If you asked most people what activity they associated most with sales, I’d guess that many of them would respond the same way: Closing.
And it’d be no surprise. For one thing, it’s the most visible part of the sales process -- all of us have been closed at one time or another, whether we’re buying a new vacuum cleaner or a new Learjet. For another, there’s nothing sexy about prospecting or discovery calls. But movies like Boiler Room, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Glengarry Glen Ross have (unfortunately) glorified aggressive, hard-closing salespeople as rainmakers.
Real closing involves a lot less pomp and circumstance and a lot more strategy and patience, however. The nine habits below are what truly successful closers lean on to bring in new business.
1) They know the close starts right at the beginning of the sale.
Good closers understand that the sales process doesn’t just involve one close. You are closing a prospect from the first conversation you have with them. By understanding their buyers’ goals, plans, and challenges, great closers are able to position their products in a way that’s most compelling for their prospects from day one.
2) They know that a close goes both ways.
From their first call, great closers aim to discover the information that’ll tell them whether a prospect is worth working with or not. Great closers don’t just spew information and hope the prospect will bite; instead, they work with their prospects to make sure that a sale will be mutually beneficial. When it does become time to talk about pricing and implementation, great closers already have all the context they need to make a compelling recommendation of what will be best for their buyers.
3) They create genuine urgency.
Salespeople who reliably win never rely on the promise of a discount to get the deal over the finish line. They know price should never be the primary reason to buy right now, as opposed to next week, next month, or next year. Instead, they find a legitimate, pressing issue or opportunity related to their product.
Once they've helped their prospect understand it's in her best interest to purchase as soon as possible, they can work with her to figure out the exact terms.
4) They get buy-in on each step before moving to the next one.
Great closers don’t ever risk their time by making assumptions. At every step of the sales process, they check to make sure they’re aligned with their prospect before moving on to another discussion. In this way, their ultimate close -- asking for the business -- is much more likely to have a positive outcome, and becomes a natural next step in the process.
5) They define their prospects’ decision criteria early on.
Surprises are rarely a good thing in sales, because they’re often a result of insufficient due diligence. The best closers make it a priority to understand everything a prospect is evaluating as early on as possible, so they can provide value in these areas throughout the sales process. They never reach what they believe to be the end of a sales process and suddenly learn that the buyer has three major concerns that have never been addressed.
6) They define their prospects’ purchase process.
Is there a legal review process that will add one to two weeks to the sales process? Is your prospect required to evaluate a certain number of vendors (as government agencies often are)? Are there other procurement process requirements that will require input from you?
Great closers define these steps as soon as it’s appropriate, so they can adequately prepare for a purchase process and keep a deal moving along efficiently.
7) They bring in all stakeholders before negotiation starts.
There’s nothing worse than thinking you have the deal in the bag and sitting down to negotiate, then meeting a previously-unknown stakeholder who has major objections you need to address.
To prevent this from happening, ask, “Who else is involved in this decision that should be on our next call?” at the end of every sales conversation. While it doesn’t make sense for your point of contact to bring in the entire executive team on a first meeting, they certainly need to be looped in as the deal progresses so you aren’t suddenly dealing with five different perspectives you didn’t realize needed to be accommodated at the eleventh hour.
8) They know when to ask for the business.
Closing isn’t a siloed part of the sales process, but you still have to be proactive about it. When all your prospects’ requests have been met, it’s time to lay it all out on the table and ask your prospect if they’re ready to buy.
9) They know their bottom line.
Every prospect wants to get a product for as little money as possible, and every sales rep wants to sell a product with as little discount applied as possible -- but most are happy with a figure somewhere in the middle. At the end of the month or quarter, however, reps under stress to meet or exceed quota can fall into the trap of thinking every deal they can bring in, they should.
It’s important to remember that at a certain point, the pain of accommodating the deal will exceed the benefit of bringing it in. Whether your prospect is asking for an unreasonably deep discount, unrealistic implementation terms, or something else that would be a net negative for your company, know when to say when and walk away.
Closing shouldn’t be thought of as a one-off, dramatic affair. It’s a set of repeatable processes and strategies that permeate every sales conversation you have with a prospect. By applying these nine strategies to your own selling, you’ll find that closing comes more naturally and smoothly than ever before.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in June 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness and freshness.