“What do you see as the next step?”
By Bob Davis
Closing the sale is critical for those of us for whom selling is our noble career choice. Many of us have been taught the “ABC” method of closing (always be closing). Often, this gets executed in a trial close that seems manipulative to our customers. Some examples (and the fantasy response I would like to give):
Car Salesperson: “What can I do to get you into this car today?”
Customer: “Open the door!”
Insurance Salesperson: “If I could show you a way to protect your loved one’s future and give you increased financial security, would you be interested?”
Customer: “No! I don’t much care for my family and my goal is to go bankrupt this year—can you help with those?”
In the fantasy interchanges above, we have exaggerated (not by much) the manipulative nature of many closing techniques. Of course we all know that a truly consultative selling approach engages the customer in very different process that doesn’t require the manipulative closes like the above. A discourse on Consultative Selling is a three-day affair when I teach sales classes as a professional sales trainer. Rather than cover all of that in this blog, let’s take a look at a quick tip on closing that I discovered by accident.
I was working with a software company that was considering having me and my company design and deliver a large segment of their Global Sales Meeting. After several meetings with sales operations and others, I was brought in to the office of the sales VP. Much work had been done prior to this meeting and I knew more work would be needed to close the deal. Getting involvement from this VP was critical as he “owned” the Global Sales Meeting and its budget. After 45 minutes of productive discussion, I sensed the meeting was ready to end and asked the VP, “What do you see as the next step?” His eyes brightened, he leaned forward and he said, “That was a great closing question!” We defined specific steps and dates that would lead me to a contract and a twelve-year, very productive relationship with this gentleman.
“What do you see as the next step?” was not a deliberate and planned question. I was an “unconscious competent” – someone who is doing things right but is not consciously aware of it. My VP Sales buddy made me a “conscious competent” – someone who is doing things right and is consciously aware of it. Since that epiphany, I make sure that on every call I ask the customer at the end, “What do you see as the next step?” What amazed me when I first started doing this was:
- Virtually every customer had a next step or multiple steps that defined my sales process to closing
- The most amazing discovery was that the customer would often go further in their next step description than I might have proposed
- Those who would not state a next step, were signaling me they were not a qualified customer OR I was talking to the wrong customer OR I had done a lousy job of selling
I now see that simple question as a way to co-create the closing process with the customer.
The Sales Detective lesson:
On every customer contact, ask, “What do you see as the next step?”
by Pete Krammer
I was consulting recently with a sales executive who sells components to large computer electronics manufacturers. Her customers, though nice people (this is Northern California, after all) are almost uniformly stressed out. They are high-strung, over-worked, and out of time. They operate on rapid design and purchasing cycles. Strategy is something the marketing department deals with. What they need, they need now, and they don’t have much time to think about it.
My client’s descriptions of her customer base validated my general business premise: People in today’s corporations act completely naturally in unnatural environments.
How can you hope to get more than your fair share of time with a customer like this? By being a better observer of human behavior–their behavior–so that when you walk into their office, you know their needs and interests almost better than they do. This is not the time to play with a blank slate. (We deal with this in many other blog posts in The Sales Cafe.) Most importantly, learn how to cool your customer down so that they can listen to you.
How do you accomplish this? First, center yourself. You need to be less rushed than your customer, willing to compartmentalize your troubles (meaning forget about them), and operating with your eyes and ears wide open. Put away that BlackBerry please! Carefully observe your buyer’s behavior. People give off very distinct behavioral cues that illuminate their comfort zone. It’s harder to observe on a phone or by email, but the cues are still there. Under stress, these cues become even more distinct – for instance they suddenly attack, delay, avoid, or start dictating. Good salespeople understand this as a call for help. (Bad ones try to sell harder.)
Here are four tips:
- If your customer mentally or physically disappears, they most likely need good, solid information. Find out if you can what they’re missing and provide it. If they’re physically avoiding you, retrace your steps to just before things went awry. That should provide a clue to what they’re missing. Once this individual has the information they need, they are ready to talk.
- If your customer suddenly brings in new people, or creates a political scene, they most likely are uncomfortable with you or the process you’re using to sell to them. Confront this individual’s discomfort; ask them what they need and let them tell you. If you answer that need first, and keep your word, you’re customer will open doors for you. If you go over this person’s head when they’re in this state, your opportunities will crumble, and not necessarily at a time of your choosing!
- If your customer has attacked you or your company – or anything else around them – you need to help them get it out of their system quickly. If it’s aimed at you, listen, validate their feelings, and help them see the other side of the coin without arguing with them. If their outburst is aimed elsewhere, use your empathy and help them focus on their interests. Once they’ve dumped their bucket, they’re ready to listen. And if they haven’t scared you off, you’ve earned their trust.
- If your customer starts dictating to you, guide them in a way that helps you understand what they’re missing. Usually they can’t see any measurable difference your offer provides. Once you’ve got a lock on the situation, focus on just their interests first, and make sure they understand how things will change with your solution. If they perceive that you can deliver results, you’ve made a friend for life.
For more information, please ping me about a course called The Versatile Salesperson, or make your way over to Amazon and pick up Versatile Selling: Adapting Your Style So Customers Say Yes.