If the sales appointment has gone well and the client is interested, signing the order may almost be a formality. Likewise, at the end of the appointment you may realise that the client is unlikely ever to agree to a deal.
However, there are times when the client is still unsure or they may be nervous about signing a big order. This is understandable, given that they may not have used your product or service before. In this situation, the use of certain closing techniques may help them decide.
Once the order has been signed, it is your chance to prove that you can match your words with actions. Exceeding expectations by adopting a professional approach to delivery and after-sales service can help to establish a lucrative and long-lasting client relationship.
This guide will take you through the steps required to close and then deliver on an agreed sale.
Asking for the business
It is very likely that you will find it more productive to sell in a 'consultative' way rather than using pressure tactics, which are now outdated. This involves conducting research and structuring your sales call to help make closing the sale straightforward.
However, you still need to gain the client's commitment, and the best way to do this is just to ask for the business in an assertive but polite manner.
Spotting buying signals
The best time to ask for the business will vary depending on the type of person you are dealing with and how the sales appointment has progressed. Many buying signals are obvious, e.g. the client repeatedly nodding in agreement or a positive tone to their questions. However, some buying signals may be less easy to spot and are often hidden amongst objections.
It is therefore important to be enthusiastic about forming a relationship with the client, but not to get too excited and appear desperate. The client may not be quite ready to buy, so be prepared to resolve further issues if they still have objections to agreeing on a deal. Ask them about the objection and explain how you can overcome it.
Taking the order
You should be prepared to take an order on the day, even if you were told this was unlikely when you made the appointment. Have the necessary paperwork ready to take the order or agree on a contract.
Many businesses have pre-printed order pads/contracts that contain all the standard terms and conditions. If you use a standard order pad, you may still need to leave space to write down any additional terms you have agreed that are particular to that deal.
Ensure that you have drafted your paperwork with the help of a lawyer and explain any non-standard terms clearly to the client, including the procedure for cancelling the contract. Once this has been done, ask the client to sign the agreement and give them a copy.
If they ask for time to go through all the terms and conditions before signing, consider asking them to sign a 'letter of intent', or even your meeting notes, to confirm their commitment.
Methods for closing the sale
Sometimes it may be necessary to try different ways of getting the client to agree to buy your product or service. The reasons for their initial reluctance may be varied, but often it could be as simple as nerves or the fear of making the wrong decision.
It is important to reassure the client that they will be in safe hands and to go over the benefits they will experience once they sign up. Show them any testimonials you have from your other clients - particularly if they are a well-known company.
Variations in closing
If you sense that directly asking for the business won't work, you could try:
- giving them an alternative – e.g. do you want the green or the red one?
- assuming they will sign – e.g. what day is best for us to deliver the goods?
In all cases, make sure you allow the buyer time to say "yes". If there is a pause after you've tried a closing question, let the potential client speak first. The client often needs a few moments to confirm to themselves that they are happy to go ahead, so speaking first could interrupt this thought process.
If you can't close on the day
If you are convinced that the client will not sign an order at the meeting but they still seem interested, offer to return with a tailored proposal. This can be risky as they may cancel once they are out of the atmosphere of the sales meeting, so make sure you confirm a date and time for a second meeting - ideally within a few days of the current meeting.
Take this opportunity to write down any unresolved objections and explain that you will return with a firm proposal. It is a good idea to gain an idea of their budget if you haven't already done so.
You may decide that the client is not ready to buy and may never be a serious prospect. If this is the case, politely thank them for their time and offer to keep in touch. It is better to invest your time in more serious prospects.
Remember, however, to ask them if they know of anyone else who may be interested in your product or service. For more information, see the page in this guide on referrals and testimonials.
Negotiating the sale
Even if you manage to gain the client's commitment to signing an order, there may be a period of negotiation required to agree on the details.
Remember not to get carried away by the fact that you have potentially secured an order - you may still have to walk away if the deal doesn't suit your profit margins or your ability to deliver.
Negotiating on price
It is tempting to end up in a negotiation on the final cost of the deal, as it is almost certainly one of the elements that the client will try to negotiate on.
However, it is one element that is rarely advantageous to give ground on.
Provided you have set your price realistically, taking into account the cost of creating and delivering your product or service, lowering your price may:
- result in an unacceptable profit margin
- create an expectancy that you will lower it further
- indicate that it was too high in the first place
- affect your ability to deliver to the required standard
For more information, see our guide on how to price your product or service.
If the client insists on a price reduction per unit, offer to give them a discount based on a larger order. You could also offer to agree on a particular price if you can alter some elements of the proposed package, e.g. to a cheaper version or a later delivery time.
