There comes a time in every sales conversation when you've got to "ask for the business."

For many people—including those who sell for a living—closing is scary.  It's the moment of truth when you finally learn whether you're going to get the deal, or whether you just wasted a pile of your valuable time selling to somebody who isn't going to buy (at least from you.)

Here's a simple step-by-step method to close a deal—with the minimum of pain and the maximum likelihood of success.

1. Make Each Meeting a Mini-Close

Whenever you contact a potential customer, have an objective in mind that is specific, measurable, and appropriately aggressive. Specific objectives aren’t feel-good nonsense like “I will get closer to the customer.” What you want to have are goals that can be easily assessed and measured–such as “I will get a list of the key decision makers” or “I will ask for the business.”

These objectives should be aggressive, but appropriate to the stage of the sales cycle. For example, on a first sales call for a complex multimillion-dollar deal with multiple decision makers, it would be overly aggressive to set an objective like “I will close the deal today.”

Setting objectives doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible and adjust the goal while you’re in the meeting. But a great closer always has a direction and understands where the meeting needs to go in order to maintain momentum and win the deal.

2. Check Frequently That You’re on Target

As you work with a potential customer, you'll be identifying that customer’s own objectives, strategy, decision process, time frames, etc. Then you want to position your ideas, products, or solutions to satisfy those needs. That’s basic selling.

However, you should also ask “check-in” questions to get feedback from the client about what you’ve said. This allows you to gauge how the customer is responding, so you can adjust your strategy accordingly. Most importantly, this check-in process will give you the information you need to confidently close.

Warning: Do not use leading questions like “Does that make sense to you?” or “Do you agree?” With leading questions, customers will often take the easy way out and nod along, without really agreeing.

Instead, ask such questions as, “How does that sound?” or “What do you think?” These open questions encourage the customer to provide you with frank, vital information that can help you move the sale forward and achieve your "mini-close" (see Step 1.)

3. Make a Final Check, then Close the Deal

If you're following Steps 1 and 2, do not be surprised if the customer closes the deal for you by saying something like "So, when do we get started?" That's the best-case scenario.

If that does not happen, however, then you must move to close, or you will lose ground (and possibly the entire deal).

During your sales conversations and contacts, you’ve presumably positioned your products or services so that the customer understands how they meet his or her needs. You’ve checked in to get feedback to make sure there is agreement and understanding. The final close is now pretty mechanical.

Provide the decision maker a concise, powerful summary that reiterates the conversation that you’ve just had. This summary may include benefits of your products or services. Once you’ve done this, make one final check—not for understanding but for agreement.

The purpose of this final check is to seek a green light to go for the close. The final check also gives the customer the opportunity to bring up any final objections that might interfere with your close. If a final objection surfaces, handle it–and then restate the final check.

Here's an example:

You: Our worldwide service capability will allow your employees access anywhere they travel, at an 11 percent reduction from what you’re spending today. How does that meet your objective?

Decision maker: It’s the savings I’m looking for, based on what I’ve heard.

You: That’s great. To help us move this forward, I’d like to suggest that we meet with the steering committee. How does that sound?

4. Follow Up Immediately

If the customer says "Yes!", show plenty of enthusiasm and appreciation. Always send an email or make a call to document the decision.

Note: Do not ask for a referral yet. You only earn the right after the customer is delighted by what they bought from you.

If the potential customer doesn’t buy, be gracious. Express your appreciation for the prospect's time and effort.  Remember that last impressions are almost as important as first impressions, and you never know when you might be doing some business in the future.

Let me leave you with a quick horror story. I once got an insurance quote from a young insurance agent working with small business liability insurance. When I didn't buy the policy, she said: "Why did you waste my time, then?"

That was five years ago and it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  And now I'm telling all of you about it on Inc.com, which can't be all that great a thing, publicity-wise, eh?

The above is based on a conversations with half-a-dozen sales gurus, but is mostly based upon the thoughts of the brilliant and beautiful Linda Richardson, founder of the huge sales training firm Richardson. A more detailed version of this column is contained in my new book, How to Say It: Business to Business Selling.