Harvard Business Review is arguably the most prestigious publication for business leaders and management thinkers. Here’s one of my recent Harvard Business Review articles about how to use Sales Linguistics to close sales calls. It is based upon my new book Heavy Hitter Sales Linguistics: 101 Advanced Sales Call Strategies for Senior Salespeople.
Remember the last time you were being pressured into doing something you didn’t want to do? Whether the pressure came from a boss, colleague, spouse, or child, your natural response was to resist and push back. It’s human nature to resist high-pressure tactics. So, how should the closing of the sales call be structured? The answer is to create a primary closing strategy, utilize fallback positions, and select the appropriate technique to deliver the close.
Your primary closing strategy should be based upon securing the main objective for the meeting. The objective could be to be granted a follow-on meeting, have the customer start a product evaluation, receive approval to conduct a site survey, or negotiate final purchase terms. You also need fallback positions, alternatives you prepare ahead of time to present should the customer reject your primary closing strategy.
Your primary closing strategy and fallback positions are based on choosing to issue a command or presenting foreground and background suggestions. A command is an instructional statement that creates a binary type of yes or no response from the recipient. It is typically associated with a hard close and “take it or leave it” mentality. Foreground suggestions (medium close) are explicit, but they deflect the source of the request from the demander. Background suggestions (soft close) lead recipients to believe they are acting of their free will when in fact they have been directed to follow a message.
Let’s pretend I am a passenger in your car and I feel you are driving too fast. A command would be “Slow down!” A foreground suggestion would be “You know the speed limit is forty five miles per hour and police ticket a lot of speeders here.” A background suggestion would be “A speeder was in a horrible accident last week in this exact spot.” While the background suggestion may be more subtle in its delivery, it can trigger a more profound reaction.
In a sales situation, a command might be “We always recommend you benchmark the products you are evaluating.” A foreground suggestion might be “Consumer Reports gave our product the highest rating and recommended it as the best buy.” An example of a background suggestion is “One of my customers tried the other company’s product and recently switched to ours.”
After you have determined your primary closing strategy and fallback positions, select the delivery technique to be used during the meeting. Here are some examples, assuming the main sales call objective is to close the business deal:
Time-based technique. This technique incorporates a time-based deadline.
Command (hard close). “This is the last time we’ll be able to extend this offer and we need your answer now.”
Foreground suggestion (medium close). “My boss told me that this pricing expires December 31 at midnight.”
Background suggestion (soft close). “Think it over tonight and I will call you at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning.”
Linkage. This technique connects different events, subjects, or ideas.
Command (hard close). “If we give you those terms, then you must have our contract signed by the end of our quarter.”
Foreground suggestion (medium close). “I’ll talk with my boss and if he okays the terms, could we have the purchase order by month end?”
Background suggestion (soft close). “Our implementation team will be fully booked starting in September, so to complete your project by year end, we’ll need to have the contract signed in the next couple of weeks.”
Power of Print. This technique leverages a document or printed company policy.
Command (hard close). “Our new price list is coming out in thirty days, and I can’t hold these current prices for you after that.”
Foreground suggestion (medium close). “Here’s our volume discount schedule. If you spend another $100,000, you’ll receive an additional 10 percent off the entire order.”
Background suggestion (soft close). “Should I send you a formal quotation that details the purchase price and terms?”
Always maintain control of the sales call so you can employ your primary closing strategy and be prepared with fallback positions should your primary closing strategy fail. You can sequence your primary closing strategy, and fallback positions with commands (hard close), foreground suggestions (medium close), and background suggestions (soft close). For example, your primary closing strategy might be based upon a hard close; first fallback position, a medium close; and final fallback position, a soft close. Or, your strategy could be completely opposite depending upon the circumstances and the type of person you are meeting with.