Lots of founders come to me for advice on big deals that they’re trying to close.
A lot of times they describe how they met with a buyer from a huge corporation, demoed their products, answered all initial questions, and seem to be getting some good buying signals.
They just finished their first really good initial meetings and they sent follow-up emails to schedule the next face-to-face—and now they’ve entered uncharted territory.
- Is this deal really realistic?
- What do I need to do next to make this happen?
- Are they really interested or just being nice to us?
- How long will this take?
- When and how should I follow up? Should I wait until they get back to me or be proactive? If so, how proactive?
At that point, I ask them if they took the chance to actually have the potential customer describe to them in detail what it will take for them to become a customer. Most salespeople don’t. And that’s the problem.
The solution to this is something I call the “virtual close.”
How to Close a Sale
The first step is to uncover whether there is any real buying intent, and then figure out a roadmap with all the steps to close the deal. Then you’ll want to discover any major red flags and issues that will slow the deal down or prevent you from closing the sale. During the sales process, guide the prospect through all the steps he or she will have to take to make the deal happen.
To do this, you’ll want to have your prospect imagine and visualize a future where he or she has become a customer of your product or service.
Simply ask this question:
“Dear potential customer. Now that you know what we do and we answered all your questions, it seems to me that we are a perfect fit. What are all the steps we have to take to help make this happen?
If the prospect says something to the effect of:
“Well, not sure…” or “Well, we wouldn’t buy before 2023 since we are locked in the current contract…”
You’re in trouble. This means there is no real buying intent. Move on with life.
In all other cases, you have to put on your investigative hat and actually keep following up with questions until you both reach a point where you know every step that is necessary to close the sale.
Here’s what a typical conversation should look like:
You: “Dear customer. What will it take for you to buy our product?”
Customer: “Well, I would have to show it to my boss and some colleagues and see what they think.”
You: “Great. How do you typically get feedback? Scheduling a meeting? This week? Next week? Do you make a presentation or how does this typically work?”
Customer: “Well, we have a weekly standup meeting and that’s when I will present this.”
You: “Awesome. What happens when your boss and teammates really like the idea and want to move forward?”
Customer: “Then we would schedule a follow-up call with you and all stakeholders to answer all questions.”
You: “Makes sense. Let’s assume we have a great call and I can answer all questions to the team’s satisfaction and we’re all happy to move forward. What happens next?”
Customer: “Well, then it would have to go through legal.”
This is the point where most people would stop asking questions and feel happy about what they have learned. That’s a mistake. Keep asking questions until you’ve arrived at the virtual close. Like this:
You: “Of course. How does this process typically work for you? Have you purchased something similar to our product in the past six months and can you describe to me what we’ll have to do to make the process as smooth as possible?”
Customer: “Yes, we’d have to run through a few higher-ups, then the purchasing department and ethics committee.”
You: “Oh interesting. Could you describe this process a little more?”
Customer: “Well, purchasing usually takes a couple of weeks to review, and if it looks good, then they move it on to ethics, who has the final sign off.”
You: “Great. But THEN we’re in business right?!?”
Now you know what it will take to make this happen. You have a roadmap to:
- Forecast accordingly
- Start preparing all steps and run some of them in parallel to save time
- Decide if you really want to pursue this deal
On top of that, you’ve made them create a world where they are customers and have already made a small mental commitment to it.
After this conversation, you’ll have all the information you need, the customer has thought through the deal—and you have everything you need to make good decisions and consistently close sales.
What Next? How Do You Close The Sale From There?
At this stage, you have all the information you need to make this happen. Now you need to follow through and do it. What are some of the sales tactics and techniques you can use to actually drive the deal through, and stop it stalling at the final stage?
1. Build a roadmap
Once you’ve got the information above, outlining what has to happen, the next thing to do is to build a plan with all of the dates and the stages to success in it, so you can track whether the sale is closing according to plan. Then you can get some early warning if anything seems to be drifting off track.
2. Keep talking
Lack of communication is one of the most common reasons why a deal stalls at the close. In the conversation above, you’ve presented all the information to the client and found out all the steps they have to take. But don’t let them disappear into a dark room to make those decisions. Anything can happen once the client starts having internal meetings about your product.
It’s absolutely essential to continue to have regular discussions all the way through the closing process, so you can continue to reiterate the points that made your product so attractive, and understand if any new information emerges that changes the roadmap you learned in your internal close.
