Explain and Seek

OVER THE YEARS, salespeople everywhere have been looking for new and better ways to "close the deal". They are constantly searching for hints and techniques to enable them to secure more clients in the shortest possible time. 

Although the thought process is understandable, it is also flawed. Selling professional services is not about tricks or techniques which somehow get the client to say yes. To understand this, take a moment and think about it from the client's perspective. 

As they see it, a relationship is about to be formed and should be ongoing. A significant sum of money is about to be spent and, since a wrong decision can have major implications, they want to make the right decision at the outset. 

No shortcut or snappy phrase at the end of a meeting is going to change any of that. In fact, any attempt to accelerate the process may backfire and damage your credibility. A new approach is needed, and while it may seem like radical advice – forget about the selling process. 

Instead, focus on the client's buying process. Use their method of appointing a supplier as the road map for expanding and securing your relationship. 

This does not mean you can just sit back and wait for them to decide. You still need to be proactive. At the end of the first sales meeting, for example, your goal should be to "motivate" the client and gain their commitment to move to the next stage. 

How many times have you heard: "We intend to talk to a few other suppliers, so why don't you send us a proposal?" By agreeing to do this, you may move to your next selling stage, but that is not necessarily making progress in the client's buying process. 

Asking for a written proposal may sound as if they are motivated, but one key factor is missing. The commitment you seek requires action on their part as well, and just accepting a proposal does not qualify. 

To get the client to commit, it is important to follow the full BRACES process for the first meeting and beyond. That means you must build rapport and position the meeting, ascertain in detail the prospective client's situation and requirements, and confirm your understanding of the issues. 

Then move to the E and S of the process - explaining a suitable way forward and seeking a commitment from the client. This is where your brain needs to go into overdrive. You must decide what is needed to push their buying process along. 

Commitment can take many forms: the client might agree to send you more detailed specifications for the project, or arrange a presentation to more senior colleagues, or suggest one-on-one conversations with specialists in different departments. 

You can take one of two approaches to get such a commitment. The first is the "exploration" method where you offer the client several ways to move forward, outline the options, and ask them to choose. The benefit of this is that most people like to have choices before making a decision. 

The other is the "explanatory" approach. Using this, you might refer to your previous experience and mention that the next step should be a round-table discussion with members of the technical team. This gives the chance to act decisively and indicates that you have the expertise to advise the client on how to proceed. 

So which approach should be used? That depends on the specific circumstances plus two other key factors - your own track record and the client's likely response. The more experience your company has in addressing the type of problem or opportunity, the more convincing you will sound when you propose a way forward. 

Also, if you have heard the client say during the meeting that they are looking for someone to tell them what to do, that is a clear signal they are looking for expert advice, not a range of choices. If you have followed the BRACES process, you should not be too concerned with closing the deal. The way forward will be obvious to both parties and usually, the client will volunteer a commitment. 

If, however, you have had a free-flowing meeting - unplanned, unprepared, unstructured and unprofessional - there is no closing technique you can use that will make the slightest bit of difference. 

You may not always get the outcome you want, or it could be too soon for the client to make a commitment. But it is better to know this rather than to waste time and effort submitting a proposal too early. 

In the end, there are three possible outcomes of a meeting which follows the BRACES process. Firstly, it can happen that the prospect is not a good fit. Log the results in a database, but do not break off contact completely. The prospective client's situation may change and provide an opportunity for work in the future. 

Secondly, there may be a good understanding but no immediate work. In such cases, continue your marketing efforts and make sure your company remains under consideration for any new contract or development need. 

Finally, the prospect may be impressed by what you offer and is ready to give you an immediate opportunity. If so, get their commitment to move to the next stage and map out a plan to confirm the business. 

The objective of your first sales meeting should not be to close the deal. Of course, it would be great if this could happen, but when selling professional services, it is very unlikely. 
The new approach that is needed focuses on the client's buying process, not your selling process. Its purpose is to motivate commitment and is all about building trust and professional rapport. Adopting this method may require a shift in mindset but it will go a long way to helping you win the business. 


The Client's Perception
You may be an expert in your field and have a strong understanding of the market, but you probably do not have an insight into the client's thinking. 

No amount of planning or research can help you with this. You may know, for example, that they are behind the game in the way they operate and are slow to market with new products. However, if they do not believe this is an important issue, you will struggle to convince them otherwise. 

The client may have other problems which need more immediate attention, or may be unable to envisage another way of doing things. Regardless of your opinion or expertise, you must work to uncover the client's perspective. Once you understand their thinking, you can position your services in a way that can be accepted. 

The Half Nelson
There are many tips which supposedly help to close the deal. One is the "Half Nelson" which goes something like this. The client says: "What you've told me is interesting. Do you ever carry out this work outside regular business hours or on weekends?" The professional replies: "If we could do that, would you agree to give us the contract?" 

Before trying out one of those "guaranteed" sales techniques, just consider how it sounds and how it is likely to be received by the prospective client. 

Seeking Commitment
The key to seeking commitment is to ask the client a question. Can we organise a follow-up meeting next week? Can you arrange for us to meet the business manager? Would you prefer a round-table discussion with everyone involved or one-on-one meetings? 

These questions all have one thing in common - they are straightforward and designed to solicit action. If the client accepts, you have gained their commitment. If not, the chances are they will tell you why. 

Addressing Concerns
If there are people on the client's side who may oppose your appointment as a supplier, it is usually better to meet them before a final decision is made. Do not wait and hope the issues will resolve themselves. 

In the end, if such people feel they have been ignored, they may try to undermine the work you do after being appointed. Meet them ahead of time and spend time listening to their views. Do not jump into a sales pitch hoping you can win them over. Instead, try to find answers to their concerns and queries. Both of you may realise there has simply been a misunderstanding.