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The Best Closing Technique (Is Better Investigation)

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
14 min read

So you’ve practiced your routine a million times, you’ve got your voice down to that perfect tone. You’ve perfected your strategy to get past the gatekeeper on a consistent basis. But you’re still not making a sale – why? What’s going wrong?

Sometimes a little nudge in the right direction can get your prospect to the finish line—and that’s what sales closing techniques are for.

In this episode, we’ll be talking about:

  • Why you’re not closing as many deals as you’d like to
  • Why investigation is the most important and lengthy part of the sale
  • How to better ask for business ethically

When you or your sales force implement closing techniques, this can result in more revenue, more effective staff and happier customers. A good close is part of an overall well-designed sales process, where the salesperson listens well and matches customers up with products that genuinely suit their needs. Instead of pushing products for which customers have no real use or desire, you need to identify their pain points.

Prospects simply don’t have the patience to do your homework for you. They don’t want you to identify the pain points they already know about — if that was the case, they’d simply buy the solution by themselves. You’re valuable because you can find opportunities or pain points your buyers don’t yet know about. You’re figuring out how your product can help the buyer. You need to identify their priorities and buying standards, and gaining credibility by asking relevant, targeted, strategic questions.

Focus on learning the most you can about a prospect’s needs and about communicating how your recommended product addresses those needs. When you’ve done the necessary and time-intensive spadework, the close simply becomes the inevitable bridge between problem and solution.

For more information on remote selling and a complete list of links mentioned in this podcast, visit this remote selling article on our website.

The Best Closing Technique (Is Better Investigation):

Full Transcript

I just ran the Big Sur Marathon a few weeks back and I have to tell you, it was both easier and harder than I thought it would be. Now, it was easier in the sense that I felt pretty good throughout the race and was able to finish strong at the very end where I sprinted across the finish line. It was harder in the sense that I didn’t even come close to my time goal, and I’ve already come up with some really concrete reasons for that. What I haven’t spent much time doing is figuring out steps I could have taken differently on race day to improve my time. Of course, this is important and it may have some impact on my time, but the race isn’t a one-day event. I began training for the race in December, and that was for an April race, meaning I spent over four months prepping for this day.

What happened during training, those four grueling months leading up to the race, is way more impactful on what happened than anything I could have done to optimize my time on that single day for the race, which is to say there are two ways you can look at the timeline of the event: the four hours and 45 minutes I spent running the race on April 28, 2019, or the four months I spent in training leading up to the race, culminating with me running the race and crossing the finish line. Of course, you may be thinking this is obvious, but you can look at your sales much the same way, and here’s what I see a lot of people doing. They go around looking for closing techniques, meaning they’re looking at the final conversation, the “close” where you ask for business, as the place to focus your time and energy. They think there’s something wrong with the way I’m asking and there must be a better way to do it.

Alternatively, you can look at your sale as a series of conversations that culminate in the “close” or, again, asking for commitment, which is only a very small part of the overall process with the outcome largely determined before you ever get to the close. Now, I’ll illustrate this through a different example. Let’s say you’ve been dating your partner for a year and you’re ready to get married. It’s commonplace now to orchestrate the perfect engagement in an exotic location, with a live band and rose petals and a suite in a five star hotel. What your partner says isn’t influenced so much by the quality of your proposal, but by all of the things that happened in the previous year of dating. And the smart money is on being confident in their answer long before you propose. Worst yet, let’s say you do put together the perfect proposal and your partner says yes because of the quality of your proposal. Certainly, your relationship, my friend, is doomed. Be good to them during the course of your entire relationship and you won’t feel so much pressure to deliver an over-the-top proposal.

On today’s episode, I’ll talk to you about why you’re not closing as many deals as you’d like to, why investigation is the most important and lengthy part of the sale, and give you a few ideas about how to better ask for business ethically.

Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast for entrepreneurs, business owners, and salespeople looking to have more and better conversations with your perfect clients. You’ll get a healthy scoop of psychology, behavioral economics and sales studies to help you create win-win relationships. I’m your host, Liston Witherill, and I’m pleased to welcome you to Modern Sales.

So you have a problem, deals aren’t closing fast enough for your liking, or maybe you’re just not closing enough of them. You might’ve gone to Google to search for articles about closing techniques, or you may have gone to Amazon to look for sales books that talk about closing, where you find lots of outdated and slimy advice about creating urgency where none exists. Maybe they tell you to use a guilt trip on your client for all of the time and energy you both invested. Maybe they tell you to use your client’s identity to create cognitive dissonance. Successful people do things like this.

Now, there are two problems with this kind of advice. Number one, at best, it feels bad, at worst, it’s unethical, and in many cases, it is quite unethical depending on how you use it. And two, the reason you’re not closing typically isn’t that you lack a closing technique, it’s that you lack good investigation skills. So let’s get into that. You’re not closing enough, right? But that’s about you. What about your clients? Why are they not committing? A better question, are they worse off because they’re not doing business with you? If your clients are worse off without you, you should be doing business with them. In those cases, you’re talking to a perfect client whom you can help and should be doing business with you. It’s important to investigate what went wrong and why they didn’t end up buying. The bottom line is that they didn’t buy because you weren’t a priority and they didn’t see enough value in working with you, or at least one decision maker killed the deal for those reasons.

