Closing has long-been a desired skill to have in sales. Many veteran sales leaders might even suggest that closing is the most critical sales activity. Prioritizing the customer’s buying process and guiding them throughout it is valuable because it eventually leads to their commitment to purchase. This forms the foundation of the modern sales approach with the goal to build and sustain relationships with our customers. With this approach, closing is more about nurturing a process than it is a game-winning last step.
When we take a buyer-centric view of the modern sale, we must remember that buyers decide to buy when they are ready. You, as a salesperson, can’t decide when or if a buyer should make the purchase no matter how much of a closer you are. You can, however, help them become ready to purchase.
In complex sales environments, the modern buying process involves a series of stages leading to the final commitment to purchase. Whether it’s clearly documented or more informal, buyers have certain requirements they need to meet before they move on to the next stage of the buying process…including the ultimate decision to buy.
Closing Doesn’t Require a Game-Winning Shot
Gaining purchase commitment from a buyer shouldn’t be a high-stakes moment at the end of a sales cycle. In basketball, a buzzer-beating shot only wins the game if the team has played well enough up to that point. Similar to basketball, winning in sales requires scoring points (or commitments) throughout the game (or cycle) and finishing equally strong (or closing).
A lack of value creation and value communication can’t be overpowered by a clever or aggressive close. If a closing technique has worked for you in the past, it’s because every step leading up to that technique in your process was good enough to convince the buyer that your solution would fit their needs and challenges, not because the closing technique worked.
Setting up an effective close actually starts much earlier in the sales process. It is critical to gain smaller, interim commitments to move forward at each stage. If you’ve played well through the whole game, you might not need a game-winning shot at all.
Gain Interim Commitments
Interim commitments throughout the process keep you on the same page with your buyer and make the eventual purchase decision a natural next step rather than a high-stakes leap. They also protect you from unwanted or unforeseen surprises down the road.
While buying processes vary quite a bit, you likely are already aware of some interim commitments that are part of many modern buying processes.
These are commitments to…
- A first meeting and exploration of your solution
- Share meaningful information that will help you understand the situation
- Involve other necessary stakeholders and influencers within the customer organization
- Collaborate in order to configure or right-size your solution for their situation
- Raise concerns that might be in the way of a purchase
- Review a proposal
- Launch a pilot or develop a prototype
- Plan the purchase of your solution in an operating budget
When you ask for, and receive, these commitments you’re moving the process forward and setting yourself up for a situation where the purchase is the logical next step. Each of these, whether spoken or unspoken, is a commitment that the buyer is making to continue through the process with you.
The first step to meeting these interim commitments is to know the buyer’s requirements to do so. What does the buyer need to see, feel, hear or understand in order to make a commitment? Asking these questions authentically can open lines of communication and provide the buyer with a sense of your good intention to help him purchase, rather than sell your product.
Once you’ve provided what the buyer needs to satisfy these requirements and are confident that you are ready to gain an interim commitment, the steps for doing so are simple:
- Review the buyer’s requirements (with them) for this stage of the buying process, based on your understanding. Again, the best way to know these requirements in the first place is to ask.
- Review your support for the requirements at this stage. What have you delivered or provided at this stage to meet the buyer requirements?
- Confirm acceptance of your support by asking the buyer to agree that you’ve provided what he needs to move forward. If any lingering concerns arise, now is a much better time to address them instead of waiting until the final purchase decision is being considered.
- Suggest next steps, assuming you’ve met the requirements to move forward. Frame the next step using collaborative language, such as “it seems like it makes sense for us to schedule the next meeting with your larger project team.”
- Gain commitment from the buyer to move on to the appropriate next step. Follow step 4 above by asking the buyer if he agrees with your recommended next step, then pause and listen. Resolve any outstanding concerns if they arise and, if the buyer does not agree with your recommended next step, uncover what the buyer thinks should happen next.
These steps are not necessarily earth-shattering. However, being intentional and disciplined about your buyer-centric communication at each critical stage allows you to gain interim commitments that make the final purchase decision a simple one. If, instead, you navigate through the sales opportunity with assumptions and guesswork, you won’t know what reservations a buyer might have or what decisions within the buying process are still outstanding.
When you understand the buying process and gain interim commitments, you’ll know exactly where the buyer stands when it comes time to ultimately gain purchase commitment.
Gain Purchase Commitment
Once you’ve met all the buyer’s objectives and decision criteria, and you have created a compelling case for change, a decision to purchase is the logical next step (a not-so-interim commitment, if you will). If that’s the case, the purchase decision will be an easy one for the buyer. After all, your authentic, buyer-centric communication has kept you plugged in to the buyer’s interests, objectives, and concerns and you’ve only made it this far because you’ve met the necessary requirements throughout the process and resolved concerns.
How do you know if it’s time to talk about purchase commitment? You can confidently say that you’ve done each of the following:
- Clearly understood the buyer’s situation and reasons for seeking a solution
- Qualified the decision process and confirmed that your solution is well-aligned and able to help the buyer
- Communicated the various types of value that your solution provides in the ways that are most meaningful to your buyer(s)
- Met the requirements for interim comments and resolved concerns at each preceding stage of the buying process
If you have done each of the above steps, then there is no trickery or clever tactic needed to gain buyer commitment. Doing so is just a matter of following the same steps you did for each interim commitment, but with slight adjustments as you progress to a final purchase commitment.
The same steps used for gaining interim commitments apply to gaining purchase commitment. Again, if you’ve cleared buyer checkpoints at each stage of the purchase process by meeting interim requirements, there shouldn’t be many loose ends when it comes time to talk about purchase commitment.
Set Yourself Up for the Win Throughout the Purchase Process
Gaining purchase commitment from buyers in this way is much easier and yields better results. Closing doesn’t have to force a stressful, high-stakes decision where all the impacts of your solution must be weighed and evaluated at once. The game is won by scoring points throughout.
Consider your customer’s buying process and what commitments you can use as checkpoints throughout. Ensure you are always on the same page with your customer and providing what they need to move forward in their purchase process.
This article is adapted from training content in the Modern Sales Foundations™ program. Learn more about the course and its buyer-centric principles.