In past posts I’ve asked myself:
What is it that separates the most successful sales reps from the rest? How is it that some reps can maintain a close rate of 95%, while others are grasping at straws?
And though there have been many takeaways, I feel that one of the most important is that great sales reps think not only about how to win a deal, they master the plan not to lose it.
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In other words, successful salespeople know how to stay in charge and in control of all the people, tasks and information that go into every opportunity. No matter how large the deal or how long the sales cycle.
It’s a skill that the best of the best have developed.
But by breaking it all down into manageable steps and creating a detailed close plan, any one can gain control of a deal and drive it proactively to closure.
So to make that process easier, I spent the weekend reviewing all the key elements from hundreds of won and lost deals throughout my career as a sales manager. In the end, I broke everything I know about increasing the likelihood of closing a deal into four basic sections.
I’m convinced that if you have the following elements in place, you’ll be on your way to a record close rate.
1. Do You Have a Deal?
First, we have to cover whether we even have the basic elements necessary to close a deal. I consider these to be the cornerstones that form the foundation of every deal. They are:
A strong need or pain
A strong need or pain with a major implication for a client on cost, time to market or potential new business is the lifeblood of every deal.
But it’s not enough just to identify that your client has a problem; it’s essential to discover what’s at stake if that pain isn’t solved. Will they lose revenue? Will there be delays in production? Or even, will their job be at risk?
Find that pain and quantify it, then make sure the client confirms a willingness to solve this pain before moving on.
An Ally in Your Account
An ally (or Champion) is the defender of your cause within your account.
This is someone who personally benefits from the deal. He has good influence, and because he wants you to win, he will fight for you even when you are not there.
The right ally will have influence to higher management and will have demonstrated their willingness to help you move your deal forward.
Once you’ve found your ally, you’ll have someone who will not only link you to key people within the account, but will warn you of obstacles as they come up and notify you the moment something goes wrong.
Without a strong need and a strong ally in place, it’s already time to consider moving on. Because that’s a deal built on sand.
2. Can You Win It?
Once you have the basics secured, you can develop your campaign and put the pieces in place that will help you win the deal.
There are three key points here:
The Economic Buyer
Even if a deal has to be approved by multiple decision makers, there is always an ultimate decision maker that has the formal or informal power to sign off a deal. This person (or sometimes group of people) will be part of the project regardless whether you meet them or not.
In my experience, when sales reps actively engage with the EB, there’s a 90% chance that the deal will close on time. But let’s be clear, engaging the EB means more than just shaking his hand.
It’s crucial not only to understand the EB’s criteria for a successful implementation, but to obtain a confirmation of their sponsorship of the deal (ideally along with an agreed close date as well).
The stronger the relationship to the EB, the higher your chance to close.
The Right Solution Fit
In order to win a deal, your solution must align with the main success criteria of your client.
That’s why even though verbal confirmation of that alignment is an important step, it’s necessary to win a formal process or event. That could mean a trial, a proof of concept or a proof of value.
The most effective way to do that is to first discover the decision criteria of all relevant evaluators. This can include people from the IT department, marketing, business, or any one else that might end up as the end user of your product.
As most decisions nowadays are build on a broad consensus, this is another critical step to find out whether it’s worth moving forward with a deal or not.
If the majority of evaluators confirm your solution fit, then you know you’re on track. If not, you’ll have a hard time moving forward and may want to consider looking at other deals in your pipeline.
Why Your Solution?
Knowing and planning around your competition is a key requirement for winning a deal.
But it’s important to remember that competition doesn’t only come from outside. Some of the biggest deal derailers often come from right within your own account. Things like office politics or someone who wants to justify another investment will often stall a deal more effectively than any competitor.
That’s why it’s so important to have a quantifiable impact that will overcome both internal factors as well as external competitors.
Then by taking that impact and turning it into a Unique Selling Proposition that aligns with your client’s requirements, you’ll have the edge in justifying your price.
