You are a sales rep and you’ve just been notified by your prospect that your product/your company has been “verbally selected” as the solution they want to move forward with. As a long time VP of Sales, I can assure you that one of my least favorite terms in sales is “verbally selected”. Why? Because it doesn’t mean that you are going to be able to successfully navigate to a closed deal or sale.
It never ceases to amaze me how many people are in sales that really struggle with how to close the deal. I personally have had sales reps work for me that know how to work the sales process, position competitively and get the verbal nod and then are clueless as to how to drive the deal over the goal line to closure. They would just hand the negotiating and closing over to me. Many do the same with their VP of Sales.
I would submit that expert sales teams consider all sales processes to be binary, either it results in a closed deal/sale (success) or it results in a lost deal/no decision (failure). When you consider sales through that black or white aperture, it’s more important than ever to have an effective sales play on how to negotiate and close the sale.
Whether you’re brand new to sales, or you’ve been successfully selling for 20+ years, it’s always beneficial to refresh yourself with best practices sales negotiating and closing tactics. This blog post will share my thoughts and a sales play framework on how to effectively close sales deals.
First of all, a bit of context would be useful. My background is 25+ years selling enterprise software and technology solutions to the enterprise (Fortune 1000 companies). My sales leadership experience is in managing classic B2B enterprise sales teams selling high-end technology solutions ranging from six figure to eight figure deals.
In this environment, the sales process can take between 6-18 months on average depending on multiple variables such as the deal size, maturity of the market that you’re selling into, the competitive landscape, the acuteness of the business pain for the prospect (i.e., have they hit a true inflection point or not?), etc. This is selling to an enterprise buying committee with a diverse set of stakeholders including representatives from the line of business (LoB), IT, finance, procurement, legal, etc. It’s not unusual to have to engage and sell to 6-9+ different key stakeholders during the sales process and your prospect’s buying journey.
During the buying journey, you’ll need to discover and discern the power structure and dynamics between all of the key stakeholders. Do they like each other? What is their personal win(s)? Are they aligned in their pain and value proposition? What resonates with them? Who has the most influence and power in the decision process? It’s a bit like putting on your Dr. Phil sales hat (http://www.drphil.com) and building a psychological profile on all the key stakeholders and then constructing an overall profile with the complex buying committee dynamics in place.
With that context in mind, I ask: “how many enterprise sales teams out there have an effective How to Close Sales Play or Framework developed?”. This is different from a generic closure plan or checklist, which tends to focus on the milestones and key people involved in getting a contract signed and purchase order issued. Rather this sales play is a strategy and framework for how you best prepare for the negotiations, what you should anticipate and how you should respond to certain actions that commonly come up during contract negotiations.
Here is a simple how to close framework and sales play that I have used previously with great success:
- Identify and cultivate a true champion – All great sales people find and cultivate a true Champion. That Champion guides them through the buying journey and provides coaching that helps the sales team successfully understand and navigate that companies’ buying dynamics. The Champion becomes most critical during negotiations, as they are emotionally invested in a successful outcome and can assist in dealing with the procurement process and people that don’t have the context or use case understanding. They become a confidant and trusted ally.
- Have a plan– What is your negotiating strategy and plan? Do you have one or are you going in to negotiations in a completely reactive mode? I can assure you that going into a negotiation without a well thought out plan and strategy most often fails. What are the most important aspects for the customer? What are the most important things for you and your company? How are you going to engage with them and guide this deal to closure? Who will be involved from your end and the customer’s end? What personality types will be involved in the negotiations? What are the negotiating style and tendency and culture of the prospect? The answers to those questions should inform a well thought out strategy and plan.
- Be willing to adapt your plan– All effective plans have contingency plans and back up to the back up plans. I once went through a business negotiating program where they present you with a blank plan for the original US Lunar Landing mission, i.e., our first landing of man on the moon. Our job in this exercise was to think through all of the things that could go wrong and assume that they would go wrong. Then consider the implications of multiple things going wrong at the same time or in different sequences. It was an analytically draining process that taught me there are an infinite number of things that go wrong in any process. Plan in advance for the common process breakdowns so you can recover gracefully and not commit a fatal mistake on something fundamental simply because you didn’t think it through properly in advance rather than in the heat of the moment.
- It’s not personal, it’s business– One of my first sales mentors always told me “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” Why did he constantly tell me that? Because I have a tendency to be rather passionate and do take things personally when I shouldn’t. In any business negotiation, losing your temper or letting emotions weigh into your thought process is certain ruin. Don’t allow it to happen.
- Give personal wins, get personal wins- It sounds cliché but you need to understand and structure mutual, personal wins in to the negotiations. A one-sided relationship or agreement is inherently unhealthy and will typically fail down the road. You need to understand in advance what the prospect’s wins are and why and you need to share with them what your wins are and why. That baseline establishes a value parameter that is really helpful to come back to when negotiations are at an impasse. I.e., A why are we both doing this in the first place reminder….
- Remember your value prop- Good sales teams always have collaborated with the customer on building a business case and associated ROI for budgetary justification and approval. Don’t abandon that value proposition in your negotiations! In fact, come back to it and reinforce this is the process that both parties went through and this is why it makes sound business sense to move forward and collaborate. Let’s do this!
- Know when to say “No”- I wrote a separate blog post on the power of “No” in sales (truesalesresults.com/2015/10/the-power-of-no-in-sales)…all shameless promotion aside, it’s a good read that got a lot of positive response. And it certainly applies to negotiating and closing the deal.
- Don’t be afraid to walk away- One of the hardest things for sales teams to do after they’ve invested a ton of time and their heart and souls in a sales process is to walk away. Aside from the commission dollars, it’s a matter of personal pride for extremely competitive people who like to win and/or hate to lose. Suffice to say you need to think through when it makes sense for you to walk away from the deal and have the conviction to do so when that line is crossed.
Curious to get your thoughts on sales best practices how to close frameworks and sales plays on how to close the deal artfully….