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Trust Matters, The Podcast: The Cult of Closing (Episode 10)

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Trust Matters, The Podcast: How to Manage an Untrustworthy Client (Episode 5)

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Trust Matters, The Podcast: Stepping Up To The C-Suite Client (Episode 4)

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Trust Matters, The Podcast: Getting Through Procurement (Episode 3)

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Trust Matters, The Podcast: Why Won’t My Client Say ‘YES’? (Episode 2)

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Trust Matters, The Podcast: Dealing With A Freeloader When Selling Services (Episode 1)

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Stop Worrying About Closing the Sale

You’ve heard the admonition “Always Be Closing.” Should you worry about it? For some of you, the answer may be ‘yes.’ But for many more – fuggedaboutit.

Here’s the truth: in some businesses, “closing” is a relevant art. Those businesses are typically highly transactional in nature (e.g. car sales), discretionary and small ticket price (cosmetics), or simple in nature (vegetable peelers). And even then (in the case of car sales), a great many of customers resent being “closed.”

But what about you? Does your business seek repeat customers? Are your benefits largely intangible? Do customer/client relationships matter? Is your ticket price higher? Is your product or service somewhat complex?

In those cases, “closing” is a dinosaur concept. You should distance yourself from it as far as possible.

Think about it. When was the last time you “closed a sale?” What’s your success rate in “closing” sales? Better yet, when was the last time someone tried to “close” you? Did it work? Was it a positive experience?

Here’s a guess at your answer. For a significant percentage of your sales, it’s hard to identify where “closing” happened – the decision just got made – or didn’t. When you do try to close, you often feel uncomfortable; worse yet, more often than not, it doesn’t work. When someone tries to “close” you, it generally doesn’t work–and when it does, you often buy despite the seller’s close, rather than because of it.

If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. The business development role in those kinds of businesses is antithetical to “closing” as commonly understood.

You don’t need to get better at closing. You need to stop doing it.

The Cult of Closing

The concept of closing probably goes back centuries. Think of itinerant peddlers, carnival barkers, open-air markets. You can hear closing “lines” being practiced today on infomercials and in street fairs (not to mention automobile dealerships). Done well (think Ron Popeil), they’re part of the entertainment of buying.

By the early part of the twentieth century, the concept had gone mainstream. The concept of “always be closing” was taught in the well-regarded Xerox Sales approach and many others.

It lives on today. Here’s what Amazon’s search algorithm produces when the word “sales” is linked to a related term:

Sales 421,684

Sales price 80,996

Sales leads 26,337

Sales close 17,336

Sales meeting 15,201

Sales buyer 12,206

Sales pitch 11,688

Sales presentation 4,610

Clearly, the idea of “closing” is alive and well in sales. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for you. The higher your average sale price, the more complex the sale is, the more relationship-driven it is, and the longer it takes – the less “closing” is likely to help you.

What Closing Is

Did you ever notice that all sales approaches seem to use arrow diagrams? It’s because they conceive of sales as a process that is linear and rational.

Here is typical language, taken from an 8-step version of a product sales process model:

The sales person checks that, if they can meet the specification, then the customer will give them the sale (‘If I…would you…’ trial close). After dealing with any objections, the target solution is presented:

  • Show features that meet customer needs (in priority order).
  • Show additional advantages.
  • Describe benefits that the customer is really buying.
  • Explain how it works (but don’t over do it!).
  • Confirm that they are comfortable with all of this.

The customer now makes the final selection of the product to meet their specification and criteria and hence solve their problems.

The sales person summarizes benefits (Summary Close), asks for the sale (using their favorite close), discusses any logistics detail and reassures the customer that they have made a good decision.

There are two critical assumptions buried in this approach:

  1. The purpose is to get the transactional sale
  2. Buying is a sub-category of rational decision-making.

These assumptions are what make you as a professional squirm in your seat when trying to “close” a real-life professional services client.

Motives Matter

Why do (most) automobile salespeople try to close you?