3. Remain calm and in control
The worst thing you can do is start to look nervous and worried – even if you are. After all, if you don’t show absolute belief in your product, why should your customer? So if you aren’t hitting all the steps on the roadmap, and new information is emerging, make sure you remain calm. So long as you stay absolutely sure this is going to work, they’re a lot more likely to do the same.
4. Create an internal champion
In order to get the sale through all of the steps above, it’s helpful to need someone inside the company who’s on side with the deal and wants it to happen – an internal champion. Often this is the person who will actually use your product. Often, the internal champion is the person actually feeling the pain you want to relieve. They’re the one who has to use the database which doesn’t work. They’re the ones trying to organize projects using outdated software.
But usually, they’re not the ones spending any of the money. So they get all of the benefits of your product, and there’s no downside for them.
If you can get this individual visualizing the benefits they’ll receive, and equip them with all the skills they need to make the sale for you, they can push your product through to the close.
5. Follow up. Always!
It’s been said that sales does not happen on the first call or on the first touch. It often takes between 5 and 8 touches on multiple channels to close a deal, and much more if it’s a longer B2B sales cycle.
6. Create a sense of urgency (AKA what are four types of closes?)
One of the problems with the process described above is that there are a lot of steps to get through. Committees meet infrequently and defer decisions. Bosses go on leave. Everyone wants to pay out of next year’s budget.
In order to avoid this, create a sense of urgency in the prospect organization. There are several types of close you can use to do this:
- The “now or never” close. Set up discounts which expire at midnight, and special offers with a limited time period.
- The “assumptive” close, where you stop asking if they’ll buy, and put in a date when you want to install the new product and start the first round of training.
- The “sharp angle” close, which is used when the customers asks for a discount or tries to negotiate a price cut, where you say “Yes, but only if you sign the deal by XXX”
- The “take away” close when you remove a feature or service and present a reduced price. If you do this, they’re more likely to focus on what they’ve lost than the new, lower figure.
There are lots of sales tactics to create urgency. Any of them may be right for you. But once you’ve got in the prospect’s head that they’ll be using your new product by year-end, they create their own deadline to get the deal done.
7. Watch out for hidden barriers
So in the conversation above, the client has described the process which their company will go through to close the deal. And they’ve outlined the things they need and the internal barriers that have to be overcome?
But are those really the steps? Are the barriers and benefits really the ones outlined?
As we all know, there may be all sorts of hidden habits and rituals within the prospect company which are actually more important than the formal procedures. And the motivations of the individuals involved in the sale might be completely different from those that are laid out in an RFP. So if you’ve gone through the questions above, and the deal is stalled, it’s worth going back and asking more questions. Try to find out unspoken needs. Run a pre-mortem where you ask “Why did the sale fail?” and see if you can use that to tease out what’s holding it up.
8. Always be closing
Don’t wait until the closing stage to start closing the deal – it may be too late. The “always be closing” school says you need to build mini closes into every stage of the deal, where customers agree to a particular action that closes down options and makes them feel more committed to the idea of buying your particular product.
This might mean setting dates and deadlines to agree each stage, or building in a commitment regular meetings every week or month, so the deal never drifts with no communication.
9. Make it easy to do business with you
It hardly needs saying, but one thing to be absolutely sure of it is to make it easy to say yes to you. Don’t put any barriers in place in your own organization. Hit every deadline you’re set.
10. Be ready to walk away
Remember where we started. Is there real buying intent? Sometimes, as you go through the process, it becomes clear that it looked as if there was, but really, no there’s not. And if that’s the case, well, at least you know.
Closing Is So Critical (But Needn’t Be Hard)
Closing is vital, and it’s important not to let up with the end in sight. But it needn’t be hard work or some magical power. It’s all about asking the right questions, getting aligned on value and objectives, building a slight sense of urgency — without overdoing it, of course. After all, you have a good product, and your customers need it, right?
Finally, closing isn’t the last step. There’s still repeat business, referrals, and customer satisfaction. So even when you’ve closed the deal, a great salesperson knows not to stop there.
Editor’s Note: Steli Efti is the Co-founder and CEO of Close.io, a sales communication platform to helps salespeople to manage their customers better. This post was first published on the Close.io blog and is being republished with permission.