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April 10, 2013

Closing (Part 1 of 2): Can you learn to close faster?

Do you want to learn how to close new business faster? Me too. But we can’t.

Teaching people how to close deals faster is a little like teaching gardeners how to pick tomatoes. Picking them isn’t the hard part. The hard part is growing them.

Selling is a process of growing a relationship to a point where the close will come naturally. Buyers have their own timetables, and their timetables are more important than yours. Selling is a process that can’t be rushed.

What you can learn is how to keep the process moving, how to avoid spending too much time with people who will never buy, and how to maximize the chances that the process ends the way you want it to, with the close belonging to you, not to a competitor.

In the book Stop Telling, Start Selling: How to Use Customer-Focused Dialogue to Close Sales, Linda Richardson conceptualizes the selling process as a series of “small c closes,” each measured by an achievable objective, such as getting an appointment with a line manager who will influence the decision to engage a particular law firm.

Each small c close must flow logically in a developing relationship. Doing your homework and preparing a list of general milestones will help you ask for that line manager meeting exactly when you most need it, and are most likely to get it. (Note the resemblance between Richardson’s “small c closing” and Neil Rackham’s concept of advances.) 

If you ask for the meeting and get turned down, then you can ask a backup question about when you could meet a key manager. That answer may reveal other homework you need to do to get the business. If the client says, “Not until I learn more about your costs,” you know you’re still being auditioned for the work. If the client says, “As soon as I can arrange to bring in my boss,” you know you’ve made important progress.

You should also ask what other concerns the client may have, and ask it religiously. This question will often uncover issues that need to be resolved before the selling process can get to what Richardson calls the “capital C close” of actually signing a new engagement.

When you get near to that capital C moment, Richardson suggests asking questions regarding time frame, budgets, and the decision process. You can also ask whether there are any lingering questions about working with your firm. After you resolve them, that is the moment to ask for the business.

If the client isn’t ready to say yes at this point, use the opportunity to ask what else needs to be done before you can get started, and probe about what caused the hesitation. And when you find out, work on getting the client to feel confident that you can help them solve those problems too, and ask for the close again.

Richardson says that second, third, fourth efforts “don’t have to be hard sell. […Clients] want to do business with people who really want to work with them.” Your job is to make it clear how much you care, and why they should work with you.


This post was adapted from my Legal Business Development Quick Reference Guide.  


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