  1. To qualify you as a lead, so they can focus on likely-to-buy customers.
  2. Because if you walk out the door, you probably won’t come back.
  3. Because they feel you need that little “push” to make a decision.

The first reason is all about them, not you; they come across as selfish and manipulative.

The second is only a disguised version of the first.

The third infantilizes you, the buyer; fine for the emotionally needy, but not for most competent buyers.

Of all the components of trust, the most important is low self-orientation. Think of low self-orientation as client focus for the sake of the client, not for the sake of the seller. Most client focus is the client focus of a vulture; when we find someone who actually seems to care about us as an end, not as a means, we are positively inclined to trust them.

This is the first major problem with closing: it is inherently seller-oriented. It is all about this transaction, here-now. It casts the buyer in the role of means to the seller’s ends. It makes the customer an object.

It’s bad enough when you’re buying a car. How much worse is self-orientation when you’re an accountant talking to a CFO? A publicist talking to an artist? A consultant talking to a CIO?

Motives matter. Closing is an inherently selfish perspective. To close is to put your needs ahead of the client’s. That doesn’t work.

How Clients Buy

The other assumption buried in “closing” is the belief that buying is about rational decision-making. (Ironically, the old-time closing techniques stay purely emotional–see infomercials for an example; the rational add-on is one from modern corporate sales models).

If they haven’t bought, so the logic goes, there must be a reason. If I can uncover the reason, I will remove the blockage to their buying. Repeated attempts to close (the ABC rule, Always Be Closing) make sense based on this logic.

But it’s not quite right. As Jeffrey Gitomer puts it, “the buying decision is made emotionally, and justified rationally.” Lawyers, consultants and accountants think this doesn’t apply to their clients, but it most often does.

In almost all cases, you know more about your service offering than the client does. That’s why they’re buying from you. But they don’t want to become experts in your area of expertise–instead, they want to find an expert they can trust. Their need is not to make a rational decision–their need is to feel comfortable with a rational decision they have to make.

Unfortunately, the “closing” model plays right into three of the largest problems professionals have:

  1. We talk too much about ourselves.
  2. We talk too much about our product or service offering.
  3. We push too fast to move to action steps.

When buyers buy, it isn’t because their objections have been met, or they have been persuaded by rational arguments. It’s because they’ve gotten comfortable with the decision. If they come to feel they trust you–that you have their interests at heart, you understand their concerns, you can be relied on, you will have a commitment to dealing rightly with the inevitable unforeseen circumstances–then they will hire you.

In Place of Closing

The very concept of “closing” is misplaced in professional services. It presumes a transactional, seller-centric, linear, rational model of decision-making about a product or service. Instead, what is needed is a client-centric model of arriving at a level of trust in the seller.

What does that look like? Probably a lot like what you do when you’re successful:

  1. A focus on the relationship, not the transaction
  2. Ample selling that applies competence to the problem itself, rather than talking about qualifications (I call it Selling by Doing, not Selling by Telling)
  3. A lot of listening–open-ended, plain old, paying attention for its own sake
  4. Envisioning–helping the client envision an alternative view of reality, in rich detail.

As always, with trust, there is a paradox. If you stop closing, you’ll close more deals. But only if you do it for the client’s sake. You actually have to care about the client.

 

An earlier version of this post appeared in RainToday 

Traveling Salesman Meets Prisoner’s Dilemma

You may know “The Prisoner’s Dilemma.” In game theory, it is a classic conundrum. As Wikipedia states, it “demonstrates why two people might not cooperate even if it is in both their best interests to do so.”

It turns out that the solution to The Prisoner’s Dilemma is also the solution to a great many sales problems—those in which your customer doesn’t trust you. Are you living in the Dilemma? Or are you living in the solution?

The Dilemma of the Prisoner

Here is a classic version of The Prisoner’s Dilemma:

Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction and, having separated the prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal:

  • If one testifies for the prosecution against the other (defects) and the other remains silent (cooperates), the defector goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence.
  • If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge.
  • If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence.

Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?

What’s a poor prisoner to do?

