Always Be Advancing: New Math for Closing Deals

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  • The fundamental “ABC” of sales (always be closing) is really a series of closing technique steps advancing the deal – moving it forward incrementally until it’s done and dusted.
  • Bestselling author James Muir says those steps must include preparation for each encounter with a prospect, including a clear value-add every time.
  • James shares a winning formula that can help you identify – and quantify – your value proposition, as well as zero-pressure phrases to use in the closing process.

“You can’t turn a no into a yes without a maybe in between.” 

Thus spoke a classic Netflix antihero – Francis Underwood in the political thriller “House of Cards.” 

Sure, he’s ruthless, conniving, and ultimately evil, but it’s great advice for anyone who wants to close a deal. And it’s a good way to understand sales expert James Muir’s philosophy on the art of closing.

Best closing technique?

sales closing technique

The fundamental “ABC” of sales is the mantra always be closing, immortalized onscreen by another acerbic antihero in David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

But James says closing the deal is really best understood as trying to *advance* the deal

“I’m an accidental salesperson,” says James, who began his career working in operations and was “drafted” into sales by his company. Though he grew to love selling, he didn’t know anything about it at first.

That was the catalyst for his bestselling book “The Perfect Close,” which he wrote to work through his own struggles and realizations about what works in the clutch. 

“So much of the book is really my discovery,” says James on an episode of INSIDE Inside Sales.

Here, James shares insights on the psychology of the ask, a formula for value proposition, and three crucial pre-call questions to ask yourself before you even pick up the phone. 

1. Know you need to actually ask 

When it comes to closing, “I’ve probably made every mistake that you can make,” James says. “There’s a lot of science around closing badly that helps us understand what works and what doesn’t.”

The biggest misstep may be surprising: not asking at all is worse than asking in the wrong way.

50 to 90% of sales encounters across all industries end without asking for any commitment at all.

Why? “Most of the tactics being taught are counter-productive,” he explains. “They actually hurt your relationships.”

If we’re too worried about harming our rapport with buyers, we tend to shy away from anything that seems like it could sound manipulative – and “we just don’t do anything.” 

2. Ask zero pressure, yes-or-no questions

sales process

The folks at Gong.io, who’ve analyzed nearly two million sales phone calls, found that successful closing begins with a plan for every call – focused on either advancing or continuing the sale.

Neil Rackham, who led the largest sales study ever conducted, coined the key words here: “An advance is moving the sale forward in a little way. A continuation is a scenario in which the sale didn’t move forward, but it isn’t ending either,” James explains.

Before you meet (or call, or log in to Zoom), ask yourself: What’s the best thing that can happen? 

“And then you should also have a couple of backup advances as alternates, just in case our ideal advance isn’t realistic,” he adds.

Then, it’s time to ask the magic question: Does it make sense for us to…? 

It’s subtle but effective. Does it make sense for us to continue this conversation? Does it make sense for us to demonstrate how we can fix your problems?  

And it’s brilliant because it’s a yes-or-no question. If they say yes, you’ve got your advance. If they say no, you can use James’ super simple follow-up advice – “throwing the ball back to the customer with: What do you think is a good next step?”

About 90% of the time, they’ll suggest a logical next step, says James. 

The best thing about both questions is “they’re both zero pressure, non-confrontational, leaving you emotionally on a much higher ground regardless of how the person answers,” he notes. 

“It’s a high-EQ way of advancing the sale.”

2. Do your algebra homework – using this value-prop formula 

sales process

There are three crucial pre-call questions we should ask ourselves:

  1. Why should the client see me?
  2. What do I want the client to do?
  3. How can I provide value in this encounter? 

To answer these, James offers a formula for value prop:

DIRECTION + METRIC + MAGNITUDE 

In finance, the metric could be accounts receivable or EBITDA. In sales, the metric could be your close ratio. Your company might help people improve close ratios by 22% or more – a “hard value” proposition you need to know before you ever meet with a customer, which addresses both questions #1 and #3. 

He recommends having a value prop for everything, including the individual features of your product.

Question #2 gets back to your ideal advance – the best thing that we could hope for, plus a few alternatives.

All three questions “provide unexpected value on the call,” says James. 

“We want to make our calls inherently valuable. If you’re not doing that, the client can get everything they need off the internet, and they really don’t need you. So it’s important to build our subject matter and domain expertise so we can add value every single time.”

3. Order up the magnitude

In the “direction + metric + magnitude” formula, magnitude is “how much,” says James. 

If you tell a prospect you can improve their outcomes, the next thing they’ll think is: By how much? Is it a lot – or a little?

When you can articulate the magnitude, your offer is much more compelling. 

“That’s why a value prop needs to have a metric you’re changing,” James explains. And it should change in a specific direction, like lowering costs.

If you just claim you can lower costs in a generic way, it’s “ephemeral,” he adds. “Because you didn’t measure it.”

Answering the how much question is the best way to help prospects see the upside of working with you.

4. Add value, step by step

Simple sales can sometimes be closed in a single encounter. But Neil Rackham’s study found that in a complex sale, nine out of 10 encounters resulted in either an advance or a continuation. The last one is just the culmination of many small steps.

If you’re married, you know this in your gut. You didn’t meet your spouse and propose marriage on your first date. (Well, if you did, that’s… impressive.) 

You closed the deal in little increments, moving the ball forward until he or she was ready to say “I do.” And you demonstrated your value at each step of your courtship. 

In sales, the number one way to do that is by providing insight of some kind, says James.

“Turn on the light bulb for the customer in some way. It will make the visit itself inherently valuable, regardless of the outcome, and they’ll be grateful they met with you.”

 
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