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The 6 Essential Rules for Closing Deals

No skill is more important in selling than knowing how to close the deal. I've written on this subject extensively, but have not yet set down the most important rules for closing deals.

This post is based upon several conversations with the person whom I believe is the world's foremost expert on closing deals: Linda Richardson, founder of the huge sales training firm Richardson.

I've posted each rule on its own page, but I think you'll find that each page so rich in wisdom and content, that it will be worth reading each one carefully.

Click the green NEXT button to see the first essential rule.

READERS: Comments and experiences particularly welcome on this post!

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RULE #1: Trick Closes Don't Work
The sales world is full of lore about how to close. Most of it is pure nonsense. Specifically, the following trick closes keep popping up, sometimes in major sales seminars. Here the are:
  • The assumptive close. Ask the customer to make a meaningless decision that assumes a decision has been made. Example: "Do you want that in the hunter green or the hunter orange?"
  • The flyfish close. Promise something valuable then take it away if a decision isn't made now. Example: "We have a special offer â€" a 15 percent discount â€" but only if you decide to buy now."
  • The puppy-dog close. Let the customer try the product for free in the hopes the customer will fall in love with it. Example: "We'll give you the product free for your evaluation and only charge you if you don't return it.
  • The reverse close. Ask a customer who's saying "no" a question intended to elicit a "no" that actually means "yes." Example: "Is there any reason that you wouldn't do business with our company?"
These "trick closes" are stupid and ineffective. Any buyer with an ounce of sophistication will see a trick close coming a mile away -- and is likely to think you're a fool for trying it.

Of course, saying something is ineffective isn't the same thing as saying it doesn't work. A trick close can definitely generate a sale, especially if the buyer isn't too bright. Even so, trick closes are insulting to the customer and destructive to the long-term customer relationship. Here's why:

If a customer has already decided to buy, then a trick close (by definition) isn't necessary. The only reason to use a trick close is if the customer has not yet decided to buy, hence the need to trick the customer into making a decision. With the trick close, you've forced the customer to buy something that he doesn't yet want.

Now, it's perfectly true that the customer may really need your offering and after delivery be satisfied (even delighted) with what it does for him, but at some level or another he will always know that you tricked him into buying before he was ready.

But that's the best case scenario. If the customer doesn't really need your offering, and only bought because you tricked him (and he didn't know how to gracefully get out of the deal), that's going to create massive resentment.

And you'll end up losing in the long run. So if you're serious about really learning how to close, forget the tricks and learn the other five rules.

RULE #2: Think and Act Like a Closer.
The best way to learn something quickly is to emulate the thought processes and behaviors of somebody who's already good at what you want to learn. That's why people who want to learn to play tennis well study the attitudes and behaviors of tennis stars. It's why aspiring actors have a fascination with those who are already successful in that field.

It's easier to walk in the footsteps of giants than to blaze a trail of your own. So:The great "closers" in this world share two characteristics: they're incredibly prompt and incredibly persistent. If they get a lead, they're on that lead immediately.

If they sense the time is right, they close the deal, right then and there. After they've closed, they always follow up immediately. So if you want to be a better closer, you've got to torque up your behavior so that you're on top of things.

If you aren't willing to be vigilant and inexhaustible in your focus and your ability to understand customer needs, you'll never be a great closer. If you aren't willing to constantly improve your skills at dialog and questioning, you'll never be a great closer. If you aren't willing to do the extra mental work to build confidence in your own ability, you'll never be a great closer.

My best advice to you, if you really want to get good a selling, is to "shadow" somebody who is good at closing. Watch. Listen. Sense what's going on. Then, afterwards, ask what was going through that person's mind when they moved to each stage of the sale.

Then, when you're in similar situations, think "what would she do?" If you can emulate the thought process, it's easy to emulate the behavior. You'd be surprised how much can be absorbed, and how quickly, using this method.

RULE #3: A Sale is a SERIES of Closes
It's a myth that every sale has a single, all-important point where the deal closes Instead, while it's true that some extremely simple sales processes have a defined close point, but complex sales processes (i.e. almost all B2B sales) have a series of points where the prospect makes a decision, even if it's just the decision to let you pitch, rather than pitch you out.

Whenever you call on a customer, you should have an objective in mind that is specific, measurable, and appropriately aggressive.

Specific objectives aren't feel-good goals like "I will get closer to the customer"; they're 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."

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.

