Always be closing. ABC.
The sales mantra made popular by 1992’s Glengarry Glen Ross might seem like great advice. But in reality, trying to close too early will reduce your percentage of successful closes and leave you with a lot of missed opportunities.
Confirming the sale before the close — or trial closing, as it’s also called — sets you up for success and has several valuable advantages over rushing in for the close. (Maybe the sales mantra should be, "Always be trial closing.")
Before we go into those advantages in detail, let’s look at what we mean by “confirming before the close.” The simple answer is that a trial close involves asking questions designed to keep the conversation open so that you can confirm that the customer’s objections, concerns and needs have been addressed. You’ll confirm the pricing, the decision-making procedure, any warranties or guarantees, the customer’s priorities, the services or products offered, and where you are in the sales process.
If you can’t get confirmation on all of that, you’re not done selling yet, and it’s not time to go for the close.
Here are four reasons you should take the time to confirm before you close:
Reason #1: It reveals obstacles.
You’ve spent three or four meetings talking about what you can do for the client. They’ve looked at a formal proposal. Then you ask, “Is there any reason you can’t see us moving forward?” Only to find out that you are not, in fact, talking to the decision maker. Ouch.
It’s so much better to get this information by asking confirmation questions than to find out after you’ve slid the contract across the table. Trial closes allow you to identify these obstacles and better assess where you are in the sales process. Ask, “What is the procedure moving forward?” They may say, “Well, you’ve got to send it to me then I’ll send it to legal then…”
At that point, you’re revealing some of the hidden obstacles that stand between you and a close.
Objections and obstacles, at this stage, aren’t necessarily bad things. The conversation is still open, which gives you clarity on where you stand and the chance to address concerns before they become a “no.”
For example, if a lead says, “I was really excited, but we had talked about hitting a budget under $100,000, and you came in at $130,000.” That’s an obstacle — but certainly not an insurmountable one. At that point, because you have left the conversation open, you have a lot of options: You can still have a discussion to justify that $30,000, or you can reduce services, offer a discount, negotiate, etc.
Keep selling and discussing until you can confirm that there’s no reason you’ll get a “no” when you try to close the sale.
Reason #2: It reveals opportunities.
The obstacles we talked about above are really just opportunities in disguise if you handle the confirmation right. Here’s a great real-life example: I like to ask leads, “If you had a magic wand and could change anything about this proposal/offer, what would you change?”
What you want is for them to say, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” If you get any other answer, you still have some work to do. In this example, the lead told me that they’d use their magic wand to change it from a three-year to a two-year agreement because three-year contracts made them nervous.
At this point, I had two choices in the trial close process. I could say, “Okay, let me confirm what I heard because I want to get started on the right foot. If everything else is agreeable — the pricing, the warranty, our services — but we need to move from a three-year to a two-year contract, if I can get my legal department to sign off on that, is there any other reason we wouldn’t move to start this partnership?”
That’s an acceptable response and continues the confirmation process before the close, but you have another option. You can delve a little deeper into the customer’s concern and try to transform it into an opportunity. That’s what I did in this case. I asked some questions to find out why the three-year commitment seemed so frightening.
“We’ve been burned in the past and couldn’t get out of the contract,” they said. “It was expensive, and we ended up losing money.”
Now we're getting somewhere. This is a perfectly reasonable concern. Once you get to the bottom of what’s causing the worry, you can consider solutions and options that work well for both you and the customer. In this case, I said, “I understand completely. If we can eliminate that fear of us underperforming but still maintain a three-year commitment, then are you in a position to move forward?”
They asked more questions about how that would work. I said, “We’ll put in performance guarantees that give you an easy out if we underperform. You tell me exactly what performance you’re most concerned about and if we don’t meet your expectations, you cancel. But if we do everything that we say we’ll do and exceed your expectations, is there any reason we both wouldn’t want to be together for three years?” Of course not.
We put in the performance guarantees and have now been together for six years.
Use trial close questions and outside-the-box thinking next time you’re presented with a customer concern.
Reason #3: It builds trust and relationships.
Everyone wants to feel listened to and understood, and that’s exactly what confirming before the close facilitates. The questions you ask and the discussions that you have to determine whether a lead is ready to close are not part of some gimmicky, scripted tactic. It’s not trickery where you mirror someone’s language to get them to do what you want.
It really, in my opinion, should be the most sincere part of the sales presentation because honestly, I do want to know that I understood the customer’s needs and concerns. I want to get us started off right and to make sure that we’re both looking at things the same way. That works because, of course, I want the sale but I also want a long-term sale and a good referral and a great relationship where I feel like I have been able to help someone.
Asking questions instead of rushing into the close lets the lead know that I aim to understand their business, do what’s best for their organization and help them succeed. It tells them, “I respect you. I hear what you’re saying. I can address it.” Then move forward, knowing that you and your customer understand one another.
Reason #4: It increases the likelihood of getting a "yes."
One of the primary reasons to use the trial close is to determine the appropriate time to ask for the sale. Trial closing techniques act as a map, showing you exactly where you are in the sales process. Are you further from the destination than you thought? Is there a mountain you’ll have to navigate around to get there?
Too many salespeople jump too quickly to the close, and their closing rates are often much lower as a result.
Before you get to the close, ask if you’ve covered everything adequately, if they have any other questions, if there are any other reasons you can’t proceed, if they still want to use their magic wand to change any part of the agreement. Try to seek out every potential objection and get every possible positive out there as well.
When you’ve finished the confirmation process, they’ll say, “I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m the one who makes the decision. I can sign off today. Everything is covered.”
Then and only then you should say, “Terrific! Sounds like we’re ready go to. I’m excited.” You can slide the agreement over and tell them that they can not only sign with your magic pen, they can keep it as a token of your appreciation.