Struggling to cross the finish line with customers? Follow this advice to lock down more orders and keep clients coming back.
All of your hustle as a salesperson really comes down to one pivotal moment: when you either close the deal or don’t. You feel great when your client shakes your hand, signs the contract or scans and sends that agreement. You feel pretty disappointed when you hear a hollow “I’ll get back to you,” fully knowing from the tone and timing that it won’t happen.
So what is it that pushes clients from “maybe” to “definitely”? Experts admit there’s no works-every-time, 100% foolproof answer. But there are some strategies that can help your cause – mostly involving your approach long before you reach that critical moment. To quote LinkedIn publisher Zachary Lukasiewicz, “Sales is a process, and your process can always be improved.”
Now to unlock the mystery. Here are five deal-closing tips that you can start using today.
1. Study Up
Nobody knows a business like that business’s owner, but you can get great info by doing your homework. Reading up on market publications, learning about niche trends, attending sector trade shows and figuring out how companies are advertising can give you a boost in understanding a client’s pain points.
Based on your research, if you start a conversation by suggesting promotional ideas instead of waiting to quote some items, you’ll stand a better chance of getting a deal done. As you go along, you’ll also want to ask open-ended questions to identify what’s not working in a customer’s current marketing approach.
“During the introductory call and throughout the sales process, demonstrate how knowledgeable you are by giving examples and helping your prospects right from the start to get where they want,” says Asher Elran, online strategist for Phoenix-based firm Dynamic Search. This might include, according to Elran, providing competitive insights, helping solve problems and giving useful suggestions. “All these draw you as a subject matter expert and give you the competitive edge you need to even compete with larger companies than you,” he says.
Seth Baum, founder and managing director of the SoundView Group in Los Angeles, suggests putting your knowledge, research, and examples in a formal plan for your client to review early in the sales process. Baum believes the plan should answer the question: “What will happen the week or even the day that the deal is signed?”
No doubt, another one of your goals should always be to stay ahead of the game. In other words, don’t be caught flat-footed. If you’re dealing with children’s products, for instance, make sure you have proper safety certifications in hand without your client having to ask for them. You want to be confident not only in your presentations, but in your answers. Preparation will certainly help. As you get adept at researching, asking good questions and presenting formal plans, you’ll notice clients will trust your judgment and expertise, making it that much more likely that they’ll follow through on a sale.
2. Stay True & In Touch
Remember that Rick Astley song, “Never Gonna Give You Up?” C’mon, of course you do. The chorus goes: “Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down/Never gonna run around and desert you/Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye/Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.” If it doesn’t sound familiar, hop onto YouTube and sing along. It’s not just a catchy tune. Those chorus lyrics should remind you of your responsibilities to your clients.
The bottom line: always be there for customers – new and old – and don’t leave them twisting in the wind. Any salesperson can be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when it’s time to take an order. But are you there when clients aren’t in a buying cycle? Reach out to them and ask how you can help. Stay top of mind through self-promos. Anticipate needs. Become familiar enough with customers’ industries that you know what major expos and events are coming up.
Take to heart what Martha Spelman, a branding and marketing consultant, writes in her business blog: “Keeping existing customers is far less expensive [than] getting new customers.”
In one of her posts, Spelman tells the story of “firing” her longtime insurance agent. For years, he had virtually no contact with her – except for when it came to sending premium bills. Otherwise, he never kept in touch with calls, emails or policy checkups. It wasn’t until she had trouble trying to renew a policy that she realized this. Spelman contacted the agent’s office and spoke to an assistant, but never actually got connected to her agent. Instead of pushing the matter, she took her policies to a new agent, who she described as a prompt go-getter who snagged her better coverage for about the same rate. Even once she submitted her exit papers to her old agent, she didn’t hear a thing.
As Spelman puts it, the moral of the story is, “If you’re out of touch, you’re in trouble.” You’ve probably dealt with someone like this insurance agent. Do you enjoy doing business with people like them? Of course not. So stay in touch and stay aware. At closing time, clients will remember.
3. Give Some Breathing Room
So you did your research, charmed your client, and presented a plan. Now you’re playing the waiting game and the longer you wait, the more you worry. Well, cut it out. Carol de Ville, president of The Branding Company in Ontario, Canada, believes in the power of patience and you should, too. Give your client time to consider the deal.