So here are the four big reasons why you’re not closing clients. Number one, you’re not establishing their pain. Number two, you’re not able to help them articulate the value they get from working with you. Number three, in a more complex sale, you’ve inadequately involved and/or persuaded other decision makers. And number four, you haven’t obtained strong enough commitments throughout the sale and/or near the end a.k.a closed or asked for their business.

So let’s start from the top here, you’re not establishing their pain. The baseline assumption I work off of in all of my sales advice is that, “People buy things in order to improve their condition.” Seems obvious enough. But in order to improve my condition, I first need to acknowledge that I have a problem or a pain, and the depth of the pain needs to be great enough to inspire me to take action. So what is your client’s deepest pain? Where are they coming up short? And in what areas could they make the most outsized impact with the least investment? This is what we’re looking for, of course, and where we do it is in the earliest part of the sales conversation, and that is called the discovery process, which typically happens over several calls and meetings, perhaps even over several months depending on the size and complexity of your service and the complexity of your buyers.

Once you establish the pain, you should be able to articulate what their problem is, what quantitative impact it’s having on them, what qualitative impact it’s having on them, who else is affected by the pain, when they first noticed this was a problem, and why now is the right time for them to do something about it. And if you can do all of that, you’re clearly in a position to – number two reason you’re not closing – help them articulate the value. If ever there was one misconception about selling, especially selling services, it’s that clients should be able to tell you what it would be worth to them to do business with you.

Here’s the thing, you know way more about your service than they do. You’ve been doing this for years, you’ve had lots of other clients go through and experience the service and implement it, you’re in a position to tell them what goes wrong, what goes right with your service, how to plan accordingly, some of the unexpected benefits that may come with it, and you have all of these case studies and client stories demonstrating results. You have seen through this experience, the myriad ways clients get value from working with you. There is absolutely no way that you should expect your client to know all of this, which means it’s your job to help them articulate value.

As I mentioned when talking about the pain, there are two kinds of value – quantitative and qualitative. Things that your client can express numerically are quite important and useful in the sale because they’re relatively objective compared to, say, the emotional pain in their situation. Emotions still matters a whole lot, but it’s important to find multiple levers to pull in the process. And one of the key things that we want to do when we’re helping our client articulate value is allow them to come to their conclusions about the value. You are not deciding for them, you are making suggestions about the value that you can bring and have brought other clients, and then it is up to them to agree or disagree.

The power in this process is if they agree they’ve set the value themselves. If you go through and write it all into a proposal, that’s your opinion. They have not corroborated or agreed or committed to the value that you have down on the page. It is a lot less meaningful. So the bottom line is that the value should be articulated by your client after you help them identify ways they could capture value, i.e., business results by doing business with you. In more complex sales though, it’s not enough to convince one person, you have a whole committee of stakeholders you need to have onboard, and that brings us to number three, persuading your stakeholders.

Now, if you’ve been around the block, you know for sure how complicated these enterprise sales can be, you know how long they can take. On average, there are 6.8 decision makers in an enterprise sale – seven people. Seven people you need to reach a consensus and say, “Yes, this is great. I want to do business with you.” Seven people who all have the possibility of single handedly sabotaging or killing the deal. Seven people with different needs, different wants, different perceptions. Seven people is a lot of people.

Now, just for context, I’m defining an enterprise sale as a company that does a billion in revenue or more annually. In my experience, some small businesses and mid market accounts will have as many as seven people involved as well, but usually there are at least a few different stakeholders, particularly if what you’re selling is fairly complex and fairly expensive. So just to define those, a small business is under 50 million, a mid market business is 50 million to one billion. I know that’s a gigantic range, but let’s say small business is around 500 or less employees, mid-market is 500 to say 10,000, and enterprises 10,000 and above. So we can look at it from the perspective of either revenue or employee head count.

No matter how big the company is, your goal early on must be to understand who is involved in the decision making process and how that process works, what actions and specific steps will be taken in order to progress the discussion amongst other stakeholders. Ideally, you will be involved in some of those discussions. Under no circumstance – don’t give yourself this illusion, by the way – under no circumstance will you be involved in every conversation. And that’s why it’s really critical to understand who’s involved and what they need to know in order to make a decision.

All of that comes down to working with your champion. If there are seven decision makers in your enterprise sale and three of them are not on board with what it is that you’re presenting, I promise you that absolutely no closing techniques will have any impact on having that sale happen. It’s just not going to work. So what you have to do is become co-conspirators with your champion. You and your champion will be working together trying to figure out, how do we convince these other people to be on board? And so I recommend you talk to your champion very openly and just ask them straight up, “How can we best make this case together?”

