The Difficult Close

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Most closing strategies assume that you developed the correct selling strategy for the opportunity and properly executed effective tactics. Closing then becomes the natural result of the strategy and tactics, and done right, it is seamless and predictable. Of course, it usually doesn’t work that way

Take a look at your won/lost ratio. It’s your professional batting average and what it tells you is the probably 75% of the time, give or take, you lose. So three times out of four when you arrive at the closing phase of the sales cycle, it’s, if not clear, then at least likely that you’re not going to win this one. So what do you do at that point?

There are two choices: forget it and move on or get creatively aggressive.

Walk away. This is a valid strategy, and one used very rarely. Usually salespeople just ignore the opportunity and it continues to clog their pipeline, mislead their sales analytics, and possibly annoy the customer. You walk away when two criteria are met: the customer is unlikely to complete the sales cycle and buy anything, and even if they do, they are not buying from you. This opportunity is a waste of your time, and evidence of a poorly managed pipeline. Close it.

But close it with an eye on future sales. Certainly you don’t burn bridges with someone who might buy from you in the future. But walking away can be an opportunity to build bridges so that next time around you’ve improved your chances of a win. Exit gracefully, leave behind the perception that you are someone they can work with in the future, and make sure the customer has a good last impression of this sales cycle.

Breakthrough the obstacles. Again, there are two criteria for needing a breakthrough: the customer is going to buy something, but you’re not the their choice.

The first issue here is to correctly identify the obstacle so you can assemble your resources to overcome it. This is often impossible to do with certainty and you must rely on the probing you did throughout the sales cycle and the information you’ve learned, and then make an educated guess. This is why careful and thorough probing is always important, even with those opportunities that seem to be a slam dunk. Someone is always playing defense (the competition), and surprises occur (changes in management, etc.).

This is where you examine what you know of the customer’s priorities and your strengths and come up with something that plays to first by using the second. Maybe it’s time to get creative with warranties or other after-sales support; maybe you can bump them up in the delivery queue and get the project ahead of schedule; maybe you have a beta version of something and you bring them in as an early adopter.

Once you have your strategy, the obstacle then becomes delivering it. You must get it to the decision-maker who will benefit from your offer, and who has the authority to affect the final decision. This is the aggressive part of being creatively aggressive. You can’t rely on someone else delivering your message – they won’t do it as well as you. But you also can’t get pushy or desperate. Get it into their hands in a way they can’t ignore, but also doesn’t offend.

Closing is rarely easy, but as one boss I had always said, if this job was easy, everybody would be doing it.

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