Much has been written about sales techniques, strategy and skill training including closing techniques. I believe, “Closing the Sale” really revolves around satisfying the customer’s real needs. Bottom line, you must be able to provide the solution to his or her problem. Consider this, using the building trades as an example, if the customer is a do-it-yourselfer, the problem could be as simple as recommending the right replacement filter. If the customer is a contractor, the problem could be ensuring customer satisfaction.
If the customer is a builder, the problem could be providing maximum value with an acceptable return on his or her investment. Simple enough, yet, closing the sale is the part many sales people find very difficult. Another very common rookie mistake sales representatives make is that they forget to ask for the order. It’s important to ask for the order; it lets the customer know his or her business is valued. Some sales evolve naturally and the customer initiates the close, but makes no mistake, it’s the salesperson’s job to ask for the order whenever possible.
When the customer is physically at the counter or you are visiting with them face to face–you’ll have the opportunity to use an assumptive, decision or straightforward close. If you’re a distributor of heavy equipment or a car dealer you could use an alternative called “The Puppy Dog” close. In other words, let the customer take the item home and keep it overnight to see how he or she likes it. After all, just try bringing a puppy home and then taking it back the next day.
The Assumptive Close
The assumptive close is often used when you sense the sale has been made, you think the customer is ready to buy and you proceed as if the sale is a done deal. You could say something like, “As soon as I get this entered into the computer, I’ll go pull it for you.” Or, I will list the color as red when I send the order to our shipping department? If the customer doesn’t stop you, the sale is completed.
The Decision Close
The decision close presents a choice, and either choice completes the sale. “Will four of these be enough or do you need six?” is an example of this close. No matter which way the customer answers, the sale has been made.
The Straightforward Close
Some sales people cut to the chase and use the straightforward close. They ask the customer directly if the product is what he or she is looking for. “Yes,” means the sale is complete. “No,” means the sales person has a perfect opportunity to overcome whatever objection is mentioned.
Customers seem to be conditioned from childhood to say “Your price is too high.” That’s an objection and a basic negotiating technique. Have you ever had a customer say, “Your price is too low?” Think about it this way. An objection to price presents the opportunity to sell value. So present your value propositions. The worst thing you can do is immediately cave in by asking, “How high are we?” Unfortunately, sometimes the customer won’t state his or her objections. Sometimes you’ll quote a price and the customer’s response will be, “Thanks, I’ll let you know.” This gives you no opportunity to overcome the objection unless you’re skilled at utilizing probing questions and can get the customer to state exactly what his or her objection is.
Face it, whenever a customer fails to purchase product, there’s an objection about something. So the best way to overcome objections is to not allow them to occur in the first place. If you become skilled at value added selling, you can often circumvent many objections. Overcoming objections when they do occur requires a complete understanding of what the objection is and creating a value proposition or an alternative to negate the objection. And obtaining the order demonstrates your success at overcoming the objection. Remember, objections take many forms. Don’t automatically assume the objection is based on price. They can also be related to quality, service, delivery, style, lead times, availability or many other things.
Then again, if a customer doesn’t state why he or she is reluctant to buy or verbalize his or her objection, you need to ask probing questions such as:
“You’re not ready to buy? What is it that makes you hesitate today?”
Customer: “I don’t know. I’m just not sure this product will perform without breaking down a lot.”
Now, you see, that’s a quality objection. The customer doesn’t believe the quality of the product is suitable to his or her application. You can work with that. After all, knowing what the objection is allows you to deal with it. Define value as it relates to the objection. Indeed, selling would be much easier if every customer had the same problems and priorities, but that’s not reality. If we listen to our customer and ask pertinent questions, we’ll be able to highlight the product benefits creating the value proposition that will solve their problem in the most cost effective or profit effective way.
Suggestive Selling Techniques
The use of suggestive selling techniques relies on product knowledge so workers know appropriate add-ons, substitutes, quantity discounts and how to up-sell products. Newer employees avoid suggestive selling for lack of product knowledge and fear of making inappropriate suggestions. Then again some experienced sales people say they don’t have time to think about what goes with what while they’re busy taking orders. Without a doubt, you can help the customer a lot by suggesting related items because though these related products might be needed, the customer sometimes forgets about them. If the customer realizes his or her mistake after leaving the store, they will wonder why you didn’t mention them. The customer may question how much you value their business.
Order entry software with pop-ups (as a line item is entered, “go with” items automatically pop-up on the order entry screen) is a desired feature for both new hires and experienced staffers. Pop-ups help train new hires, and experienced staff wouldn’t have to stop and think or do research before making suggestions to customers. Pop-ups also save them time and help to ensure consistent use of suggestive selling techniques. Most newer customer service software packages offer this feature.
An opportunity for “up selling” presents itself virtually every time you take an order. In other words, you can increase the invoice by selling a higher quality product, greater quantity of product or related items. Don’t get virtuous and claim it’s a matter of trying to sell the customer products he doesn’t need. In reality, you’re not trying to sell the customer something he or she doesn’t need; it’s simply a matter of exploring all his or her specific needs. Selling the customer a higher quality product or giving them a choice based on alternatives, can save your customer money or increase their profits in the long run. Another reason to purchase higher quality is to save on servicing and repair costs or providing a product with a longer life cycle. It’s like purchasing wool trousers versus polyester.
Similarly, the customer may buy in bulk because it saves them money. If they order six of an item, and they are informed of a quantity break at eight, they may choose to save money by buying two additional units. If the customer is using a product more often, buying a greater quantity means not having to order as frequently. And in either instance, the customer is better served by spending more than his or her original order.
Growth enhancing initiatives such as suggestive selling, up-selling, promotional sales techniques or follow-up sales calls to existing accounts require more than just training. There’s more to achieving sales and profitability gains than just skills training. Success demands that you become customer driven–not productivity driven. What does that mean? It means productivity driven employees are motivated to quickly handle an inbound call or counter sale in order to take the next call on hold or wait on the next customer in line. They service as many customers as quickly as possible.
o No time is available to use up-selling or promotional sales techniques, much less the time to think about additional products the customer might need.
o Just making timely follow-up calls to customers or prospects requesting information is a problem despite good intentions.
o Conducting outbound sales calls isn’t possible for lack of time.
To overcome this inherent, productivity driven mentality management must support the sales effort and train sales people to become total solution providers. A culture based on building customer relationship equity is essential. This includes making sure you are staffed adequately so you can justly service the customers in the manner in which they deserve to be treated. That builds loyalty and repeat business which drives growth.
Progressive managers truly understand what that means in regard to sales growth. They know that the consistent use of suggestive selling techniques, up selling and promotions can have a dramatic impact on average order size and increased share of spend from each customer. Customers must always come first. This must become a culture, not just a slogan. World-class service must become a core competency if you are going to create competitive advantage and differentiate yourself from the competition.
By Andrew Adamson