If you analyze the situation rationally (the way a game theorist or economist defines that term), your odds are a lot worse if you remain silent—either you get 10 years or six months. But if you rat on your partner, you either get out free or—at worst—five years.

So, reasons the economist, Option A’s average “value” is five years and three months in prison. Option B’s average is two and a half years. “Ah ha,” says the economist’s rational player, “I’ll go for Option B.”

Of course, the other player does the same math and comes to the same conclusion. As a result, each gets five years in prison—a total of 10 prison-years between them.

If only the prisoners had cooperated with each other; they could have each gotten out with just six months in prison—a total of one prison-year between them.

The question is: why don’t they cooperate?

At least, that’s the economists’ question. In the real world, cooperation is quite common.

So the real question is: why do so many people listen to economists?

The Dilemma of the Salesperson

Before answering the Prisoner’s Dilemma, let’s note the similarity with The Salesperson’s Dilemma.

The salesperson has a similar series of trade-offs. For example:

  • “I could take some extra time to study up on tomorrow’s sales call, getting to know more about the prospect. That would improve the odds of my getting a sale tomorrow.”
  • “On the other hand, I could make another cold call with the time saved if I don’t spend it studying up for tomorrow’s call.”

Or, another example:

  • “I could tell them we have very little experience in this area, which would increase their sense of my honesty, which would help me in the long run.”
  • “On the other hand, experience might be the key in getting this job, and I’d better make the best case I can and fudge the rest.”

Still another:

  • “I could share a lot of my knowledge with them, which would really impress them and make them grateful to me.”
  • “On the other hand, if I give it all away in the sales call, they’ll just steal my knowledge and not pay me for it—I’d better wait until after we have a signed contract.”

And one more:

  • “I could go out on a limb and make some really far-sighted observations that would help them—it would go way beyond what they asked for.”
  • “On the other hand, we don’t have much trust built up yet. They might see that as presumptuous or unprofessional; I’ll just answer the questions they asked.”

Just as with The Prisoner’s Dilemma, if the salespersons continually choose Option B, they will sub-optimize. They will do cold calls, leading with no relationship, taking no risks, treating the customer like a competitive enemy, and offering no great help.

In other words, they’ll lose. Just like the prisoners.

In theory, the prisoners are identical, whereas the salesperson and the customer are distinct. But that’s theory. In the real world, sellers somehow tend to find buyers who are similar to them. Sellers who are fear-driven and guarded somehow often find buyers who justify their worst fears.

Both seller and buyer often operate from the Prisoner’s script. And the result is just as sub-optimal.

The Prisoner’s Solution

As postulated by economists and game theorists, The Prisoner’s Dilemma is usually presented with two key assumptions:

  1. The game is played only once
  2. The players do not know each other

The solution lies in changing each of those assumptions. If you tell the players the game will be played 10 times, cooperative patterns begin to emerge. If it’s played 100 times, cooperative strategies take over.

If the players are given information about each other, they become less abstract to each other. If the information is personal, then the relationship changes tone as well.

These two dimensions—time and relationship—are critical. Without a sense of continuity over time, and without a sense of personal relationship, those playing the game will opt to “rat out” each other—even knowing that the result, system-wide, is negative for them on average. But given time and relationships—the optimal solution emerges. Everyone is better off.

In other words, the solution to behaving stupidly is to develop personal relationships over time. Now let’s see how that insight applies to selling.

The Sales Solution

The sales solution should look pretty obvious now. Suboptimal behavior is the result of short timeframes and shallow relationships. In a Prisoner’s Dilemma world, both buyer and seller fear each other, suspect the worst, don’t have relationships beyond the transaction, and are interested primarily in their own self-aggrandizement, without regard to cost to the other party.

If that sounds familiar, just look at this quick list of sales topics that are hot these days: sales automation, lead screening, CRM, social media lead generation, multi-channel messaging. Think about the last step in nearly every sales process model you’ve seen—closing. Think about some of the trends in procurement: online, blind auctions, and RFPs.

What all these subjects have in common is a view of selling that is a) transactional and b) impersonal. In other words, they have short timeframes and weak relationships—two things sure to hurt sales.