Here's a list of some of the "closes" that make up a closing strategy and are appropriate at each stage of the buying cycle:

Closes at Stage 1: Problem recognition.

  • The initial contact agrees that there's a problem.
  • The initial contact agrees to sponsor you to her manager.
  • The initial contact agrees to another meeting to estimate financial impact.
Closes at Stage 2: Define economic consequences.
  • The initial contact agrees on an estimated financial impact of the problem.
  • The initial contact provides a list of decision makers who would be interested.
  • The initial contact agrees to sponsor you to present the problem to a working group.
  • The initial contact supports your request to meet with the economic decision maker and other key influencers.
  • You seek verification from the economic decision maker, i.e., the executive sponsor.
Closes at Stage 3: Commit funding.
  • The decision makers reach consensus that money will be spent on this problem.
Closes at Stage 4: Define decision criteria.
  • The decision makers ask you to create or edit an RFP.
  • You test your solution for validation and seek comparisons with competitors.
Closes at Stage 5: Evaluate alternatives.
  • A key decision maker allows you to present your solution to a larger group of stakeholders, who must be brought on board in order to move the deal forward.
  • You ask for the business at the conclusion of the presentation.
Closes at Stage 6: Select vendor solution.
  • The decision makers select your offering (the actual close).
  • You continue to close through the negotiation to contract.
  • You make a post-final presentation phone call to your contact for feedback.
Whenever you're meeting with a customer, keep the customer involved. During the meeting you will (of course) identify the customer's objectives, strategy, decision process, time frames, etc., and position your ideas, products, or solutions to satisfy those needs. That's basic selling.

Your closing objective should be aggressive, but appropriate to the stage of the sales cycle. For example, setting a goal to "ask for the business" on the first sales call for a million-dollar deal is probably setting yourself up to fail.

This isn't to say that you can't be flexible and ask for the business on those rare opportunities where a deal gets fast-tracked. But you should always have a "stretch" objective for every sales meeting and make your best effort to close on that objective.

RULE #4: Fear is Your True Enemy
The main reason that sales professionals avoid closing is that they're afraid. These fears include:
  • Fear of failure. If I lose this sale, it means that I'm a failure as a sales professional.
  • Fear of rejection. If I lose this sale, it means that the customer doesn't like me.
  • Fear of financial loss. If I lose this sale, I won't make the commission and my kids won't eat.
  • Fear of management disapproval. If I don't make quota, my boss will be unhappy.
  • Fear of lost anticipation. If I don't make the sale, I'll lose the pleasant fantasy of winning.
  • Fear of social blundering. If I ask at the wrong time, the customer will think I'm pushy.
The unifying factor in all these emotions, of course, is fear. The specific quality of that fear differs from person to person. Some folk don't care that much about social rejection , for example, but hate, hate, hate to lose a commission. Other folk are happy to take a financial loss as long as they don't have look like a fool in front of a customer. However, regardless of the particular size and shape of your fears, the solution is the same:

Regardless of how uncomfortable you are or how terrible you might feel if your close doesn't result in a sale, the truth is that YOU HAVE TO CLOSE. It's part of the job, no matter how much it's scaring you. So just do it, dammit.

Closing is like standing on the edge of a cold swimming pool. Slowly lowering yourself in the water is slow torture; better to just take a deep breath and jump.

How do you overcome a fear? Here are five basic techniques:

  • Familiarity. The more you close, the easier it is to close. That's why I recommended that you treat the sales cycle as a series of small closes. That way closing on the big deal isn't a big deal in and of itself.
  • Rehearsal. When it comes to emotions, your brain can't differentiate between what it imagines and what's actually happened in the real world. If you repeatedly rehearse closing in your mind, and while rehearsing force yourself to feel confident, your behavior in the real world will imitate your imagination.
  • Reframing. This entails creating a comparison that makes the original fear seem trivial. Example: There are millions of Iraqi citizens who have to worry about being shot simply if they go to the store to buy some food, so what have you got to be afraid of?
  • Association. Ever been to an amusement park? If so, you probably paid $30 to $50 to be frightened. The "fear" part of selling is like going on a rollercoaster -- except that you get to some steering, so you're more in control. So the "fear" is the exciting part of selling, right?
  • Redefinition -- Fear is actually just a signal that you need to do something. If you're afraid to ask for the business, it's just your subconscious mind telling you that it's getting close to the point where you need to ask for the business.
Put these techniques in your mental "bag of tricks" and fear of failure or rejection will be unable to hold you back any longer. The techniques are best applied in combination. For example, here's the specific routine that works for me:
  1. I notice that I'm putting something off because of a fear that it won't happen.
  2. I re-confirm that the goal is worth pursuing.
  3. I "remember" that the fear is just a signal that this is a desirable goal.
  4. I feel grateful that I have the opportunity to achieve that goal.
  5. I briefly think about all the things that I don't have to be afraid about.
  6. I recall all the times that I've overcome similar fears.
  7. I imagine myself taking the action that I've been putting off because of fear.
  8. I repeat the above step 5 times, visualizing a successful outcome.
  9. I use the momentum of all of the above to push me forward.
The above formula has allowed me, a relatively quiet guy, to pursue some goals and have some experiences that otherwise would have been completely impossible for me to achieve. And it's certainly taken away any fear I ever had of closing a deal. Try it!

