In case you missed it, I recently had the chance to sit down with leading B2B sales training consultant, John Barrows. As you might expect from two guys who are engulfed in the world of sales, we share similar perspectives on a number of sales topics. But the thing we can agree on most is that there’s a misconception around closing. Many reps perceive it as awkward and think it makes them look pushy or sleazy, which nobody wants to be.
It’s easy to understand why they might see it that way. Whether it’s by another sales rep, at a store, or from a cold call, we’ve all been hard closed at some point in our lives. And no matter the context, it doesn’t feel good. So it’s no wonder why so many of us try to avoid it.
But at the end of the day, if you want to be a great salesperson, you need to be a great closer. That means facing the closing conversation head on. The good news is you can be a great closer without coming off as a jackass. You just need to learn how to close the right way. After all, closing, just like any other sales skill, can be learned, practiced, refined, and eventually, mastered.
In this webinar, John and I discuss how to do just that. We chat about how to prepare for the close, how to deal with last minute objections and pricing negotiations, and of course, how to ask for the sale.
Here’s what I took away from our conversation.
#1: Disqualifying > qualifying
As you already know, a great pipeline is the key to a smoother close. Having promising prospects and an effective sales process means it will take less effort to seal the deal. The less qualified the prospect, the greater the chance that you’ll end up giving too much away, rushing your process, or scaring them off in an effort to force a deal through.
John’s advice: “If you want to improve your closing conversations, start by switching from qualifying leads to disqualifying them. Look for reasons why you shouldn’t do business with them. After all, you’re going to discover it at some point anyway, so it might as well before you put too much work into the deal.”
If you know there’s a clear fit, you’ll be able to give your prospect your full attention. If not, you can cut your losses and move onto the next one.
#2: Find your champion
While you might share your pitch with multiple stakeholders at your prospects’ company, it’s unlikely that you’ll be the one presenting it to procurement or the executive in charge of signoff. Instead, it will likely be one of the contacts that are already at the table.
It’s essential that you identify this person and work with them to bolster your message. If they believe in your offering and want to see the deal go through, there’s a much higher chance of you being able to seal the deal. Beyond that initial presentation, they can also advocate for you in your absence or support you in discussions with their company.
John’s advice: “Your champion doesn't necessarily have to be a decision maker, but they need to be a rule breaker and somebody who's sitting at the table when the decision is made so they can stand up and fight for you.”
#3: Build momentum
Many people think asking for the sale is a single step in the closing process, but in reality, it’s a lot of steps. Closing is all about momentum—building up small yeses and setting things in motion can propel your deal forward.
If you want to improve your closing conversations, take Alec Baldwin’s advice: “Always be closing.” You need to be closing throughout your entire conversation—locking in a follow up meeting, committing to next steps, bringing someone else in, etc. By building in smaller asks instead of straight up asking for a massive contract, you can snowball your deal and build up to the moment when you ask for the sale.
John’s advice: “The number one thing that's going to tell you whether you're moving through the sales process in a way that's going to move you closer to the close is if the client agrees to a defined next step.”
#4: Be precise
Does it frustrate you when your prospect dances around questions and avoids giving straight answers? Well, they don’t like when you do it, either. If you’re not being straightforward about your pricing, timelines, and next steps, your prospect might not take you seriously. If you want to keep your deals moving, be precise. When you’re scheduling your next meeting, don’t settle for “next week” or “next month,” just pick a date. If they agree, you have momentum. If they don’t, it might be early enough to salvage the deal. And if not, you can jump ship and rest easy knowing it wasn’t a good fit.
Try using a reverse timeline: we’ve all asked prospects about their timeline (implementation, close, etc), but their answer is rarely tied to anything concrete. Instead, tell them how long each future step takes (legal, implementation, etc), and ask them about their target date. From there, you can work backwards to figure out when you need to complete each step by, and lock in your next meeting to move the deal forward.
John’s advice: “Do not let your prospect get off the call without proactively scheduling the next step. When you ask when they want to follow up, and they say 'next week', ask them when next week. Ask them to pull up their calendar, put something on it now, and let them know that if you need to reschedule it, you can.”
#5: Give and take
Too many reps think that giving things away—unprompted discounts, rushed timelines, etc.—is the key to closing. It’s not. In fact, it can make you look like you’re trying too hard, which can turn prospects away. The real key to closing is finding a balance between your prospects’ needs and your own; the gives and the gets.
Reps give, give, and give some more, and expect the big get (a signed contract), but that’s not how life—or sales—works. Plus, it conditions prospects to keep asking for more because nobody stopped them. In order to strike a balance, make sure you’re getting some of the things you want, too. Whether that’s a meeting with another decision maker, a commitment to a timeline, a larger deal size, or anything else, just make sure you’re not the only one giving.
