Closing a sale: A natural ending in the sales process

Closing a sale occurs when the seller and buyer agree to the conditions of the sale and the buyer makes a firm commitment to the transaction. Closing the sale should not be seen as a transactional event, but rather as the natural ending of the sales process.

The trial close in the sales process

Throughout the sales process, leverage the technique of the “trial close” to ensure that you have the stakeholder’s buy-in. The purpose of a trial close is to ensure that all conditions for purchase are known and that the buyer is serious about this process. Consider the following example trial close:

Seller: “Mr./Ms. Stakeholder, do you feel confident that our product can deliver the required value to you and your organization?”
Buyer: “Well, I would really like to see how your product can perform under conditions XYZ before concluding.”
Seller: “No problem, Mr./Ms. Stakeholder, but before I agree to spend more of our time on this, can I just ask you this: If I can demonstrate that our product does perform under conditions XYZ, would that be enough for you to make a commitment to us?”

If the stakeholder’s request is resource-intensive or counterproductive, suggest an alternative approach. Agreeing to do something for the stakeholder should give you leverage with which to bargain. “If I can get this done, would you be able to arrange a meeting with Mr./Ms. So-and-so in order to advance this process?”

Use the trial close with every stakeholder to ensure that you have their support and to identify and remove any red flags from your buying process.

Review the stakeholder management chart to ensure that no major red flags remain.

Ask for the order

This is an old principle in sales: if you don’t ask, you will not get the sale. However, the timing is important. When any conditions from a trial close have been met, ask the key decision-maker for the order.

Remind the stakeholder of the process you both have agreed on. Make sure that the stakeholder agrees that you have met every condition they put to you after the trial close. Ask for the order. The following are some ways you could phrase the“closing question”:

  • “Mr./Ms. Stakeholder, what is the next step?”
  • “Are you ready to make a commitment to buy product ABC?”
  • “Can you make a decision now to move forward with a purchase of ABC?”

Only ask one question. Once asked, do not be afraid of silence as the buyer thinks through their response. There will always be some tension in the moment when a question is asked, so remember to empathize with the buyer. Look at the buyer and try to figure out the emotions behind the buyer’s words.

Possible answers to the “closing question”

“Yes”: Thank the buyer, reassure them that they have made a great choice and move on to discuss logistics. After signing the contract, the job shifts to making the delivery/installation/use of the product a success for the buyer.

“No”: Do not become emotional. Try to understand why the customer has made the decision. Ask if the decision is final or whether you can be considered later. If a competitor has received the order, determine why and on which points the competition was perceived to be better. Ask the customer sincerely if there is anything you should have done differently or can improve upon. Feedback can prove invaluable for later sales processes.

“Undecided/I’ll get back to you/Maybe/We’ll see/Not right now”: These are tricky responses because they break with the established process.

  • Listen to the stakeholder; in such cases, there might have been changes within the customer organization that affect the position of your sales process. If this is the situation, move on, but ensure that the lines of communication stay open.
  • Determine whether the stakeholder still sees value in your offering and then ask them to suggest a process forward (effectively, go back to the trial close).
  • Do not be content with a vague response; put gentle pressure on the stakeholder to commit to a firm next step.
  • If there are one or two reasonable conditions attached to the next step, then you should proceed, as keeping momentum is important. A concrete next step would indicate that there is still life in the process, and that the stakeholder has a true interest in the sale.

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