SELLING A BUSINESS

How to Close: Selling in the 'Red Zone'

As you get nearer to closing a deal, more obstacles may appear. Make sure you have a game plan.
In football, the last 20 yards require a different strategy. Your closing approach should be similarly honed.
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In football, the area from 20 yards out to the goal line is referred to as "the red zone."

Play in the red zone is different from play in other parts of the field; entire strategies and play sequences are developed for both offense and defense to handle red-zone play.

Why is so much attention paid to red-zone play?

  • The distance to the goal is compressed, making the sense of scoring more urgent for the offense and more threatening for the defense.
  • There is less room to navigate for the defense, but also less space to defend.
  • There is less time for the offense because they can no longer earn first downs–they must either score now or turn the ball over.

As you move towards closing a sale, there is a point in the process that can be considered the red zone. This point is when the customer has received your final proposal and is considering it.

This is it–score or lose. What do you do?

1. Know their defense.

In football, the defense wants you to burn up downs with low yardage gains, forcing you to either kick a field goal or make a turnover. In sales, there is always someone resistant to the idea of your solution (or to change in general). Their defense will be to delay the proposal approval, block it or cause you to fumble–challenging you on timing, cost justification, priority or risk.

These usually come in the form of questions, concerns and silence – not in full frontal attacks. Be ready.

2. Develop your strategy in advance.

There is a reason that teams practice red-zone strategies constantly: They know they will be in red-zone situations! That's true for you, too–at least I hope it is. What are the typical red-zone defense patterns you are going to see?

Here are just a few examples:

  • "We need to wait until ..."
  • "I need to understand how you came to your cost justification figures better ..."
  • "Our IT team is buried right now."
  • "Procurement will need to take a look at this."
  • "We have to look at our other initiatives to see how this fits in."

These are relatively predictable red-zone scenarios. Do you have a plan to address each one?

3. Keep your poise.

In the past few years there has been a greater amount of attention paid to the success rate of quarterbacks in red-zone situations. One of the common characteristics of these high performers is poise. Personal confidence and experience are big contributors, but also the fact that they have a clear playbook in mind helps.

As Peyton Manning said when asked how he deals with pressure, "I don't feel very much pressure. Pressure is what you feel when you don't know what you are going to do next."

4. Manage the clock.

In the red zone, the clock is rarely your friend. The old saying is still true: "Time kills all deals."

You have to keep urgency and energy in the deal to move things forward. Even if all you can get is a little bit of traction–additional information, another meeting, a webinar, a demonstration or contract review–it makes a difference. In each case, you are working for forward progress.

Companies and football teams develop different strategies for different parts of their game. Have you developed your red-zone strategy?

Last updated: May 3, 2012

TOM SEARCY | Columnist | Founder, Hunt Big Sales

Author, speaker, and consultant Tom Searcy is the foremost expert in large account sales. With Hunt Big Sales, he has helped clients land more than $5 billion in new sales. Click to get Searcy's weekly tips, or to learn more about Hunt Big Sales.

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



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