Take your time
Whatever happens in the negotiation, remain assertive but polite at all times. Don't be put off by comments designed to destabilise your position, e.g. "that's far too expensive". Outline the benefits and why it is worth the cost.
Consider all sensible offers but don't agree to a condition too quickly - this can make the buyer think you are desperate and that there could be more room for manoeuvre.
If the negotiations break down, outline the sticking point and your final offer to resolve it. If this still doesn't work, it may be best to thank them for their time and agree to keep in touch.
Following up the sale
Once the negotiations are over and the order has been signed, make sure that you continue your professional approach by taking the client through the next steps - called consolidation. Remember to thank them for their business before you go any further.
Confirm what has been agreed, including delivery dates and times as well as payment procedures, where appropriate.
If necessary, write down a schedule of the next steps for them, as well as clear contact details in case they have any queries during the process.
It is preferable to give the client your cell phone number to avoid a long delay in answering any query they may have. Sometimes a client may suffer "buyer's remorse" - a negative response to making a big decision - and failing to answer a query quickly and efficiently could lead them to cancel the whole order.
Once back at the office, confirm all the details in an email or letter. Avoid using standard templates for this communication - you need to maintain the friendly rapport generated in the meeting, and a standardised letter could appear too clinical.
Follow this up with a regular call at key stages to keep them informed as to progress, and once again after they have taken delivery. Check that they have received exactly what was agreed and on time. Be on hand to answer any queries once the client starts to use the product, perhaps offering to demonstrate it at their workplace.
Building the client relationship
Once you have fulfilled the client order, it could be tempting to think of this as the end of the sales process. However, it can be very rewarding to build on this initial order and establish a mutually beneficial client relationship. You should arrange a further meeting to discuss future business at the earliest possible opportunity.
Building relationships takes time and is based on trust. The ultimate aim of your approach should be to create a relationship whereby the client refers to you for consultation on certain matters. This relies on honest advice, but you should always be ready to spot an opportunity to sell your products or services where appropriate.
For example, you might advise your client to buy a cheaper product if this will satisfy their requirements, instead of trying to push them to buy the most expensive version. They will start to respect your advice and be willing to discuss bigger orders in future.
Another way of establishing a good working relationship is to request honest feedback. Once you have fulfilled your first order, ask the client if they would complete a short feedback form.
It could be more helpful to ask the client's staff to complete certain sections, as it is likely that they will be the ones who actually use the product in practice.
Send them a small gift to thank them for their time and ensure that you inform them of any measures you are taking to improve their experience for the future.
Adopting this approach will be extremely helpful in tailoring your product or service to your client's needs and will show that you really care about their business.
You can also use the feedback to alter your product or service before approaching other customers.
Increase your knowledge of the market
You should build on the research you conducted before visiting the client about their industry and the issues that affect them. Consult their trade press about forthcoming changes in the marketplace and ask them what steps they are taking to prepare their business.
It is possible that the client may not have had the time or resources to monitor such developments and they will be very grateful if you help them exploit any opportunities.
Referrals and testimonials
Using referrals can reduce the amount of advertising and cold-calling you need to do, while testimonials can help you to convert more prospects into solid orders at sales appointments.
Referrals are an extremely good source of new business and can provide an alternative prize if you don't manage to close the sale. Discussing referrals after a sales meeting has been unsuccessful can also provide a welcome change of topic and avoids an awkward end to the proceedings.
You should also ask for referrals when you:
- are sourcing leads
- have just agreed on a deal with a new client
- are at a networking event
- are contacting an existing client
There are various ways of asking for a referral, but you should start by asking for a straightforward introduction or for their contact details. As a last resort you could ask the contact to pass on your details, but this can be less fruitful as they will never sell your product or service in the way that you can.
You should treat referrals in the same way that you do new leads, by following it up straight away. Make sure that you mention who has passed on their details (if they have given their permission). For more information, see our guide on planning to sell.
Where you are approaching an existing client, you should ask them to provide a written testimonial that you can use in your future sales appointments. Reassure the client that it won't take up too much of their time and that you will only use the details that they are happy to give you about their business.
Ideally, ask for a photo of the client and use quoted speech to personalise the testimonial. Make sure that you ask them to comment on:
- why they used your business
- what problems it helped them to solve
- the level of service they received
Original document, Closing and following up the sale, © Crown copyright 2009
Source: Business Link http://www.businesslink.gov.uk/
Adapted for Québec by Info entrepreneurs