Selling benefits from longer timeframes and better personal relationships. If you can stop thinking like an economist and work to eliminate the fear you and your buyers have, you’ll benefit from the long-lasting trustworthy relationships that develop as a result.

 

An earlier version of this post appeared in RainToday

Riding the Shark: Vanquishing Fear in Selling, Part 4 of 4: Shark-proof Your Selling

Shark ProofingThis is the final post in a four-part series on Fear in Selling.  In the first part, I talked about the importance of dealing with fear in sales. In the second part, I wrote about the four types of fear.  In the third part I talked about fending off the sharks of fear. In this last part I talk about Shark-proofing your market – how to banish fear permanently.

The Sharks of Fear: Beyond Shark Repellent

There are Four Sharks of Fear:

1. Execution Fear. “I might mess up in doing this sale; I might not do it right.”
2. Competence Fear. “I might not know how to do this sale right; I may not even know I don’t know.”
3. Outcome Fear. “I might not get the deal at all – everything I wanted to happen won’t happen.”
4. Shame-based Fear. “They’re not going to like me or respect me anymore; and they’re probably right.”

While each can be dealt with tactically (see part 3), fear is a classic case where an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.  So – how do you conduct your selling life in ways that keep the Sharks of Fear permanently at bay?

It can be done.

Five Keys to Vanquishing the Sharks of Fear in Selling

First, let’s be clear where the solution does not lie. It is not in your sales process. You won’t find the key in sales management, and you won’t get there by tweaking your value proposition.

Instead, it consists of constantly applying five principles, or values, to every aspect of your selling life.  And here they are.

1. Always Sit on the Same Side of the Table. You are on the same team as your customer. Your interests are allied. There is no such thing as win-lose or lose-win, there is only win-win or part on friendly terms. You are not playing a zero-sum game, you are looking for a mutually beneficial relationship.

Don’t speak, write or think anything that posits you vs. your customer – your proper seat is on the same side of the table as your customer.

2. The Customer Gets Theirs First. The way to a successful partnership is not by insisting on 50-50 from the outset and at every step of the way. It comes from being gracious, putting the customer’s needs first, offering up some value, taking some risks, and listening before talking. The single best behavioral tool you can employ for this principle is – listen empathetically, long, and well. The result is that, when it’s your turn, you will be listened to in the same way.

Yes, a trust-based partnership has to work for both of you; but you get there by being willing to first focus on the customer’s needs, not your own.

3. Play the Long Game. The most powerful force in selling is the natural human tendency to return good for good, and bad for bad. Again – the most powerful force. Time, though of this way, is your friend, because time lets you develop relationships, not transactions. The more you develop relationships, the more your transactions will have context; and it’s a context of mutual courtesy, obligation and goodwill.

Don’t think of the sales process as a transaction, to be repeated. Think of it as a relationship, with ongoing interactions, but with a permanence all its own. And remember – the way you behave is the way you will be treated in turn. You empower what you fear; and you get back what you put out.

4. Keep No Secrets.  Transparency is to fear as a cross is to vampires. If you have no secrets, then there can be no surprises. If you don’t know something, say so. If you have information, share it. If you’re the best for the job, say so and say why. And if you’re not, say so as well – and that will be a lot more believable. Be the same person at all times to all people.

There are three exceptions, of course. Don’t give away trade secrets; don’t do anything illegal; and don’t hurt someone. Other than that, deal strictly in the Truth in all your affairs, and no one can or will fault you.  (And if you think giving away all your information will empower your competitors, think again – they can never replicate your relationships).

5. Lead With Your Chin. The thing that triggers trust, allows you to play the long game, and encourages collaborative reciprocal behavior is to be the one to take the first risk. Never mind what Ronald Reagan said – there is no trust without risk. If you want to create trust, you must lead with risk-taking.

Talk price early, not late. Admit your shortcomings up front. Give away samples – especially if you’re in an intangible services business. Have a point of view. Go out on a limb. Invest a little time, rather than checking your sales efficiency watch every minute. Dare to empathize.

