Closing the sale is a make-or-break moment for every salesperson. It’s the culmination of weeks or months of blood, sweat and tears and determines whether all that effort was really worthwhile or not.
I ran a workshop recently for a B2B technology company. Two members of the sales team discovered mid-way through the morning, that they’d lost a very large deal they had been working on for months. To their credit, they decided to participate in the remainder of the workshop, but I could tell how devastated they were.
For a seasoned sales professional, with a well-honed gut instinct and plenty of sales battle scars, the close phase of any deal is often the most tense and stressful period. Even for these battle-hardened sales veterans, things can and do go wrong at the 11th hour. For less-experienced sales reps, closing deals is often an achilles heel, where even the slightest misstep can turn a hot prospect to ice, faster than Jon Snow can say:
“Winter is coming.”
Regardless of where you are on the sales experience spectrum, it’s likely you’re missing out on some proven strategies to increase your close rate, overcome objections confidently, and protect your most important asset – ‘time’.
A lot of factors can contribute to lost sales, but what’s interesting is that the issues we often perceive as the root cause of our losses are often just symptoms of a bigger issue.
What if I told you the reason so many of your leads are going cold isn’t that your customers aren’t ready to buy what you are selling, but that they aren’t ready to buy you? This is a bold statement, but in the B2B sales world make no mistake customers are buying you as much, if not more, than what’s in your kitbag.
The B2B sales world has been turned on its head over the last few years, as technology and buying behaviours have shifted the balance of power from sellers firmly in favour of buyers. Prospects no longer take a back seat in sales conversations; they are extremely savvy, leveraging peer reviews and easy access to research material. They are also highly sensitive to unethical sales tactics and phony sale pitches.
At the first sign of dishonesty or high-pressure sales, most B2B customers will disengage with a vendor. To close more sales, you must become the sort of salesperson whom customers actually want to buy from.
Where do you start? Well, we’ve done some of the legwork for you.
At Trinity, we spend our days focusing on the intersection of your sales cycle and your customer’s buying cycle, that magical place where the deal actually gets done. By speaking directly to your customers at the conclusion of the sales process, through our Win Loss Analysis services, we’re able to help B2B sales companies answer one simple but profoundly important question: “Why do we win and lose the deals we pitch for, and what can we do about it?”
After years of interviewing senior decision makers across a wide variety of industries, we’ve identified several factors that can turn a hot deal cold and have also identified a number of characteristics consistently displayed by successful salespeople.
Here are five of the best sales techniques we’ve observed for closing a deal and why they work.
Play the long game. The reason so many salespeople fall short when closing sales is often related to being too aggressive or too eager to prove themselves. It can work against you and send the message that you’re not focused on building a relationship. Contrary to what you might think, closing the sale starts long before your customer agrees to sign on the dotted line. It begins in the discovery phase and continues to build as you get to know them throughout the sales cycle.
There needs to be a shift in focus from conquering the sale to taking your time to listen and connect with your customer and earning the right to progress to the next stage of the sales cycle. This is a crucial step to developing sufficient trust, credibility, and authority to do business with a prospective customer.
At its simplest, B2B sales doesn’t actually require any selling, you simply earn the right to progress to the next stage of the process, until you run out of stages and the deal is done.
This may sound simplistic, but then again, sales can and should be a simple process.
Become a great storyteller. One reason deals go cold so often is that we fail to establish a proper connection with the people we’re trying to sell to. The most successful salespeople understand that stories have the ability to create an emotional connection and fire up the limbic side of your customer’s brain, where feelings and memory reside.
These individuals are avid collectors of war stories, quotes, anecdotes, and case studies, anything in fact that can act as a hook and aid in articulating a compelling story. Being a great storyteller makes you more memorable, a more effective communicator, and establishes rapport with your prospects. By equipping yourself with an arsenal of interesting and relevant stories to pepper your conversations, you will cement your position as a leader in closing the sale. Listen to how Bernadette Jiwa explains the power of stories in her fascinating TedTalk - The Secret to Spreading Ideas.
Scrap high-pressure sales. Remember when you last felt pressured into doing something you weren’t ready or comfortable doing? It might have been signing a petition, answering a survey, or listening to a pitch for a product or service you had no interest in.
Your response may have been one of anger, defiance, or simply quiet frustration. It’s human nature to resist high-pressure sales tactics, which is why so many countries have created ‘do not call’ registries for consumers who don’t wish to be called at home by telesales people. If a sales technique is being regulated against by the government, it’s probably time to find a new way to create traction with your customers.
Being too pushy gives the impression of desperation, which in turn leads to doubt and mistrust. If they feel pressured, prospective customers will start to look for an escape route, which in the world of B2B sales is invariably what happens when a deal goes quiet.
Customisation is key. If you’ve been relying on canned sales methods, it’s time to trade in your outdated sales techniques for a more personalised approach. Customers are tired of canned sales presentations that aren’t pertinent to them. This method only repels interest in what you have to offer and can quickly make a deal go south.
Instead, the most successful salespeople seek out creative ways to add value to every customer engagement, and customise it to show you are addressing their specific needs. A simple strategy is to apply the 'So What' test to all of your customer presentations. During your dry-run before a customer presentation, ask your colleagues to hold up a sign which reads ‘So What’ every time you say something that either a) isn’t relevant for your audience or b) may be relevant but where you have failed to create the connection for your customer.
This one simple strategy could serve to transform the impact of your sales presentations and ensure that win, lose, or draw, your customers will be very happy to invite you back in to present to them in the future.
Customer memory is king. What sets sales all-stars apart from the rest is their ability to recall details about their customers, and utilise these insights to form a clearer picture of their customers’ needs. Nowadays, with easy access to CRM systems and digital information, you are expected to be able to capture, retain, and apply personal information and insights that your customers share with you.
By capturing and leveraging these details, you should be able to establish a deeper and more personal connection with your customers and prospects. It also serves to help you close more sales and increases the likelihood of gaining warm referrals from their network.
If you really want to succeed in sales, then you need to reach the elevated heights of ‘trusted adviser status’ with your customers. Where they not only know, like, and trust you, but value your opinion, your network, and your commitment to helping them achieve a great outcome from your product or service.
To do this, you first need to solidify yourself as a credible source of valuable information, and eventually be seen as an extended member of their internal team. By putting these five best sales techniques into action, you can start closing more sales and building lasting relationships with customers based on rapport, trust, and credibility.
Cian is the founder and CEO of Trinity Perspectives, a 20-year veteran of the B2B sales industry, including senior roles in some of the world's largest software companies.