RULE #5: Always Be Checking
The best way to know when it's time to close, according to Richardson, is to return the old ABC adage from "Always Be Closing" to "Always Be Checking." The idea is to constantly get feedback from the prospect about whether it's safe to close. That way, when you do close, it becomes less of a "moment of truth" and more like a natural extension of the conversation that you're having with the prospect.

At convenient points during the sales call (after you have positioned your message, responded to an objection, answered a question, etc.) ask a question that draws out more information and which reveals the prospects state of mind relative to the progress of the sale. Nothing elaborate, just normal conversational stuff like:

  • How does that sound?
  • How would that work?
  • What do you think about--?
Asking for feedback not only give you critical information about the prospect's problems and potential to accept your solution, but also increases your confidence when it comes to asking for the business or the next step.

When you're checking, avoid leading questions like "Does that make sense to you?" or "Do you agree?" while nodding your head. Prospects will almost always respond to such questions by nodding along with you, without really agreeing. Instead, ask questions that encourage the prospect to provide you with vital information. Example:


  • Rep (nodding): "We have the best framistat in the business. Do you agree?"
  • Prospect (nodding back): "Uh huh." (Thinking: "Yeah, I hear you.")
  • Rep: "Do you think our service program could satisfy your needs?
  • Prospect: "We need a global deployment for service."
  • Rep: "I can see why that's important. We have international partners who deliver our services. How would that meet your concern?"
The best part about "always be checking" is that half the time the client will say preemptively close the sale for you by saying something like "So, when do we start?"
RULE #6: It's All About Self-Confidence
The old "Always Be Closing" philosophy is often misinterpreted to mean hammering the customer until the customer buys. That's too bad, because that interpretation of the ABC strategy creates a sense of overwhelming pressure. And that inevitably creates resistance to the sale because the prospect doesn't want to feel that he or she is being manipulated or conned.

This isn't to say that high pressure sales tactics don't work sometimes. They can, and do. Otherwise sales pros wouldn't use them. Most of the time, though, high pressure tactics backfire, even when they "work." But most B2B sales involve a long-term relationship between two firms, so if you make a high pressure sale, chances are you've made your customer contact feel like a fool, and you'll be persona non grata next time you need some business.

If you've been following the rules from the previous pages, you've used checking to get feedback and to position your offerings. If so, you should be able to sense the rhythm of the conversation and whether the customer is ready to make a decision. That's when you close. Richardson describes this as a five step process:

  1. Summarize. Make a concise, powerful summary that reiterates the benefits of your offerings and its appropriateness for the prospect. Speak with confidence, but don't let your voice slip into "sales pitch-eese." Keep it conversational.
  2. Final Check. Once you've summarized, do one final check - not for understanding but for agreement. 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?" Don't be pushy and don't ask a leading question like: "Do you agree?" This 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 doesn't surface a new objection, be direct and ask for the business -- confidently and clearly. Example: "Will you give us the go-ahead?"
  4. Conclude with Confidence. Chances are you just made a sale, in which case it should be easy to conclude the meeting with confidence, energy, and rapport. But even if you didn't get the sale, you want to leave the (almost) customer with the sense that you are a person with whom they want to do business. So thank the prospect and state your desire to work with the client in the future.
  5. Follow up Immediately. This is where many reps stumble. They're so elated at getting the business that they think the job is done and don't take the necessary steps to make sure that the deal is executed and that the customer remains happy.
It's really that simple.

READERS: An easy-to-follow system for selling B2B -- including an improved version of this post -- is provided in my new book How to Say It: Business to Business Selling available for purchase here.