One of my all-time favorite “sales” quotes came from a man known simply as “The Greatest,” the late boxing champ Muhammad Ali: “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses—behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
At the end of a boxing match, spectators see the glory and adoration of a victorious champion. They don’t see what it takes to get there. They don’t see the hard work or the blood, sweat and tears. It’s the investment of time, effort and discipline leading up to the fight that determines who wins.
The same can be said of the selling process.
Too many people believe that success in sales comes down to the closing, a magical time when a slick salesperson utters the most eloquent, carefully chosen words, thus dazzling a spellbound buyer into helplessly making a purchase.
That’s simply false.
Just as Ali won fights long before he stepped into the ring, sales are made long before closing time.
Sales reps worry too much about closing because they don’t realize it’s supposed to be a foregone conclusion. Follow the proper steps, and the close is an anticlimactic formality, just one step in a long process.
If you’re waiting until the close to win the deal, you’ve already lost. Good closers start at the beginning.
Here are five things you can do throughout the sales process to make closing a breeze:
Lead with Value
The most fundamental element in closing any sale is to determine what the prospective client truly values without ever assuming. The salesperson may have more product knowledge than the prospective customer, but that doesn’t mean the sales- person has the ability to read clients’ minds.
You need to ask probing questions and listen deeply to the answers. If you do this properly, and take the necessary amount of time, you will know just what your prospect wants. When you make your pitch, customize it to exactly what the prospect told you.
Remember that closing involves a series of small commitments before you get the big commitment to buy. These little commitments are sometimes referred to as “miniature closes.” By simply agreeing to meet you, a prospect makes a mini commitment, and that’s a mini close for you.
Instead of crouching ready to pounce on a close, focus on the next step in the process (the next small commitment.) Each time you get one of these commitments, you’re a little closer to the end prize.
Just keep working the prospect through all the steps in the selling process in the proper order, with adequate time at each step.
Storytelling and Humor
Stories are a powerful selling tool. An opening story when you first meet a prospect can break the ice. A compelling story during your pitch can peak a prospect’s curiosity. A carefully selected story can effectively answer an objection. A motivational story about a previous client near the end of the presentation is a nice way to bring the whole process to a close.
Stories disarm and reassure people, allowing them to picture how great life is using your product or service. In the sales world, stories trump data and facts.
Humor helps as well. Making the process a little lighthearted can have many of the same benefits of storytelling. We all like to laugh—it’s like exercise but less painful. It releases endorphins into your brain, making you feel better about moving forward.
Ask for the Order
After you gone through all the steps, it’s time to ask for the order. Even though the close is a formality, a foregone conclusion if you’ve done everything right so far, the typical clients will still wait for you to tell them it’s time to move forward. They see you as the leader of the transaction, so they will rely on you to tell them it’s okay to make the purchase.
Unfortunately, this part can make salespeople feel nervous. After all, you have put so much effort into making the sale that you fear getting your feelings hurt and your confidence bruised. Plus, you may have already spent the commission!
Those are normal fears, but when the time is right, just ask the question. The good news is you don’t need a cheesy gimmick to seal the deal. You know what the client cares about, and you know you have an ideal product solution, so all you have to say is “Let’s get you started” or “Are you ready to do this?” Avoid clichés like “What will it take to get you in this car today?”
Know What’s Next
I once watched an outstanding pool player demonstrate his craft at a sports bar. The guy could sink unbelievable shots, but his best skill was setting up the next shot at the end of the current one.
Sales pros need to think the same way: each sale should set up the next. No sale is made in a vacuum. Keep gathering information and building the relationship. You want a lifetime of sales from your customers, not just one.