March 18, 2010
Introduction: Turn Your Sales Cycles into "Buying Cycles"
Recently I broke bread with good friend and CEO of Plan2Win Software, Steve Harper. As we commonly do, Steve and I discussed his New Orleans Saints, my New England Patriots, Religion, Politics, and all things Sales. On this particular day I was grinding my “Sales-Cycle-Axe”, when Steve kindly interrupted and asked; “Why do you still refer to it as a Sales Cycle?” Apparently I looked at him in amazement as he continued, “With all of the information available today to any consumer, prosumer, or B-to-B buyer, they drive the process, not you – it’s a Buying Cycle – get it?”
Steve continued to enlighten me, and for more of his wisdom I would direct you to his Blog at www.territoryplan.com. The result of that discussion lead me to produce this series of papers on Sales 2.0 Basics.
-- Tom Scontras, VP, Sales & Marketing, Glance Networks
Always Be Closing
"Always be closing,” the ABC’s-of-selling mantra popularized by David Mamet’s awarding-winning play, Glengarry Glen Ross, is good advice tangled up in wrong execution.
It’s a classic movie, but Sales professionals know that you shouldn’t think of closing as just the final contract negotiation. This narrow view of closing is too often sullied by the overly aggressive inexperienced sales persona.
Instead, the closing to which I refer should be considered a technique that is continuously employed throughout the entire sales cycle. It’s all about establishing clarity through many conversations.
I’m pretty sure everyone reading this paper has gone out for an ice cream? So what does this have to do with closing conversations? Well think about it for a moment, and consider the analogy of buying a cone from your favorite ice cream stand.
Before the server at the window can take your money, there is a very familiar conversation that occurs:
Scooper: “Hello, Welcome to the Ice Cream Shack, may I take your order?”
Customer: “Yes, I’d like an Ice Cream.”
Scooper: “Ice Cream great, what Flavor?”
Customer: “Hmm, Chocolate.”
Scooper: “Chocolate, Hard or Soft Serve?”
Customer: “Soft Serve”
Scooper: “Wonderful. Soft Serve! Ice Cream or Non Fat Yogurt?”
Customer: “Non Fat Yogurt.”
Scooper: “Ok great, in a cone or a cup?”
Customer: “A cone.”
Scooper: “A cone, ok, Sugar, Plain, or Waffle”
Scooper: “Great! Would you like toppings?”
Customer: “No Thanks.”
Scooper: “Nothing for toppings. Small, Medium, or Large?”
Customer: “Small please.”
Scooper: “Small, so let me see if I got this right. You want a Small, Soft Serve, Chocolate, Frozen Yogurt, without toppings right?”
Scooper: “That will be three dollars.”
Customer: “Here you go!”
No doubt that this is an over-simplification, yet a great example of how this repetitive, qualify-then-close technique, drives results-oriented discussion by extracting the critical insight required to move deals forward.
Ultimately when done correctly, this “Closing” process makes the ultimate transaction not hing more than a final conversation within an ongoing process.
Of course the scooper has an advantage; they know the person at the window is going to purchase ice cream so they don’t need to understand all motivation which drives the ice cream seeker to stand in line for 30 minutes. But the B2B Sales pro does, and the way they get to closure is by conducting many conversations across the organizational structure; beginning with identifying the real problem, the budget, the people and the critical pending event driving their need.
In ice cream terms it would go something like this:
Scooper: Hi, Welcome to the Ice Cream Shack, what brings you out tonight?
Customer: Well, I want an Ice Cream
Scooper: Interesting, an Ice Cream, why?
Customer: Well, I’m craving it.
Scooper: Ok, that’s fair, do you have a minute now and we can chat a bit more about what’s motivating you to consider our ice cream?
Think about it this way, if ice cream was sold to the enterprise, this conversation would have been stretched out over many conversations and people in order to determine if there was even a deal present. In the “Chocolate” case above maybe we would have determine that the ice cream customer was an overweight, lactose intolerant, chocoholic, who was on a strict diet, and was rewarding himself for having just weighed in at his doctors office and where he had lost 20lbs, but needed to have the ice cream in hand prior to his wife catching him – hence, his real motivations revealed. Make sense?
In other words, Always Be Closing means setting expectations prior to every conversation, and with clarification of every qualifying question in every engagement throughout the sales process. ABC is critical for B2B sales pros because they typically don’t get clear answers like “chocolate” or “vanilla” from prospects; they get answers more like “I just want ice cream to solve my problem.” Which by the way, ice cream can do!
The fact is, prospects sometimes won’t answer questions for a variety of reasons. Make sure you note those questions that remain unanswered and keep coming back to them in subsequent qualifying conversations.
Any question left hanging in the air usually has an interesting story behind it that you need to know, and probably a personal motivation as to why that person doesn’t want to answer it.
Seeking closure for those reluctant-to-answer questions is what drives conversations forward and provides much clearer understanding. Conversely, questions that you skipped and did not get closure on during the sales courtship make closing “the deal” problematic.
Customer: where are my jimmies?
Scooper: You didn’t tell me you wanted jimmies
Customer: You never asked.
Many questions are difficult to ask, such as; are there other issues, for example, political, which are impacting your position? That’s why it’s critical that you first build credibility with the prospect before asking. Studies show there is a direct correlation between sales professional’s ability to quickly establish credibility and their ability to close deals.
Returning to our ice cream stand analogy, imagine the outcome if the first thing a server said to was, “Wow, you’re a pretty big guy so this is going to be expensive. Do you have at least $20 on you before I take your order?”
Even if the Ice Cream Shack has a universal reputation as the area’s best ice cream, this deal is dead on arrival. But understanding and practicing ABC will enable you to build rapport quickly, be more credible, and conduct all the necessary selling conversations that lead to a smooth transaction. In fact, building strong credibility in each conversation may even convince the customer that the Ice Cream Shack’s superior quality warrants top dollar.
Closing the Close
Since this paper is about closing, you’re probably wondering when I’m finally going to get around to actual contract negotiation and deal making advice.
Terms, conditions and price should have been conversations you had long before the proposal was sent off to the contracts department to be negotiated. If you had properly established credibility and had the conversations with the person who controls the budget, you’d already know what cards the contract department is going to play.
In other words, you need to “close” on the “process of closing” with your key executive sponsor in the organization. He or she will let you know what kind of discounts that Contracts will ask for. Sending a pre-discounted sales proposal at this point weakens your position because negotiators will think that it’s a starting point. Remember, many negotiators need to prove their worth or qualify for bonuses by demonstrating some kind of discount or concession gained for their organization.
You also need to determine what discount point is a deal breaker for you, and make sure everyone knows it ahead of time. Again, get closure on these contract variables from key decision makers before even entering contract negotiations.
While contract negotiators may pretend that they are the final arbiters, your executive sponsor usually has the budget authority to make final decisions on price and legal terms. If you had done your ABC’s throughout the entire sales process, you’ll be well prepared to counter when the contract negotiator says “We have a problem.” A quick call to your executive sponsor and a reminder of the closure you have already mutually agreed upon, will usually solve the problem.
So the next time you’re ordering ice cream, test the true principles of Always Be Closing for yourself from the customer perspective. Applying ABC throughout the entire customer engagement will make the final closing little more than a formality.
About Glance Networks
Glance is a simple, quick-connecting screen-sharing tool designed to help sales pros maximize every conversation within all steps of the sales cycle; prospect, demo, close and support. The Arlington, Mass.-based Company’s technology is used by thousands of companies worldwide. For more information, or to sign up for a free, 7-day trial, visit www.glance.net or call 1-888-945-2623.