“One tip for successfully closing the sale: wait,” says de Ville. “Once you’ve completed all the work to provide the opportunity to the client, whether a product or service, and presented your value-added benefits, cost analysis and related research, just wait,” she says. “Do not interrupt your client’s thought strategy. Allow your client the chance to digest the offering and, above all, respect their thinking processes.”
She adds an important note when you reach a crucial deal-making moment. “Remember: two ears, one mouth, so always speak less than half the time and listen twice as hard,” de Ville says.
John Shea, director of sales enablement at Quintain Marketing (asi/303131) in Annapolis, MD, puts it more bluntly: “Ask for the business and then shut up.”
When it comes to in-person and video conversations, he recommends against filling nervous or awkward silences, even if it’s a tad uncomfortable. “You ask for the deal and then you don’t talk through it,” he says. “If they say no, you have to go back to why they said no.”
Did You Know?
- 44% of salespeople give up after one follow-up try.
- 92% of salespeople give up after a client says “no” to a service, but 80% of prospects say “no” four times before they say “yes.”
- Only 13% of customers believe a salesperson can truly understand their needs.
- 70% of people make buying decisions to solve problems. Just 30% make decisions to gain something.
- 30%-50% of sales go to the vendor that responds first.
4. Poke Politely
Of course, you can’t wait forever, either. Especially if products have to be ordered for an event or a time-sensitive promotion, time makes a difference. Chances are you can circle back to the client once or twice without annoying anyone. To use the advice of Danette Gossett, CEO and president of Gossett Marketing (asi/212200), sometimes what closes a deal is being “politely persistent.” Use courtesy, charm and humor as appropriate.
Each stage of the planning and negotiation process should indicate progress toward the client ultimately saying “yes.” They may need time to make the final decision, but your gentle prodding in that last stage can make a difference.
“We make these little agreements as we move forward,” Shea of Quintain says. “If we do everything we’re supposed to do on both sides, the agreement is that we’re going to move forward. Ask for the opportunity or business at the end.”
Expect a new client with a limited budget to lollygag a little, but mulling something over for too long probably means the client is just finding a way to say “no.” Your promotional product or service is either right for the client right now or not.
Tom Bernthal, founder and CEO of Kelton Global, believes it’s on the client to decide if they’re ready for what you can offer them. “You’re asking them if they’d rather have that improvement or not,” he says. “In the end, it’s up to your product to make enough of an impact that this is an easy conversation. But if you’re selling something worth buying, they need to see the benefit, not the sale.”
5. Sweeten the Deal
You’ve given your client time to think, but now she needs one last itty, bitty push before she agrees to do the deal. What’s your move? Experts say you should give a little – not a lot, but some. Spelman says that sometimes you have to “give away some of your secret sauce.”
What does she mean? “So many people walk in and just ask for the sale,” she says. Don’t let that be you.
Your “secret sauce” might range from some free samples to some free consulting. There’s probably a favor you can tack onto the contract or a professional tip you can bring to the closing. Think strategically and that add-on could be what pushes the client to sign the contract and close the deal. They say talk is cheap, but really, it’s free.
“Let people know what they can do to help their business,” says Spelman. “So many times people are leery about giving their tips away.”
But there’s no reason to be leery. As Gossett puts it, most marketing and promotion ideas are not all that new. They’re simply variations on the same theme. The thing is, these ideas are familiar to marketing pros but not necessarily people outside of the industry. Like, well, your clients.
“There are no real new techniques or secrets out there,” Gossett says. “We just have to remind ourselves to do the things we already know.”
Not so sure you have a tip or idea your client doesn’t already know? Here’s a thought: offer to do a little extra labor instead. Let’s say your client has a trade show coming up and she plans to give away branded bags with promotional items inside. You can save your client a lot of time, energy and angst by delivering those bags totally packaged and ready to hand out.
“I try to take as much work off my client’s plate as possible and put it back on mine,” says Pete Thuss, marketing partner at Talbot Promo (asi/341500). “And, yes, sometimes it means a little more work for me. But I’m seeing the results. I’m seeing it pay off and making a difference.”
So, yes, you may end up spending one weekend stuffing gift bags for your client, but for the sake of closing a deal and possibly jumpstarting a career-long relationship, it will be worth it.
If your client won’t agree to a sale, it’s likely that pricing is a factor. Instead of suggesting a discount, though, that would put less money in your pocket, offer less expensive items or fewer of them to customers on a tight budget. As you do this, be sure to keep your margins in mind and protect them.
Christine Stoddard is a contributing writer for Advantages.