Every sales person thinks the sale is made in the final move of their sales visit, but their wrong.  Top sales pros all know that it's the way you frame your sales appointment up front that makes or breaks your ability to close.

I first learned this from one of my early sales mentors who taught me a little known sales technique called -- setting an up front agreement.

An up front agreement is a way to set clear expectations with your prospect -- at the start of your sales conversation -- of exactly where this conversation is headed and what specifically will happen at the end.

Think of it like an informal oral contract that your prospect agrees with, laying out the ground rules for how you'll "do" your sales conversation.

The timing for this technique is right at the start of your sales conversation, after you have taken a few minutes to build rapport with your prospect.

Here's an example of exactly what an up front agreement looks like in the real world. Blake, a business coaching client, runs a successful I.T. services company with a staff of 27 and clients in 5 states.  His background is I.T., not sales, so it is understandable that so many prospects stalled him at the end of a sales conversation saying the dreaded, "I'll think about it and get back with you later."

Yeah, right you will.  You and I both know, and Blake soon found out, that most of these "think it overs" never bought.  Yet Blake wasted hours of effort dutifully following up with these prospects each month.

Now imagine instead you were in Blake's shoes, about to talk with a prospect and you said the following:

Now Mr. Prospect, before we get too deep into this I just ask for one thing.  I'll give you the next hour of my time to ask just the right questions to pinpoint your real I.T. needs.  I share with you my expert advice, based on twenty years in I.T., of how you can best protect your network, increase your team's efficiency, and lower your real costs.  In fact, I'll do this conversation exactly as if you were already a client.  I do ask one thing in return...  

At the end of our conversation you let me know clearly where we stand, either no we don't have a fit to work together, or yes Blake, we have enough of a fit to take the next step.  I'm okay with either answer Mr. Prospect, I just ask for the courtesy of knowing yes or no.  Is that fair?  

Great, so if it's a no, then at the very least you'll gain the value of the expertise I used to help you diagnose your real I.T. needs and we part as friends.  

If it's a yes, and I'm hoping that it is, then you and I will set up a time next week, which gives me enough time to put together a well designed I.T. plan for your company, and at that appointment next week, we'll go through the specific solutions and pricing for us to become your new outsourced I.T. provider.  Are we in agreement on that?  Great.

The goal of your up front agreement is to get clear, concrete agreement that at the end of your time together you both have agreed to decide yes or no whether to take the next step together, and you'll define precisely what that next step will be.

Here's one more example of what an upfront agreement might sound like.  Imagine you were selling a high end consumer product like an in home entertainment system directly to a consumer.  Your up front agreement might go like this:

Mr. Prospect, it's a pleasure to get to work with you today.  I've been working with people just like you who wanted my expert help in designing just the right in-home entertainment system for their needs and budget.  

You know what, I'm more than happy to take the time to figure out exactly what type of system would best meet your needs, and to get clear on whether or not we even have what you really want.  I am just going to ask you for two things Mr. Prospect.  

First, I'm going to need you to be a little patient with me as I take you through our Ultimate Entertainment System Design process because we've learned that if we ask the right questions about exactly what you really want, that makes the biggest difference between you walking out of here with exactly the right fit and best value, and someone else having a subpar solution.  Are you okay with me asking you some detailed questions about your home and what exactly is most important to you in terms of entertainment systems?  Great. 

Now the second ground rule I'd like us to play by is that after I take you through the complete Ultimate Entertainment System Design process, I just ask that at the end, you let me know how you want to proceed.   You simply tell me, "No David, that just isn't what I want."  Or you say, "Yes David, that's exactly what I've wanted and I can't wait to get it set up and installed in my home."  I'm fine either way, I just ask that you give me a straight, clear answer.  Is that fair Mr. Prospect?  Great.

When you set an up front agreement at the start of your sales conversation you build the sales tracks that lead to an actual decision, and that's what you really want, a clear answer.

This saves you wasted time following up with people who have no intention to buy; it helps you spot objections and potentially use them to close the deal; and it is just a more elegant way to sell.