SELLING A BUSINESS

5 Ways to Close a Deal

Everybody who sells should be able to master these five classic ways to ask for the business.
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Many sellers are afraid to ask potential customers whether they're going to buy. The reason is simple: They're secretly worried the answer will be no, and that all their hard work developing the opportunity will turn out to be wasted.

After all, if you don't close the deal, you can continue to enjoy the pleasant fantasy of winning the business.

As a result, some sellers shilly-shally about, hoping that the customer will volunteer something like, "Here's my money; give me the product!" (Which almost never happens.)

Because closing is so important, everybody who sells should know the five classic closes and when to use them. Here they are:

1. The Assumptive Close

Concept: You ask a question that, when the customer answers it, implicitly commits the customer to the sale.

Example: "Help me understand your process and how your company will purchase this product."

Best Usage: When you're not certain that the customer is convinced. Talking about the details will either confirm the customer's decision to buy or allow for further discussion. Be careful with this one, though: If your delivery is too ham-handed, this close can seem manipulative.

2. The Reverse Close

Concept: You ask a question that elicits a no response but which is actually a yes to the close.

Example: "Is there any reason, if we gave you the product at this price, that you wouldn't do business with our company?"

Best Usage: When the customer has a pessimistic personality that enjoys nit-picking and finding fault. Remember to have a backup plan if the answer is "Yes, which is why I'm not going to buy."

3. The Time-Sensitive Close

Concept: You attach the purchase to a time line that the customer has already communicated.

Example: "You said you want to get this done by [a certain time]; let's look at our calendars and figure out what we need to do today."

Best Usage: When the customer has committed to achieving a specific goal within a specific time. This is also useful as an intermediate close on the next step--thereby laying the groundwork for a final close.

4. The Direct-Question Close

Concept: You summarize the conversation (or series of conversations) and simply ask for the business.

Example: "It looks like we've answered all the questions. Shall we move forward with this?"

Best Usage: This is the general purpose close and can be applied in almost any sales situation. It never seems manipulative and seldom backfires. Should the answer be no, however, start a conversation that investigates why the customer isn't yet ready to buy.

5. The Direct-Statement Close 

Concept: You communicate your confidence that the purchase is going to happen by simply stating that it is going to happen.

Example: "Let's move forward on this."

Best Usage: Use this when you've received multiple green lights signaling that the customer is ready to buy. This close has an added benefit, by the way, by positioning the purchase as an agreement between equals, rather than a supplication from the seller to the buyer.

The above is very loosely adapted from a conversation with PI Worldwide CEO Nancy Martini, with whom I co-wrote the book Scientific Selling. Just to be clear, what I call the Assumptive Close, Nancy calls a Process-Driven Close--and she didn't mention the Reverse Close, which I've included for the sake of thoroughness. The best usages are purely based upon my own observations.

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Last updated: Sep 13, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James was recently named a "Top 40 Social Selling Marketing Master" by Forbes, and his blog has won awards from the Society of American Business Editors and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. His writing has appeared in publications as diverse as Wired, Brandweek, and Men's Health, and he is the author of numerous books, including The Tao of Programming, Business Wisdom of the Electronic Elite, and, most recently, Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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