 

That’s it. If you conduct your sales life by those principles, about 90% of customers will return your behavior in kind. The other 10%? Leave them to your competitors. Life is too short. And be assured, they won’t do as well as you and the 90% anyway.

Riding the Shark: Vanquishing Fear in Selling, part 2 of 4

4 Sharks Of Fear (photo via Iggy.)There are many ways to think about sales and selling. You can focus on value propositions, sales processes, sales management, motivation, techniques, and models. In this blogpost series,  I focus on something else that’s common in sales – fear.

In Part 1 I talked about the importance of dealing with fear in sales. Here I’d like to talk about how to recognize and categorize fear. In Part 3 I’ll talk about solutions, and in Part 4 I’ll talk about Shark-proofing your market – how to replace fear permanently.

The Four Sharks of Fear

There are many ways to categorize fears, just as there are ways to categorize sharks. I like to lump them in progressively more fearful categories, from relatively tame to terrifyingly fearful.

  1. Execution Fear. “I might mess up in doing this sale; I might not do it right.”
  2. Competence Fear. “I might not know how to do this sale right; I may not even know what I don’t know.”
  3. Outcome Fear. “I might not get the deal at all – everything I wanted to happen won’t happen.”
  4. Shame-based Fear. “They’re not going to like me or respect me anymore; and they’re probably right.”

The first thing you’ll notice about that list is that it gets “worse” as you go down the list – it starts off with incomplete education and ends up with self-loathing. All of us find it a lot easier to deal with the former than the latter.

But they all can drive equally negative impact on sales.

How Fear Affects Selling

Whether your fear is tactical, existential, or in between, it will keep you from doing something right.

  1. If you have execution fear, you are likely to not make the call, schedule the appointment, or send the email. You will be physically not present. You will miss opportunities and appear undependable.
  2. If you have competence fear, you are likely to appear ragged, unconfident, changeable and second-guessing.
  3. If you have outcome fear, you are likely to annoy everyone around you, because you try to over-control, micro-manage, obsess, and frequently blame others; you are in a bad mood because the world doesn’t obey your commands.
  4. If you have shame-based fear, you are mentally not present; you are probably chronically sick, or often busy elsewhere; you are probably inconsistent, moody, and often a poor listener. And in sales, the inability to listen is a major handicap.

Have you been mentally jotting notes?  Write them down. Which type of fears do you seem particularly prone to?

Negative Feedback Loops

One of the most pernicious aspects of fear is its self-fulfilling nature. If you don’t make the appointment for fear of making an error, you have made an error. If you’re afraid of appearing competent, almost anyone will perceive that fear and interpret it as – incompetence.

If you’re afraid of a bad outcome, some kind of karmic rule of life intervenes – you nurture what you fear. And if you are ashamed of yourself, nobody will be comfortable  being around you; which of course is more fish-food for the shark of shame.

This feeds-on-itself aspect of fear is powerful – picture a feeding frenzy when sharks congregate around some little piece of distress, compounding the terror.

The Wrong Shark Repellent 

Unfortunately, people are almost hard-wired to respond badly to the Sharks of Sales. In the real world, if we see a shark in the water – we run.  Good call; avoiding the shark is the right thing to do.

But with Sales Sharks, that’s exactly wrong. In almost all cases, fear of doing something wrong drives us to not do something that is right. Think sins of commission and sins of omission.

We are so afraid of saying the wrong thing that we say nothing. We may not lose what we have (dignity), but we create a much bigger failure to get something we wanted (the sale).

Imagine a lifeguard who sees someone drowning. If the guard dives in to save the person, and it turns out the person was just playing, the lifeguard may be slightly embarrassed, and feel put out.

But what if the person really was drowning and the lifeguard thought, “Well, I’d look stupid if I dove in after them and it was a false alarm, let me wait a bit longer and see.” Wrong answer!  Yet that is the mistake that fear drives us to make in sales.

The pattern is clear: fear drives us to avoidance, which ensures failure. You can probably envision some of the solutions to fear in sales, but in any case, that’s the next post. Stay tuned.