Art of the deal Featured

6:03am EDT March 22, 2005
Many business owners me ask for help teaching their sales staffs how to become better at the art of selling. One thing I've found in common among companies of all sizes, from the Fortune 500 to mom-and-pop ventures, is that their staffs simply don't know how to close a deal.

Weak salespeople close hard. Let me repeat ... weak salespeople close hard. Closing is a skill learned by salespeople to get the order. The problem is that most of them close for the order instead of finding out what the customer wants and needs.

I often harp about the use of questions in the sales process to gather information about the customer and his or her company. This is what salespeople are supposed to do. Selling is asking, not telling.

Therefore, salespeople who just go for the close and want their order don't really care about their customer or their customer's situation.

Don't you hate it when you go into a business to buy a big-ticket item, such as a new car or truck, or a copier or furniture for your business, and the salesperson pressures you to buy? Many business owners have instilled throughout their staffs that this is a good selling skill, and that because the company is profitable, their salespeople must be doing a good job.

Not even close.

These salespeople are not forming relationships, and they're definitely not giving the customer the type of experience with your company that will make them want to return or tell others about it -- in a positive way.

So what's the problem?

No trial closes. A trial close sets everything up in a logical, straightforward manner that lets the customer in on the sales process. Here's an example: "Hey, reader, if you like my articles, would you be interested in buying any of my books or bringing me in to train your salespeople?"

This pitch is right to the point, honest, and it will elicit a response -- yes or no.

If the answer is yes, I'd ask more questions to determine the rest of your needs. If the answer is no, I would ask, "Why not?"

And then, through the use of more questions, I would find out if you were truly a prospect or if my product or service simply wasn't a good fit.

The whole premise behind the trial close is a simple. "If I ... will you ... ?" It will work any time in any sales situation, but it is usually best to employ it near the beginning of the conversation.

Here is another one that would be nice in today's marketplace. You're in a car dealership and want to start the process of looking for a new car. The salesperson greets you and then asks a few basic questions and starts to build rapport. Next, the salesperson says, "Hey, if I can find the car you want, take 4 percent off the sticker price since there is only 8 percent markup anyhow, would you be willing to buy? This way, you will get a good price, we make some money and the price will be competitive to any dealer in the country, since we all pay the exact same price from the manufacturer."

Wouldn't that put you more at ease?

The salesperson got right down to it with the offer, and you didn't have to haggle.

Consider this in your own business. If you teach your salespeople how to use the trial close more, they'll have to use pressure closes less. In fact, if your salespeople are really good, they'll ask many quality questions, elicit strong responses and won't have to do any closing to make the sale.

How is that possible?

Simple. Customers will tell your salesperson what they want to buy, when they want to buy it and, most important, how much they are willing to pay.

Hal Becker is a nationally known speaker on sales and customer service. He is the author of two best-selling books, "Can I have 5 Minutes of Your Time?" and "Lip Service." Reach him at