It’s a Friday night at the local singles bar, the “meet/meat” market where packs of single men and women mingle in the hopes of finding Mr. or Mrs. Right. You probably know of a few of these places, either from your past or because you’re going to one with your friends next weekend.
If you look around carefully, you’ll notice that they’re packed with mini-case studies of the sales process. There is prospecting happening, referrals being asked for, value-building… the whole shebang.
More than anything, there’s a lot of “asking” to get to the next step in the relationship. It might be asking if you can sit next to someone at the bar, asking for their phone number, or even asking if they want to get out of there to get a drink somewhere else.
How to Move Conversations Forward
In this environment, what would happen if you asked someone to marry you after talking to them for five minutes? Besides the potential of getting hit with a restraining order, it would never work because it’s totally out of context. It makes sense to ask someone for their phone number the first time you meet them. It doesn’t make sense to ask them to marry you. You have to go through the full dating process.
Likewise, if you’ve been dating someone for 7 years, the marriage question would be completely expected and accepted. In fact, if it didn’t come, that would be odd (and maybe lead to you being newly single).
But for some reason, we forget about this when we show up to work on Monday morning. We think that the way to get people to buy from us is to slam them with information and have a few special tricks up our sleeve to “close” them.
It’s why we chase the promises of the perfect closing question, and why we struggle. Would you want someone to use the “Ben Franklin Close” or the “Assumptive Close” on you? Then stop doing it to your prospects.
We forget that by investing in the relationship, and by uncovering the true needs of our prospects, we are earning the right to ask for the business.
Don’t “Close” Your Prospects: Move Them to the Next Step™
You’ve probably heard the old sales adage about the ABCs of closing, “Always Be Closing”. In the modern sales world, it’s truer than ever, but “closing” has a much different definition. It’s not about having a magic question that will get your prospects to sign up at the close of your conversation.
Instead, it points to the need to consistently and regularly guide your prospects through their buying journey. It’s about the series of small, intermediate questions that create the bridge between you and the prospect; a bridge that lets you uncover their needs, offer your solutions, and secure their commitment.
Your goal is to guide people to the Next Step™ in the process. Sure, you need to ask if the prospect would like to become a client, but it also encompasses all of the earlier steps. It’s important to know how to read the prospect and predict which step they’ll be most comfortable with. You have to put the questions into context and move them along one step at a time:
- I know your time is valuable, can we grab a 10-minute call?
- Should we bring any of your colleagues into the conversation so that we can get their feedback?
- Let’s fast forward 6 months, what would happen in the project to show that it is a success?
- Would you like me to write that up as a proposal?
- In an ideal world, when would this get done?
How Questions Move People Forward
Closing isn’t something you do at the end, it’s something that you do anytime you ask a question. That’s the way to create movement. And questions don’t have to have to ask for a commitment to create momentum. For example, you’ve probably asked a prospect, “What is the most important thing you are looking for when buying x?”
And they’ve probably said something along the lines of “…ROI, duh.”
And then you’ve jumped into charts and graphs and figures that outline the amazing cost savings and revenue boosting you can provide. But that doesn’t move their process along. Instead, what happens if you pause and ask another question instead of making a statement, like:
- “How do you measure the ROI of a project internally?”
- “What’s most important in the ROI, saving money or increasing revenue?”
- “Improving monetary ROI is important, but are there any other hidden costs that we should account for?”
Then their answers give you new places to ask questions.
Salespeople are wired to rush to answer any problem with a solution. And in that rush we miss out on finding out what is really motivating our prospects and we end up making a lot of assumptions about what they want. By short-circuiting that keen-jerk response, we give ourselves the chance to dive in a little deeper. In doing so, we pull out all of the objections and concerns that the prospect has before we have even gotten to that “closing question”.
Next Step™ Checklist
Sprinkle small closes throughout your engagement, and use those to move forward with your sales conversations. As you are going through the process, ask yourselves if you’ve answered these questions before you ask for the business:
- Do you have an avenue of communication?
- Do they trust your input?
- Does the prospect have a problem?
- Are they aware they have a problem?
- Do they know what the solution could be?
- Have they realized that you can supply the solution?
- Are all of the stakeholders engaged?
- Have we failed to engage someone who could kill the deal?
- Do they want to move forward in a definable future?
It’s not about battling the prospect at every stage of the process. When there are multiple variables, decision-makers, and steps to move through, it makes sense that there will be many opportunities to ask for something. Because of this, the word “closing” should really be, “engaging”.
Then the Next Step Becomes Commitment
You still have to ask them for the business. You aren’t going to have a prospect stop you and say, “Can you just send me a contract so I can sign it and give you some money” (Well, maybe they will, but it’s rare).
But if you’ve been asking questions the entire time, and letting them lead the conversation, you don’t need a special closing question to get them to say yes.
If you need a trick to get someone to say yes to a marriage proposal, it probably won’t be a good marriage. In the same way, if you need a trick question to close a prospect, it probably won’t be good business.
If you have answered all of these questions, though, and taken them through each step, doesn’t it make sense to ask them for their commitment? Why wouldn’t you? You’ve established that they have a challenge that you can solve and that they are ready and able to move forward.
“Based on what we’ve covered it seems to make sense to move forward with this. Would that make sense for you?”
The next step is for them to move from prospect to client.