For a large percentage of the time, your champion will be selling on your behalf. And like I said, it is great if you can present to everyone. I would prefer that. I want to have some control over the conversation. I want to be there to answer questions. But there will be meetings and emails and phone calls that you won’t be involved in, and so you have to prepare your champion to sell on your behalf. So work closely with them, understand the decision making process, understand any obstacles, timing, and how they typically buy.

One question I love to ask my champion is, if this deal fell apart three months from now, why do you think that would be? This will force them to think about all of the things that could go wrong and especially have gone wrong in previous vendor relationships and sales that they’ve been involved in, and we want to make sure we arm them with the tools to facilitate the conversations, so those things don’t go wrong again.

Now, let’s say, just for the sake of argument, you’ve established your client’s pain. You can tell them what it is, they totally agree, and it’s pressing and urgent enough for them to take action now. Let’s say also you’ve helped them articulate the value that they get from working with you, not just the quantitative, the results, the ROI, however you want to think about it, maybe even your upward anchor, but you’ve also helped them articulate the qualitative value and you now have decision makers on board. The only thing left to do is to obtain commitments. Now, this isn’t a one-time event. You’ll be obtaining commitments throughout the entire process.

So let’s go back. Let’s say you have established PGV, pain goals and value, and decision makers are involved and bought in. The only way that could have happened is by driving commitment through the process. Just like my marathon isn’t just about running 26.2 miles, I ran over 400 miles in training. It’s just the same. Your sale isn’t about closing one time. It’s not about one conversation. It’s a series of commitments you obtain that gradually escalate to the point where you ask your client if they are ready to move forward.

Some of those commitments along the way could have been things like phone calls and meetings and screen shares and demos and feedback on your proposal, involving other decision makers and making introductions, completing an NDA or vendor onboarding paperwork, making presentations, hosting Q&A calls with decision makers and then users, bringing in technical experts, bringing in other people from other parts of your company and other departments. All of these are commitments and you need them along the way. The more of these commitments you have, the less it will seem like a leap to ask for their business at the end because they’ve made a series of commitments already.

At the end, it’s important to understand the pain and the timing. If you make it this far, your client will practically close herself. One valuable thing that you can have in your sale is urgency. You should understand this based on the pain, I’ll give you an example. If you’re working with someone who says, “Hey, we just had our end of year review. As part of our next year’s goals, we want to do X, Y, and Z, and that’s why we’re talking to you right now.” During the investigation stage, I would ask them, “Great, I think we can meet those goals. How soon would you like this to start?” Now you have a date, you have a flag planted on the calendar that marks a drop-dead start date. That is quite important if we want to have legitimate urgency in the sale.

Now what happens if your client doesn’t just close herself? Well, it’s not always going to happen, and in that case, we want to ask them directly for their commitment, and the best, strongest commitment they can make is around vetting, budget and price, especially if we give them a final price and just ask them, “Would you like to move forward with this?” If you can give your client a price and ask for their commitment by a specific date, you are very close to the finish line. This, my friend, is closest advice I will give you to closing. But again, so long as you’ve done your job prior to the close, obtaining a commitment should not be a problem. And as long as you’ve obtained a collection of commitments prior to this, you’re in really good shape.

If you hear resistance to your price and your client is not committing, something is definitely off. At that point, I recommend you invite your client into an open conversation about what’s going on. Why is there resistance coming from this? Why aren’t they ready to commit? Is something we learned earlier in the sales process either not true or has something changed? There could certainly also be a lack of trust or perhaps your client isn’t fully bought into the value you’re offering. Either way, we need to go back to some of the things we’ve already discussed in the sale, sort that out rather than pressuring them with “closing” techniques, and this is why I hate them so much because it misses the point. If they’re not prepared to commit, let’s figure out why. Let’s spend some time figuring out why, and then we can get to a point of commitment.

So here’s the quick review I want to leave you with. The reasons that you’re not closing business: number one, you’re not establishing the pain well enough. Number two, you’re not able to help your client articulate the value that they get from working with you. Number three, in a more complex sale, you’ve inadequately involved and/or persuaded other decision makers. And number four, you haven’t obtained strong enough commitments throughout the sale and, especially, you haven’t obtained those commitments near the end of the sale.

Thanks so much for listening. I really, really appreciate you being here. My name is Liston Witherill, and I wanted to ask you for a quick favor. If you’re getting something out of this podcast and you know someone else who might like to listen, just tell them. There’s a share button right inside your podcast app. No matter what you’re using, you can text it, email it to anybody that you know. If you’re not already, please do subscribe to this podcast feed so that you don’t miss an episode. And if you are extra inclined and want to do an extra favor and want to extra support the podcast, I’d love it if you went into iTunes, it works best on a desktop computer, unfortunately, but if you go to a desktop computer and leave a review for this podcast, I would much appreciate it. I read all of the reviews and I love to see how it’s helping you and affecting you.

So no matter what you decide to do, I just wanted to say thank you so much for being here and I hope you have a fantastic day. I’ll see you next week.

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