The final step in earning the customer's buy-in.
The fourth of the skills discussed in this series is - for the lack of a better term - called closing. This word has been around forever. It describes the final step in gaining the customer's buy-in or commitment. But if we must accept the word closing, we should at least follow up with a discussion about how salespeople ought to understand this important skill.
Unless you are selling pencils on the corner of a busy avenue, you should look upon closing as several possible next steps the customer and salesperson agree to take together. These next steps could be:
Their agreement to meet again soon to do further business.
Their agreement to meet in the customer's home... a house call.
Getting the customer to sign a purchase agreement.
The attitude of the good salesperson should always be to do his or her professional best to get the sale "today". This does not mean that the sales person should close with the proverbial clumsiness of a bull in a china shop or the ruthlessness of a purse snatcher. Sales won that way never win the customer's repeat buy-ins. They often end up in cancellations, and do irrevocable harm to a store's reputation in particular and to that of our industry in general.
Whichever of the several possible closing steps salespeople choose to follow should be based on the kind of buying signal the customer gives. Certainly such strong buying signals as "Do you deliver?" and "Do you accept Visa?" are indications that the customer is very probably ready to sign a purchase agreement. Other less strong buying signals more often than not, need to be probed into further.
HOW OFTEN TO CLOSE?
How often should the salesperson close? Some research done quite some time ago at the University of Notre Dame found that top salespeople regularly ask for the sale about five or six times. Certainly that does not mean that salespeople should ask for the sale that many times in the following way:
"Let's close this deal."
"I repeat, let's get this show on the road."
"I know you want us to deliver this recliner to you."
"What can I do to get you to buy today?"
"For the fifth time, do I have the order?"
"For the sixth and last time, you've got to buy now before this sale ends."
Of course, asking for the sale four, five, and six times calls for more finesse and better timing than that. In fact, the best salespeople close at various points in the sale...always professionally. For example:
Customer says: "I'm here to only look today."
Salesperson replies: "Appreciate your choosing our store to do your looking. While you're looking please let me know any way in which I can make your decision easier."
You see, wise salespeople know that when a customer tells you she's not going to make a decision that day, she tells you because she has some anxiety about shopping. Anxiety about what? Certainly not about being mugged. She is anxious about making a buying mistake. She is, therefore, thinking about buying. I remember once observing a salesperson in Houston Texas in one of the country's most successful stores handle this situation.
Customer said: "I'm not going to make my choice today."
With the confidence of a champion and the fine manners of a true Texan, that salesperson gave her the most gracious smile I've ever witnessed...
Salesperson replied: "Sir, you've already made the choice to be here. Now let's see if we can help you choose the furniture you can be happy with."
Shortly afterward, I saw him escorting the customer to the sales counter.
A SYNERGISTICALLY INTERDEPENDENT SKILL
But while I realize how essential it is for salespeople to know when to close and how to close, my last ten years spent monitoring salespeople, especially in bedding, have left me with an even greater concern, namely that too many salespeople fail to ask for the sale even once! In that regard, I tend to disagree with those sales trainers who teach that there is no need to spend much time learning how to close. Their reasoning is that if one does a good job of probing, qualifying, selecting and supporting, the sale will follow as surely as night follows day.
Closing is as much a skill as opening and probing and supporting. It is one of the four synergistically interdependent skills needed for consistent success in selling. As such, closing is a skill which like the other skills, calls for a lot of practice.
Also, I like Learning International, Inc.'s emphasis on the importance of reviewing the benefits the customer accepted. It teaches us to do that just before the next "action steps" the customer and the salesperson agree to take. Reviewing these benefits is a powerful technique at the point of closing. Should a salesperson always review benefits with the customer at that point? No, as for example when the customer says: "Lets do it." or asks a question like, "Do you deliver?" or "Do you accept Master Card?" or "Do you have in-store credit?" But at most other times it makes good sense to review the benefits the customer accepted.
One further thing about buying signals. Some of the strongest signals customers give can only be detected by the salesperson's eyes. All the more reason to practice proper eye contact when you sell. Other signals call for the salesperson's ability - I call this a sixth sense - to know just when a customer is about to leave the store with words like the following: "We'd like to go out to lunch and think this over." Salespeople who habitually hear this, have not acquired that sixth sense that alerts them to anticipate remarks which are generally a ploy customers use to leave the store. I agree with Brian Tracy who is convinced that such customers have usually done all the thinking about our products they are going to do. Smart salespeople beat customers to the punch, so to speak, by turning to the customer and saying:
Salesperson: "You seem anxious to talk this over between yourselves. Would it be all right if I gave you some privacy to think it over and then checked back with you?"
Doing that significantly increases the chance of making a sale. Why so? For several reasons. First, customers respond favorably to courtesy. Second, it stands to reason that any further questions customers have during their private discussion can best be answered by the salesperson in the store and not when the customers are "having lunch," a lunch, I may add, that is almost always at the salesperson's expense. Third, the salesperson who has himself or herself suggested that the customers think it over in the store is pro-acting as the leader in the sale. The one who merely says "all right" to the customers who propose going out to talk about it is merely reacting to the situation.
SPHERE OF INFLUENCE
At this point I'd like to say a few words about sales that don't end up with any kind of customer commitment. Note too, that even when you fail to get the sale despite your best professional effort, you should not conclude that you wasted your time. Recently a friend of mine named Dave, who designs and builds homes and together with his wife Evelyn, shared an interesting thought with me.
"You know, Pete," he told me one day, "even when I don't make a sale, I do my best to leave the client on the best of terms." I replied: "You mean you leave the door open in case the client decides to come back?" "Yes," he replied, "but even more importantly, I realize that every customer enjoys a sphere of influence." I had never heard it put that way and so, being curious, I asked him what he meant by that. Dave went on to explain that most people have a circle of friends and acquaintances. Even if a client decides not to work with him, one of those friends might do so because of a referral.
In ending this article, I urge my readers to practice their skill of closing and do so often. A final thought to those who are commissioned salespeople. The next time you are tempted to skip asking for the sale, think about this question: "How much money did you bank last month on sales you almost made?" Finally, whether you are a commissioned salesperson or not, you might think upon this question as well: "How much are customers you had, enjoying the wonderful benefits of the furniture you almost sold them."
Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at firstname.lastname@example.org.