You’ve reached the happy day where your prospect tells you “I want to buy”. For the savvy enterprise software salesperson, you know that your journey has just begun. Many a deal has been lost after hearing these fateful words. While the probability of winning is much higher once you’ve heard these words than earlier in the sales process, you still want to follow some best practices to ensure the highest percentage of success. I have the battle scars of going out to a celebration dinner with the client on a deal that we ultimately lost. And if you like reading really long blog posts, Mark Suster is the king of telling great stories, and this one explains my point much better than I ever could.
Back to closing. The customer tells you that you have “won” the deal. What does that mean? You need to understand the following details:
- Does the customer require a formal bidding process?
- Who decided that we won? What authority do they have?
- What is the customer’s purchasing process?
- Do we already have a formal business relationship with the customer? If not, what things does the customer need to have us set up as an authorized vendor?
- Who did we beat?
- Why did we beat them?
- When does the customer need our software?
Now, here’s what sucks about these – the person you’re talking to likely does not know the answer to most of these questions. That means they’ll be uncomfortable when you ask. They don’t know the answer, they don’t want to have to ask anybody else these questions, and they are likely not going to give you the names of people in the company to start asking.
Many sales people simply ride their “champion” to the finish line, trusting them all along the way. I will admit that this strategy will likely still result in 75%+ of your deals closing. After all, the likelihood that your champion is simply lying to you, or that internal politics conspire to overturn the decision are lower than the likelihood that things will go as planned. But I have never trusted these odds, and the best sales people I know don’t either. And it would be a shame after finding and cultivating this customer using all your repeatability skills, that you lose them after all that work?
So, let’s not lose them. In one of my previous posts “Chess as a Sales Strategy”, I outline how “thinking backwards” helps you visualize and memorialize your closing efforts. You can use this methodology to leverage your champion to help you get the info you need. Let’s break it down:
- Define a close date. When is this deal going to close? If you work for a public company, it’s likely going to be the end of your fiscal quarter. In any case, come up with an agreeable close date with your champion. Make sure it’s realistic – especially if this is your first deal with this customer, the legal/admin work is going to take a while. There are many steps in this process that you will have a very hard time speeding up. Give yourself time to stay in control of the process!
- Work backwards from the close date to today. Define all the steps necessary to get from today to close. But then work backwards. Why? When you start with today going forward, you will figure out a way to “fit” the timeframe into what you think you need. You’ll mentally consider the time you have left and try to fit that into the steps you need to accomplish. By working backwards, it won’t be as easy to make that mental leap – people struggle doing things backwards (if you don’t believe me, recite the alphabet backwards). Your customer won’t be able to either, and they won’t play that mental game with you, so you can both see quickly what needs to be done and if you have enough time. And by continually assigning next steps with your customer you’ll keep them on track and make them more likely to give you the other items you need (whether it be information, people, contracts, etc) since they know they’ll need your help to get it done on schedule.
- Become a project manager. Your customer is likely task oriented, and isn’t as free flowing as most sales people. They don’t react as well to fire drills and last minute emergencies. Keep them posted on the overall status/timeline and what needs to be done next. Follow up on your items and keep your commitments. Now is not the time to slip.
- Get unemotional – if you do 1, 2 and 3 perfectly, you can still lose. Why? One of your competitors or a well positioned colleague who prefers another product is trying to undermine you every step of the way. This happens in every one of your deals. It’s just that the inertia of the decision is too hard to overcome most of the time, but not always. If you don’t believe me, go read Mark’s post I highlighted above. This one is a bit softer, but you really want to find out who else was involved from a competitive perspective, and you should know who your internal nemesis is from the person who asked all the annoying questions. Consistently (but not annoyingly) follow up and make sure these people are not causing trouble.
Most importantly, stay cool, keep a smile on your face (just like when you’re prospecting) – this stage is a LOT more emotional because you have so much more to lose. But calmer heads always prevail.