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March 9, 2015

The 7 Worst Mistakes Salespeople Make When Closing

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Ask any sales rep what the hardest part of their job is, and I’ll bet any money they’ll say “closing.” After all, signing new customers and upselling existing accounts is how a rep makes quota. If they’re not getting prospects to sign contracts, they’re not going to hit their number. 

But in my opinion, the term “closing” means more than just the ultimate buying decision. To me, closing is any interaction where a salesperson asks a prospect to commit to something -- whether big or little. And in order to hear a “yes” when the time comes to ask for the business, reps would be wise to dot the path with smaller closes that strengthen the relationship along the way.

No matter if you’re trying to secure a small close, a big close, or the ultimate close, there are a handful of mistakes you need to avoid if you hope to be successful. Here are seven of the most prevalent -- and devastating -- closing fumbles I see reps make.

1) Not asking for what you want.

Clearly stating your ask might be common sense, but it’s hardly common practice.

There are two reasons reps don’t simply state what they want from a prospect. It’s possible they’re afraid of rejection, so they soften their language to minimize the chances of hearing “no.” On the other hand, it’s possible they don’t know what they want! Too often, reps go into a call or meeting with no real concept of what they’re hoping to get out of it. And if you don’t know what you want, how can you get it from the prospect?

Enter every interaction with a clear objective in mind, and don’t beat around the bush when asking for it. For example, “I’m calling to see if you have questions about the proposal” doesn’t make it clear what you want the prospect to do. “Will you be signing and sending the proposal today?” does.

2) Stepping on the close.

A rep steps on their close when they immediately tack the word “or” or “and” to the end of their closing question. Instead of asking the prospect “Would you be able to meet tomorrow?” and letting the question hang, reps often hastily tack on an additional phrase, such as “Or are you available next week?”

Keep in mind that words such as “and” and “or” add choices to a conversation, when closing is about eliminating choices and pushing the prospect toward a simple “yes” or “no” answer. By adding an additional clause, you increase the possibility that you’ll get a muddled or half response.

3) Closing people who can’t deliver.

Why pose an ask to someone who can’t give you what you’re asking for? It’s not a good approach, and yet, I see this happen all the time.

A classic example is asking for a referral from someone who obviously cannot provide it. An entry-level engineer can introduce you to their coworkers and their direct manager. But the CEO? Probably not. Don’t ask a contact to commit to or give you something they can’t provide.

4) Attempting to close someone through a third party.

I most often see this mistake crop up with senior-level decision makers. Let’s say a rep would like to assemble all the relevant stakeholders they’d need for a deal to be approved, and they want to know who should be on the meeting list. If the rep can’t get through to the CEO, they might pose their ask to their assistant like so: “Who do you think your boss would recommend to be there?”

With this question, you’re asking the assistant to deliver what you want on behalf of their boss. Not a good idea. While it’s fine to pose your close to the assistant or a third party, make sure you’re closing that person directly. With this in mind, the above question becomes “Who do you recommend should be there?”

Close the person you’re talking to, not that person on behalf of someone else. The latter approach is a recipe for misunderstandings.

5) Using statements instead of questions.

Closes should always be phrased as questions, not statements. Why? Because questions require direct answers, and statements do not.

If a sales rep says to a prospect, “It would be great to meet on Monday afternoon,” that prospect can respond in a multitude of ways. But if the rep says, “Can you meet on Monday afternoon?” the prospect has only two possible replies at their disposal -- “Yes, I can,” or “No, I cant.”

Sentences that start with “I’d like to” or “Maybe we can” aren’t closes. Questions that start with “Are you,” “Can you,” or “Will you” are.

6) Commentating. 

Silence can be uncomfortable, but it’s golden when closing. Unfortunately, reps often rush to comment on their prospects’ responses immediately after they’ve been uttered.

Here’s what this sounds like:

Rep: “Can you meet this afternoon?”
Prospect: “No, I’m busy.”
Rep: “Not a problem -- how’s tomorrow?”

However, if the rep simply falls silent after the prospect responds, the prospect often answers the rep’s follow up question before it’s even spoken.

Here’s the above example, revised to use this approach:

Rep: “Can you meet this afternoon?”
Prospect: “No, I’m busy.”
Prospect: “ … But I can meet next Tuesday.”

Don’t get in your own way by jumping to fill the silence. 

7) Trying to make closing easy for the prospect.

Reps often ascribe to the thinking that closing needs to be easy for the prospect, but this is wrong. By definition, closing requires the salesperson to put the prospect in a mild state of discomfort.

If buyers don’t feel a slight amount of pressure, they’re not going to make a choice. And “no decisions” are always worse than closed-won or even closed-lost. Don’t be afraid to turn up the heat a few notches to get an answer.

Want to learn more of my proven techniques? Join me on April 6th in Boston for my Why You? Why You Now?™ Prospecting and Your SalesMBA™ Management ½ day workshops.

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