4 min read
There really is an ethical way to close a sale…
“Close the sale”. “Seal the deal”. “Get ‘em over the line”.
Even the words make you nauseous, never mind the activity!
I don’t know about you but when I hear phrases like these, images of cheap suits, fake smiles and sweaty palms come to mind. And let’s not even talk about what they make me feel!
With all that said though, there’s no escaping the truth that sales really are the lifeblood of a business. Without paying customers, you haven’t got a company. You’ve got a hobby.
So is it possible for good people to sell well? Well for all the tacky, clumsy and generally icky ways people approach sales, there are also plenty of ways to sell ethically. And ethical selling has never been more needed.
One of the big ideas in Dan Pink’s recent book “To Sell is Human” is that in today’s world of reviews, ratings and reputation, we’ve shifted from the old idea of caveat emptor (buyer beware) to caveat venditor (seller beware).
Buyers (whether in B2B or as consumers) are better informed than before, have more choice than ever and – as a result – have insanely high BS-meters and zero tolerance for sloppy or manipulative selling.
Which sounds like bad news for people who need to sell what they do in order to sustain and grow a business. Right?
Because if people whose job it is to connect a customer to a product or service embrace the reality, then actually what happens is they recognise that the only effective way of selling is also the honest and ethical way!
No manipulation, pulling fast ones or ‘alternative facts’. It’s time to sell with honesty, fairness, consideration and creativity.
So, what does all that mean for the ‘closing conversation’?
Well, let’s get a few givens out of the way before we talk about how to close sales well…
- Your product or service is top drawer and will genuinely help buyers solve a problem, meet a need or achieve a goal.
- You’re confident that your company can deliver.
- You actually give a monkeys about your buyer’s well-being.
If 1), 2) and 3) aren’t true for you then you don’t have a sales problem, you have a product problem. I can’t help you. At least not in this post.
So, let’s take it as read that the givens are in place. There are three big ideas I think will help good people ‘close sales’ (urgh!) well.
First, your view of the process.
Our view of sales needs to change, particularly in the creative industries. The quickest and easiest way to illustrate this is to think about being “the Oddbins guy”. In the UK there is a chain of wine shops (thankfully growing again slowly after a dip a few years ago).
When you enter an Oddbins the store is stuffed floor to ceiling with a dizzying array of wine from across the globe. There is a real danger of cognitive overload and choice overwhelm pushing people out of the store.
But you’re soon put at ease, because in Oddbins, 99% of the time you can grab a member of staff and say “I’ve got £12 and I’m doing lasagne tonight. What would you recommend?” and you’ll get a friendly, knowledgeable response that helps you sift through the options and land a corker (pardon the pun).
The back end of the sales process (we’ll leave prospecting, qualification, proposal writing etc. for another day) is much more like this when it’s done well – a salesperson needs to see themselves as a trusted guide helping a buyer sift through all the noise to get to the signal of what’s going to be the best option for them.
Second, adopt the posture that it really is ok if they say no.
Remember that desperate guy or girl when you were a teenager who wouldn’t take no for an answer? Don’t become that person now.
You want the sale, of course you do. But if you want it too badly, you reek of desperation. And that’s the most offputting thing of all.
A mentor once talked to me about being passionately detached. In that you bring all your commitment and enthusiasm to bear… but match it with a healthy sense of being detached from the outcome. At the end of the day we can’t control for everything.
Think about the last time someone tried to desperately sell you. You’ll see the ironic truth that a buyer is more attracted to do business with someone when they get the sense that it’s not the end of the world if the conversation ends with a “thanks but it’s no for now“.
Third, manage the closing conversation intentionally.
At some point it’s your responsibility to help someone get to a decision. It still staggers me how few founders, directors and salespeople have a plan for how to go about doing this.
Rather, most folk simply rely on gut instinct and wing-it for the words to come to mind in the heat of the moment.
If that works for you and you’re really gifted, then great. But for the rest of us who need some language prepped for ethically closing a conversation with elegance, try doing these three things in sequence.
1) Ask questions to find out genuinely where they are.
After talking through the proposal and heading towards “the close” you need to hear that they’re genuinely feeling good about the conversation and up for making a decision. Sincere questions like “So, how’s this all sounding?” or “What’s going through your mind?” will help you guage whether your buyer is at a 7 out of 10 or more in terms of their warmth to what’s on the table.
If they’re not a 7 or more and you start to close them, then a buyer will feel pressured instead of helped and you’re going to feel icky and manipulative.
2) Flush out final objections or – even better – name them yourself.
If you get the sense they’re genuinely interested then questions to elicit any final mental barriers are crucial at this point. Don’t be afraid of objections coming up – it’s guaranteed! See it as your opportunity to really put them at ease and get the relationship off on the right footing.
You’ll need to find your own words but use questions like “So, what else should we cover so that you’d feel good about going ahead?” or “What final niggles might you have?”. Then deal with what comes up in a friendly way using AND – never BUT.
i.e. “Yup, it’s pricey… and I guess that reflects the quality of what we do. We often have new customers come to us after they’ve spent elsewhere and been disappointed.”
This is much better than “I suppose you could say we’re pricey, but look at everything you’re getting” which is much more positional and potentially combative.
Obviously if you’ve thought about what might come up in advance and have answers prepped, then all the better.
3) Put a range of options on the table.
Too many people fall at the final hurdle by presenting the options to the buyer as Yes or No.
If at all possible why not present two or three options for proceeding? Is helps them stay in control but simply makes it more likely through the maths that they’ll choose AN option of doing business with you!
What are the house wine, better wine, best wine versions of your proposition?
Bronze, Silver, Gold?
Discovery phase, Discovery & Build or End-to-End with retainers?
Make it simple for you buyer to choose HOW to do business with you rather than IF they’ll do business with you.
Remember that each of the options you present need to be awesome in their own right. Also you need to genuinely be ok if they plump for ‘house wine’. If you delight them then in delivery then you’ll move them onto other services later.
Now, like I said at the start – there are loads of ethical ways to approach sales. These should function as just a few helpful suggestions, not hard and fast rules.
People who persuade for a living ought to be constantly building out their toolkits for dealing with the reality that each scenario / individual is specific. If you haven’t thought about expanding your own toolkit for a while, then this is just to bolt on a few options for you to close without the cringe.
So what do you think? Tell me what you disagree with, or share your own tips in the comments below.
We cover topics like “Finding the right way for you to sell more stuff” and lots more on Invent – Form’s six-month growth programme crafted specifically for leaders in the UK’s creative and digital sector.