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Beware: Closing Techniques Can Cause You to Lose Business

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Written by Erica Stritch
Vice President, RAIN Group

Last year, we asked you to share your selling services challenges. You flooded us with your challenges and concerns, which included communicating the value of your services, client relationship management, and qualifying leads. In this blog series we identify 12 of the major selling obstacles you are struggling with the most and offer advice and suggestions for overcoming them.

Today's challenge: closing new business.

You've gotten to the end of the sales process-you've built rapport with the prospect, uncovered their full set of needs, they see the impact and ROI of your solution, and they are ready for the proposal. You put everything together, the proposal is heavy with goodness, and you send it off. One day goes by and no word. Two days go by and no word. Now it's a week later, and you've left two voice mail messages and three emails-and still no word.

What went wrong?

It's an all-too-common scenario for those of us selling professional services. We think a prospect is hot and ready to go, but when it comes to signing on the dotted line, the process drags on, the prospect goes dark, and you lose the sale.

To prevent that from happening again, you try one of the tried-and-true closing techniques that you've read about:

  • The presumptive close: You assume the prospect has already made the decision to buy. "We're ready to start right away. Let's schedule the kick-off for next Tuesday."
  • The 1-2-3 close: This technique takes advantage of the power of threes. "If you sign today we'll give you this, that, and the other thing."
  • The ask-the-manager close: Here you set the expectation that you have only so much authority to negotiate the terms and to make the change you need to "ask the manager." And of course you are able to "persuade" the manager to make this one exception, but only if they sign today.
  • The "everybody's doing it" close: Pure peer pressure.
  • The calculator close: When it comes time to close the deal, you sit down with the prospect and when you start talking about price, you pull out the calculator to determine the discount at the table.
  • The sense of urgency close: This can take many forms. You may offer the prospect something extra or special if they sign now or you may create a deadline (i.e. if we don't get started by next week, we won't be able to fit you in until two months from now). The underlying theme is that you are creating a sense of urgency to get the buyer to "act now before the special deal goes away."
  • The alternative close: Here you give the prospect a choice of a yes or a yes. "Do you want me to start this Tuesday or Wednesday?"
  • The banana close: OK, maybe I'm making this one up, but you get the point.

But guess what? Those techniques won't help you. Selling professional services is all about trust, not tricks, and these types of psychological closing techniques can erode any trust you may have developed. They come from the mistaken belief that the close is the final step in the sales process that manipulates the prospect into making the final decision. These techniques may work when selling a product where the prospect never has to see the salesperson again, but when selling professional services, the close begins the relationship.

It's not about "closing at all costs" because you actually have to work with the client after the close. It's your job during the sales process to build a trusting relationship with the prospect that carries through to when they become a client.

That is not to say you shouldn't ask for the business and you shouldn't communicate the impact of moving forward. You should. Gaining commitment to engage with your firm is an essential skill. The fact is you should be closing throughout the entire sales process by building trust, demonstrating your expertise, uncovering the impact, and painting a picture of the new reality. By the time you get to the "close" you should simply be confirming the agreement you've already reached.

When done right, you don't need sleight-of-hand phrases to cinch the deal.

Setting the Table for Closing Success

To increase your odds when it comes time to close, a few key things need to be in place. Before closing, be sure that the:

  • Prospect is ready to make a decision: Before sending the proposal, get the buyer to agree to make a decision upon receipt. Schedule a time with them to review the proposal. If they won't commit to a time before you send it, they're probably not ready to make a decision and this can cause the process to drag on.
  • Prospect has the funds and is willing to spend them: Rookie mistake #1 is sending a proposal before gaining agreement from the prospect on the ball park budget for the project and their willingness to spend. The proposal should not be the first time the prospect sees the price. They should already have a clear sense of what it will cost and have indicated that they are willing to invest that amount.
  • Prospect has articulated the value of your solution: It's one thing to lay out a fancy spreadsheet and calculate the ROI for the client; it's another to get the prospect to articulate the value themselves.  If you can get the prospect to "do the math" and communicate the impact your solution will have on their firm, you're in a much stronger position to propose your solution within the context of the value they see. Value is in the eye of the beholder.
  • All decision makers are involved: Nothing kills a sale faster than adding a last-minute decision maker to the mix. Early in the sales process, be sure to gain an understanding of the prospect's buying process and exactly who is involved in each stage, and get all decision makers involved as early as possible.

When it comes to closing, no technique late in the process will win you the deal. You should be closing throughout the process, so when you send the proposal you're simply summarizing everything you've already agreed to. Do this, and you'll find that the number of proposals you send goes down, but your win rate will more than make up the difference.