We’ve all heard that time kills all deals, so today I’d like to talk about a technique I’ve used to tighten up my sales cycles.
Let me set the context for you. You had a great discovery call with a prospect and uncovered some really great pain points. Then you ran a great demo showing the prospect how your solution addresses their key pain points. Even better, you gained agreement from the prospect that your solution addresses those challenges.
So at the end of the demo, being the good salesperson that you are, you ask for the business and you stop talking:
You: Karen it sounds like there’s a really strong fit here. Do you want to roll this out to your team?
Karen: Yeah, this looks great. Why don’t you leave this with me and I’ll get back to you.
The first time this happened to you, you were probably dumbfounded, but any sales veteran has seen this so many times that it doesn’t even register as abnormal buyer behavior at this point.
The common wisdom is that a buyer will say this because there’s an unresolved objection or issue that needs to be addressed before they will feel comfortable moving forward. Often that is true. But sometimes there is no objection. Sometimes the buyer just wasn’t expecting to make a purchasing decision on the call and now making one seems rash. They don’t have any specific doubts, they’re just not ready.
At this point, you’ve got a bit of a predicament. Do you remind the prospect of the value that your solution is going to deliver and suggest that every day they delay is a day they aren’t taking advantage of that value? It’s a fairly standard play, and it often works when executed well. You should probably do it.
It does carry some risk with it though. Your prospect may perceive your prodding as self-interested, and you could lose some of the credibility that you worked so hard for throughout the sales process.
Wouldn’t it be better if you could avoid having to make that decision? Of course it would! That would mean that your buyer didn’t defer making a decision; they decided to buy, or at least they decided not to buy so you can move on.
So how can you make that a more common reality? You do it by setting expectations with your buyer up front about how other buyers like them have evaluated your solution in the past. Use social proof.
Social proof is incredibly powerful. It’s what gives case studies their power, it’s why referral leads close faster and at higher rates than other leads, and it’s the reason why anyone reading this has even heard of the term “advocate marketing.” People look to the beliefs and behaviors of others to inform their own beliefs and behaviors. It’s one of the most well established principles in all of social psychology.
Salespeople love using social proof when talking to prospects about why they should buy, but they rarely use social proof when talking to prospects about how they should buy.
On the discovery call that might sound something like this:
“It sounds like there are some things that we can help you with. I think the best next step would be to go through a product demo together. It will take about an hour, and by the end of that demo most people will know whether or not (your solution) is the right fit, which is nice because it gets it off your plate.”
The way that a prospect would respond to that statement would tell me a great deal. Sometimes they would say “I won’t be able to make a decision on Tuesday because…” and then they give me some really critical information that helps me better understand the deal and when it’s likely to close (or not).
Other times, they would say something like “Oh, that’s wonderful.” As in, “it’s wonderful that I will be able to make a decision and stop thinking about whether or not I’m going to do anything.” People don’t like making decisions. This isn’t a new idea. Existential philosophers like Sartre and Kierkegaard referred to it as existential dread, that peculiar negative affect that we feel when having to make choices, even inconsequential decisions like which movie to watch on Netflix. Buyers hate making decisions as much as Sartre would hate Netflix. So make it easy for your prospects and tell them how to buy.
This technique made my life so much easier. Not only did I close more deals, but I did so much more efficiently. I spent less time following up on deals because so many of my deals started to close right on the demo.
If a deal didn’t close on the demo because someone needed a few more days, I didn’t worry because I would just use another expectation setting technique that looked something like this.
Me: OK. Why don’t we do this, let’s schedule a follow up call for Thursday and at that point you can address any remaining questions or concerns that you have. If we’re able to successfully address those concerns then we’ll move forward, and if we discover that there’s a deal breaker then at least you’ll know you gave (my product) a thorough evaluation.
How could anyone say “no,” to that? It’s the most reasonable suggestion ever. If the client has no remaining questions or concerns about moving forward then by definition there is no reason for them not to move forward. You’ve also given them an easy out, if there’s a deal breaker you can easily walk away.
I rarely had to go beyond that single follow-up meeting to close a sale aside from deals where it was established early that the sale would be more complex. I was able to avoid sending those terrible “checking in,” and “just following up,” emails and I was able to forecast with incredible accuracy which of my deals would close and when.
If you want to make your prospects feel more comfortable buying from you set clear expectations with them early on, leverage social proof regarding how others buy, and then follow through on the expectations you set. They should never be surprised when you ask for the business. Asking for the business should feel like the natural next step to both of you, and if you’ve done a good job, buying will feel natural too.
These techniques are obviously geared towards more transactional sales, but you can still use these techniques to help accelerate longer deals. The difference is that instead of using social proof and expectation setting to close the sale you might use it to advance to the next stage in the buyer’s buying process. That could mean bringing in an executive sponsor for the demo if the discovery call goes well, or starting a pilot program if a demo goes well.