SALES

The Most Important Sales Skill of All

Here is a four step process to hone your ability to successfully sell anything to anyone.
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It doesn't matter how good your product is. It doesn't matter how smart your marketing is. It doesn't matter how personable and knowledgeable you are. If you can't close the deal, your company is a waste of time and energy.

The best way to learn this essential sales skill is understand how the very best salespeople close deals, according to Linda Richardson, founder of the huge sales firm Richardson. Here is a four step process that anyone can follow:

1. Begin by "thinking like a closer."

According to Richardson, the "great closers" of the sales world share the three characteristics:

  1. They're prompt. When closers get a hot sales lead, they're on it immediately. If they sense the time is right, they close the deal, right then and there.
  2. They're persistent. When closers know that they've got something the customer needs, they keep working with that customer until the customer sees the need, too.
  3. They're focused. Closers are constantly improving their skills at dialog and questioning and do the extra mental work to build confidence in their own ability.

If you want to be good at closing deals, never pass up an opportunity to cultivate those personal characteristics in yourself.

2. Set an objective for every meeting.

Closers approach every customer meeting with an objective that is specific, measurable and appropriately aggressive. Examples:

  • Today, I will get a list of the key decision-makers.
  • Today, I will get a copy of the competitor's proposal.
  • Today, I will obtain a working description of the customer's problem.
  • Today, I will get first access to my customer contact's boss.
  • Today, I will ask for the customer's business.

Closers never have vague goals like "get closer to the customer" or "learn about customer needs." In business, vagueness is the enemy of success.

These specific goals help closers visualize the sales process as series of smaller closes that lead towards the final close.

3. Check to see if the customer is ready.

Closers look for feedback from prospective customers about whether it's the right time to close. This allows them to make closing a natural extension of the conversation.

At convenient points during the customer meeting, closers ask questions that reveal the customer's state of mind relative to the progress of the sale. Examples:

  • How does that sound?
  • How would that work?
  • What do you think about...?

Such questions help closers see the "green lights" that will increase the closer's confidence that asking for the next step (or for the business) is the right thing to do.

Note that the questions above are open-ended. Asking yes/no questions like "Does that make sense to you?" or "Do you agree?" just cause customers to nod along, without providing the closer any useful information.

4. Close with confidence.

If you follow the previous three rules, there's a good chance that your prospective customer will close for you and saying something like "So, when do we start?"

If this does not happen, however, you do the following:

  1. Summarize. Make a concise, powerful summary that reiterates the benefits of your offerings and its appropriateness for the prospect.
  2. Make a final check. Example: "I think we've pretty much concluded that our solution will solve your problem and save you money; how does that meet your objective?" The final check gives the customer the opportunity to surface any final objections that might interfere with the close.
  3. Ask for the business. If the final check gives a "green light," be direct and ask for the business--confidently and clearly.  Example: "Will you give us the go-ahead?"

It's really that simple.

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Last updated: Apr 1, 2013

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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