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Critical Closing Skills

by David Brock on September 21st, 2011

Every once in a while a sales manager calls me, “I have a sales person who can’t close, can you help him?”  Sometimes I get a call, “I need to improve my team’s closing skills?”

I’m always suspicious of these calls.  Closing is never the real problem.  The managers are reacting to a sales person’s inability to win deals and get business, but it’s never really about closing.  Deals really aren’t won or lost based on our slick closing skills or great technique, they are won and lost much earlier.

Deals are won and lost in qualifying.  Too often, sales people qualify deals poorly or don’t qualify at all.  They chase any customer that show some level of interest.  They chase bad deals, deals they would have no chance of winning.  Qualification–or rather vicious disqualification is one of the most important closing skills.  Sales people must focus on deals in their “sweet spot.”  They shouldn’t waste their time on marginal deals.  Sales people must focus on customers that have a need to change, a great sense of urgency in solving a problem.

Qualified deals are won and lost in the discovery phase of the sales process.  Too often, however, sales people rush through the discovery process, asking only enough questions to provide a context for their product pitch.  It’s in the discovery process that the customer lays out the road map for winning the deal.  Through great questions, listening, and probing, the sales person uncovers the needs, priorities, decision making process, the alternatives the customer is considering.  It’s through discovery that sales people understand what customers value.

Deals are won through creating, developing, and delivering differentiated value–not only in the solution presented, but through the customer’s buying process.  Winning sales people know the ultimate differentiation is that created in facilitating the customer buying process.  The know their solutions must create business value, so every solution is justified in terms meaningful to the customer.

Deals are won through sharp and consistent execution of a sales process that is closely aligned to the customer buying process.  Great sales people know the key to maximizing their win rate, deal value, deal profitability, and reducing their sales cycle is based on a great sales process. They know anything else is just a random walk, with the outcome completely up for grabs.

Effective closing is a natural outcome of all of these things.  It has nothing to do with the latest, greatest techniques.  Effective closing starts with the very first call and is earned in each subsequent call.

Are you and your people masters of these critical closing skills?

(No puppy dogs were harmed in writing this post.)

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10 Comments
  1. David Olson permalink

    Another great post but I’m confused about the puppy reference. Or was that one of your tests to see if we are really reading and thinking about the subjects you so kindly and professionally bring to our attention?

    Dave Olson

    • Dave, thanks for catching that! It’s just my odd sense of humor, sometimes I can’t restrain myself. I was referring to the “Puppy Dog Close,” one of the many closing techniques that really aren’t terribly useful.

      One of the hazards of reading my blog is dealing with my sometimes bizarre sense of humor.

  2. Dave

    I really like the statement: “It’s through discovery that sales people understand what customers value.”

    To me this gets right to the heart of so many lost deals: not enough time and care taken in understanding what customers consider valuable, just how valuable they consider it, how they describe it and how they will best integrate that value into their organization.

    Well put sir!

    Don F Perkins
    http://mindmulch.net

    • Too often, sales people suffer from a rush to pitch, followed by the rush to close—they end up missing the sale itself. Thanks, as always, for your comments Don!

  3. Linda Richardson permalink

    HI, I too loved your comment about discovery being the place to understand what the customer values. Discovery is critical to closing. And it is the place where salespeople continue to learn and grow. In today’s internet age customers know so much more about products and alternatives and therefore, salespeople must bring more than a product that meets the customer needs if they want to close. By probing and learning what it is the customer truly values beyond product solutions salespeople can bring that extra value and become a valued resource to their customers. That, not techniques, is the key to closing. Linda

    • Linda, having you comment on the blog has made my day! Thanks so much for visiting and taking the time to comment.

      Too many sales people miss the real opportunity to develop and execute winning strategies in their rush to pitch and close. The wonderful thing about the discovery process it that it’s mutual–both the sales person and the customer discover huge amounts–about each other and about the issues the customer is trying to address. Too often, we think customers know what they are trying to do, so all we have to do is understand their requirements, priorities, then respond. In reality, they are in a discovery process on the issues they are trying to address. In many cases, they have never been “here” before, this is where great sales people offer real leadership, not in pitching, but in helping the customer have a richer understanding of what they may want to achieve.

      Thanks so much for joining the converation. I hope to see you visiting and commenting again! Regards, Dave

  4. As always – a man after my own brain!

    It’s been a few years since I’ve done any class room sales training but I used to lay out the sales process as follows:

    Qualify
    Earn trust
    Needs Analysis
    Earn more trust
    Define prospect’s perception of value
    Solution development
    Discuss Solution options comparing value and trade-offs
    Share recommended solution, highlighting the value

    To me – that is the entire sales process. If you execute those steps elegantly, the closing will just happen. If it doesn’t, then you missed something along the way.

    Your reference to the puppy-dog close really brings back memories. I can recall listening to an hour long vinyl record of Douglas Edwards’ 13 Closing techniques. This was considered gospel. My personal favorite was ‘Shut Up” – which actually is good advice, even today.

    The problem with those old “techniques” is that they start from the assumption that the prospect is an adversary and if you use the right verbiage you can “win” and manipulate him into making a purchase.

    Great post David

    • Thanks for the comment Rick. Effective selling, connecting with our customers is not about techniques, the right ‘prepackaged’ verbiage, or manipulation. It’s about doing something for the customer that creates value important to them.

  5. Asit permalink

    I fully agree with you on the Corporate sales – institutional sales – that have longer sales cycle with larger deal size. On the dot.

    On the other hand in retail I believe good closing techniques are also necessary. Of course only a great closing technique will not at all work if one did not lay the foundation right through qualifying, discovery, differentiating.

    • Asit: Thanks for the comment. My experience is in B2B. I’m not sure about retail sales–I know that I personally resent the closing techniques I’ve had in closing me–but perhaps that’s because most haven’t done the upfront stuff you have mentioned. Thanks for joining the discussion. Regards, Dave

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