John’s advice: “On the other hand, if you’re getting things but not giving in return, it could be because they’re not asking. If they’re not concerned about their own interests and are constantly saying yes to anything you ask for, they might not be interested and could just be trying to keep you on the hook.”
#6: Welcome the “no”
One of the most common reasons why sales reps are reluctant to ask for the sale is a fear of rejection. No one likes getting rejected, but being told (and accepting) “no” for an answer is actually a good thing. It saves you time from chasing prospects down and allows you to focus your efforts on more promising opportunities. When you meet with your prospect, be clear that it’s ok for them to say no. If they don’t think it’s going to be a good fit, you want them to be comfortable speaking up if they don’t think it’s going to work.
John’s advice: “If somebody tells me that they're going to make a decision by the end of the month, I ask them when they want to schedule a call so that I can get a yes or a no either way. People feel bad about telling people no, but I want them to know it's 1000% okay to tell me no.”
#7: Talk to the right person
Before you get too deep into your closing conversation or start thinking about asking for the sale, make sure you’re talking to the right person. If you aren’t talking to a decision maker, your efforts could be in vain if your prospect doesn’t have any pull in their organization.
John’s advice: “If you ask what other solutions they’re considering and they hesitate or pull back, you know they’re not a decision maker. DMs want you to know who else they’re talking to so that you can explain why your option might be better. If they can't articulate their buying process, or what they’re looking for, that’s another red flag.”
Asking questions throughout the process can help you identify when to bail or when to get back on track. It’s important to know how to ask questions, but if they’re not sharing what they need to help you help them solve their problems, it’s on to the next one.
#8: Loop in procurement early
For many, procurement is a major obstacle. Even though they’re an essential part of the buying process, passing a deal to procurement can feel like sending it off into the sunset.
Their job is to get the best solution at the best price, so if you just dump it on their desk, they might tear it apart. Without any context, they will cross every T and dot every I, which could derail your deal after all the hard work you’ve already put in.
If you want to keep your deal on track, get your champion on board and loop in procurement early to make them feel like a part of the deal and ensure their expectations align with your own.
John’s advice: “Get your champion on board. You're not going to get through procurement by yourself. You need your champion to go in there, explain the situation, and ask them to make it happen. And they will. With context, from somebody else pushing for you, they will get it done. But not if you're alone.”
#9: Choose your words wisely
Language has a huge effect on your prospects’ perception of your offering. There’s one word that many reps neglect to mention when asking for the sale, and that word is “impact”. This term makes your rep step back and think about the potential outcome of pursuing this deal and how your solution would affect them and/or their company.
Try this: Ask your prospect, “What would the impact to your business be if the project doesn’t get off the ground by x date?” There are generally two outcomes to this question:
1. Real impact, like missing a milestone or product launch, missing out on a funding round, losing out to competition, etc. If this is the answer, you have leverage and can push hard to seal the deal.
2. On the other hand, if their answer is something along the lines of, “I dunno,” you’re not talking to the right person or they don’t expect it to work out.
“Discount” is another word you may want to reassess. JB’s advice?
“Take the word discounting out of your vocabulary. Change it to creativity or flexibility. ‘I can get creative with our pricing or I can be flexible with our pricing.’ It takes the discount number off the table.”
#10: Send a summary email
If you really want to lock in your deals, send your prospects an action plan email right after the first call, and be sure to give them a heads up that it’s coming. Once they receive it, ask them to go over it and let you know if there is anything missing or if anything doesn’t work. This creates accountability and helps you confirm details for when you do move forward. John mentioned that he gets a 25-30% response rate with this approach, but from those, he has a 90% close rate.
If they ghost you, you can reply all with “still interested?” as the subject line, and ask them for a yes or no regarding whether you should continue with follow ups. If that doesn’t work, you can send another “did I lose you?” While the responses aren’t always positive, receiving an answer helps you figure out where they stand and whether or not your time is best spent elsewhere.
For a step-by-step guide on how to do this, check out John’s post on his qualification call follow-up process.
John’s advice: There’s a fine line between being direct and being rude. Being direct is documenting what the prospect told you, getting them to commit to that, and then holding them accountable for it. Being rude is you and the prospect having a conversation today and two weeks later, reaching out and trying to get them to commit because ‘they said x’ or ‘they said y,’ with no proof or documentation.”
Much like the budget conversation, a lot of sales reps dread the closing conversation. There’s a misconception around what it means to close, and they end up avoiding the question because they think it makes them look pushy. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
If closing is something you struggle with, don't worry. Like any other part of selling, you can learn to do it better. And if you follow the steps we discussed, you'll be a better closer than 99% of salespeople out there. Be sure to check out the webinar recording if you missed it, or jump to some of our other resources to level up your close: