Did you know that almost 2/3 of sales reps don’t close? Yes, that’s true! I surveyed for a Fortune 500 company, and the Vice President of Sales Operations was shocked at my findings. One of the most significant feedback comments from customers and prospects was that sales reps did not ask for a commitment at the end of a conversation. Many of them said the sales rep earned it but didn’t ask for it.
When you think of the word close in a sales scenario, you think of the tricky closes to get the customer to sign an order. Customers don’t like tricky closing techniques such as the Assumptive Close, the Puppy Dog Close, the Ben Franklin Close, the Columbo Close and, similar closes. So expert sales reps never use them. However, I think commitment is a better word. That’s because you are asking the prospect to do something to move the call forward. Moreover, a straightforward earned request is the best type of committing question. Each time you gain agreement, you are further developing the relationship and getting the prospect to co-own your solution.
Earning the Commitment
To obtain the final commitment to order, you have to earn it at every step of the sale. You start earning it before you ever pick up the phone to make a call or open your email to send a message. You have to prepare to sell on purpose. By that I mean you have done your research to determine the current status of the prospect, the company appears to have the financial capability, and you are targeting the decision maker(s). You have also value mapped your organization and created compelling value statements linked to a need or area of opportunity. Moreover, you believe the timing is right for a commitment. Now you are prepared to begin selling and earning the business.
The next step is to ask meaningful questions to develop interest and to secure information that will allow you to show you are a match for their criteria. It is critical that your questions are not only meaningful, but they also continue to dig deeper to gain agreement on the customer requirements, aspirations, and top priorities.
You also want to ask questions and seek information on the customers’ buying criteria and decision-making process. Ensure you have all of the right people involved. Also, thoroughly research the customer’s workflow process to determine the right solution and the right fit. You want to have the information necessary to show the current state and its shortfalls and concerns. Get the customer’s agreement that you have all of the details correct. Then you want to be able to show your solution in comparison with the benefits and return on investment. You want to have all of the finances validated, and all of your ducks in a row before you present your case.
Connecting the Dots
You can’t leave it to the prospect to connect the dots. Do what successful salespeople do, paint a clear vision of how the company and your prospect’s future will be different and superior with your solution. Power words and stories of similar customers that have succeeded with your recommendations motivate a prospect to move forward in the sales process.
At each step in the process, clearly, communicate the action you want the prospect to take and when that action is required. I can recall being at one of my pharmaceutical customer accounts and watching the key players scrambling to gather information or complete an activity in preparation for the next day’s milestone meeting.
Many sales reps skirt by or ignore objections, but they will only reappear again and block your forward progress. It is a best practice to preempt objections whenever possible. Bring up any issues you feel may become a roadblock and eliminate or neutralize them. You can also re-frame concerns to provide a different perspective that will take them out of the picture. Then gain agreement that they are no longer an issue.
Get on the Same Side of the Desk
As an ongoing process, you should be working on the same side of the desk with the prospect. Work to develop a collaborative relationship, so the customer takes co-ownership for the recommendation. Be engaged and be passionate about your solution. My customers were engaged and excited because I was engaged and excited about the solutions I was recommending. When you are working together toward a goal, the prospect will also be passionate about successfully achieving the agreed upon goal.
Stop Fearing Price Rejections
Don’t fear that your price is higher than that of the competition. I once sold a solution that was $100,000 more than my competitor. However, the customer agreed that my recommendation was a better fit, the ROI would be achieved faster and with fewer issues. So, I got the order.
You’ve Earned It, Ask for It
Finally, an explicit, concise, straightforward request for a commitment is the best request. You have earned it, and the prospect understands the value of the recommendation, so there is no reason not to ask for it. Too many salespeople fail to plan the commitment as their goal for each call. I have observed people make weak requests such as “So, what do you think?” That question may get information, but the buyers I spoke to did not view that as a request for a commitment. Also, many people miss buying signals, such as requests for more information, product availability time-frames, or pricing structures.
At the end of the call, I recommend summarizing the information covered, any criteria discussion, and how your solutions is a match. Then state the next logical step you want the customer to take and ask for the commitment.
Two Final Notes on Commitments.
First, don’t be afraid to walk away. Your time is valuable. I walked away on a few occasions. One customer wanted such a low price that I couldn’t even cover my costs. I thought I could be working at the local fast food restaurant and make more money than a deal with him would net. So, I walked away. On another occasion, the prospect just pushed the dates out further and further each time and continued to ask for more and more extraneous information. I walked away again. Later, I found his close relative was an executive of a significant competitor, and he was not going to change vendors. But, never say never. Two years later, another person was in his role, and I returned to sell an extensive enterprise solution.
Once you gain the commitment, stop selling. I’ve seen sales reps make a sale and then continue selling only to stall or lose the sale. That is because the conversation generated new questions or objections. So as my mentor said, “Don’t sell it and then un-sell it!”
If it is the right solution, earn it, ask for it, and then stop selling and thank the customer!
I’ll continue in the next blog post with more on how Lean can streamline the sales process and give you a competitive edge.
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