Finally, if you can get the client to himself to confirm your competitive advantage to you, you’re right on track.
3. Can You Drive It to Closure?
As you near your close date, there are a few critical factors that can either drive your deal home or throw it off track.
The most difficult question project managers and business owners have to answer is, “Do we have to purchase this NOW, or can we wait until later?”
Failing this question is a major reason why many deals get postponed.
So if you want to make sure you’re deal has a strong chance to close, a compelling event is essential.
Ask yourself, is there a hard deadline by which the client needs to solve the pain? Is there a serious impact for the client if the decision is postponed? If not, can you create a compelling reason to sign now?
It’s vital that you collect and develop the most compelling reasons possible why this project should not be delayed another moment. Again, it should be quantifiable, and should include a deadline that will have clear consequences if it isn’t met.
Once you establish what this compelling event is, it’s critical that it be communicated to and confirmed by the decision makers. That way everybody recognizes how important it is that your deal gets pushed through.
Budget & Price
Budgets are very restricted these days.
Even you’ve got the green light for your solution from a department head, there’s always the risk of budget cuts and reallocations. Timing and understanding of the budget approval process is the key to success here.
Most of the time, clients need a “final” quote to get the ball rolling. Ask yourself: What are the next steps? Who needs to approve this? And what is their criteria?
Once the budget is approved and allocated, reserve some time to complete negotiations with the purchasing department and make sure you have some room left to trade in once it’s time to get into contracting.
4. Do you have ‘The Final Steps’ in place?
The end’s in sight, and you’ve got 90% of your deal in place. At this point, many salespeople make the fatal mistake of taking their foot off the gas and easing into the home stretch. What they don’t realize is that the last 10% is responsible for the vast majority of slipped deals.
That’s why successful sales reps get even more paranoid the closer they get to signing. These reps stay close to the client during the final steps to drive their deal to closure.
90% of the deals slip because of missing paperwork. Large-deal frame contracts can even take up to 18 months of negotiation. Be aware that larger and/or international companies have rigorous legal requirements. The legal paperwork can take quite some time, especially at quarter end, as the legal resources are busy.
If you haven’t done business before with your client you need to reserve enough time for the “paper process”
This part can get really tedious, and a lot of reps overlook the importance of having the legal items in place. Don’t leave it to the legal people to drive this, as their primary goal is to protect their companies and not necessarily to fulfill a deadline.
Make sure you have a senior manager from business supporting the legal discussions, as a good part of the legal concerns are more related to business and therefore can only be judged and approved by business.
The most critical factor is time and resources, so please make sure to have the legal teams on both sides allocated. Make sure you have several slots scheduled to negotiate and agree.
Making sure that the paperwork is ready for signing, and ensuring that the terms and conditions have been agreed to is your route increasing the likelihood of closing your deal.
Half a sales person’s success is just being with his client.
In the weeks leading up to your close date, it’s critical that you are there to support the client’s project team to manage any questions or doubts that might come up. It’s especially important to handle any last-minute objections and show your willingness to support in any way necessary.
Depending on the size and complexity of your opportunity, you might want to consider a weekly meeting (or even daily meetings, for large deals) with the respective key people. On one of the largest deals I ever had, I had more than 50 face-to-face meetings in the last 6 weeks to closure.
Today’s decisions are based on the consensus between multiple departments. Decision makers want to make sure the solution they pick has a wide acceptance. Without a high adoption rate of all parties it is almost impossible to secure a return on investment.
That’s why if you want to make sure your deal closes, it’s critical to meet as many of the key stakeholders as possible and get their acceptance and support.
The Road to a Record Close Rate
Closing a deal is no walk in the park. There are a lot of details to look after.
But I’ve seen that reps who implement all these steps shatter their quotas – quarter after quarter. While other reps who try to ‘wing it’ fail to understand why they aren’t hitting their numbers