Closing Techniques Using Sales Linguistics

By Steve W. Martin

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.

The One Sales Trend that Demands Attention

Guest Post: Bruce Wedderburn, EVP Channel & Enablement, Huthwaite Inc.

As we kick off 2012 with a heightened sense of optimism after the past few years, we all hypothesize what the new year will bring to our organizations, our people and our clients.  And typical of this time of year there are no shortages of prognosticators who are allegedly spotting the trends that are going to take the sales and business world by storm.  Having read many of these predictions and having had a chance to cross reference them against what we are seeing at Huthwaite as we look into 2012, there is one trend that we feel strongly all sales organizations would be foolish to ignore.

The traditional discovery or investigating skills that have been the bedfellow of top-performing sales people for the last twenty years are being totally redefined.  That redefinition is being performed by your clients, with or without you.

The previous approach to sales quota-busting was centered on your ability to effectively diagnose the customer’s known pain, uncover their needs, and based on that discovery to then craft a targeted solution that addresses the needs as the customer articulated them to you.  Sounds right, doesn’t?  I mean, that’s the practice of the star performers, isn’t it?  They have mastered the art of asking good questions.


Your customers have changed their purchasing behavior to make that approach a little antiquated.  Customers have put in place strong buying systems, they are taking advantage of the availability of information on the web and social media, they’ve employed consultants, and their purchasing is more strategic, commercial-driven, transparent and professional than ever before.  That means that by the time your sales rep gets to talk with a customer, the customer may have already moved far around the buying cycle on their own.  A recent SLR report stated “on average, 57% of a purchase decision is complete before a customer contacts a supplier”.  By this time a customer is quite clear as to what their needs are, what options are available to them to meet those needs, and what price they can meet those needs for.  So a traditional discussion where a sales rep asks the customer about their needs (as understood by the customer) is of very low value.  The customer already knows their needs and the unfortunate rep is forced to play the role of solution describer and price discounter.  New customer buying behavior is driving traditional sales reps to a world where they are responding to demand, not creating demand.  They are finding customers who are already in the market vs. making customers out of those who are yet to look for a solution.

Herein lies the key to the redefined role of the sales rep in 2012 and beyond – star-performers will be applying their skills in the opposite direction.  They will increasingly create demand, not respond to demand.  That demand will be created not through providing information about products and services, and not through asking the customer questions about information the customer already knows.  It is through delivering insights to their customers in a way that creates value.  But a critical question is – how are these insights to be delivered?  Recent thinking proclaims that the best reps must “teach” customers, you must “educate customers on potential ways to change”, or deliver value by telling customers what insights are important to them.

Sounds compelling, doesn’t it?  Even seductive – but it totally misses a critical point.

We must remember that there are two rules that apply to all human communication.  These rules apply particularly to selling:

1. Customers  value what they say and their own conclusions more than what they are told. (especially what they are told by sales people)
2. Customers value what they ask for more than what is freely offered. (Especially insights that are freely offered by sales people)

These rules of communication tell us that an approach based on telling, teaching or lecturing to a customer about the insights they need to be aware of may fall on deaf or suspicious ears.  And there is factor that we must also take into consideration.  With the increased sophistication of customers in today’s market, is there a risk that a sales rep’s attempts to teach or challenge may be perceived by an experienced buyer as a little obvious and even self-serving?

The reality is that the star-performers of 2012+ in the B2B world will still be the champions of investigating.  It’s just that they are no longer only asking questions to uncover customer needs.  They are asking questions that provoke and encourage deeper thinking about unrecognized problems and unanticipated opportunities for business growth.  They are indeed educating about trends and delivering insights, but doing so by helping the customer arrive conclusions not through presentation but through discussion.

Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes and ask yourself which approach you would prefer?

Revenue Goals and The Secret to Consistent Success

By Kendra Lee

Achieving “unachievable” revenue goals

If there’s a universal truth in sales, it’s that the start of a new year means everything starts over. Whether you had a terrific 2011 or not, whether you create your own goals or they’re handed down, we’re all in the same boat. We’re facing new revenue goals for 2012, and I’ll bet yours are higher than last year’s.

Freaking out? You’re not alone.

Take a deep breath. We’ve helped hundreds of sellers reach seemingly unachievable goals by breaking them down into achievable bites. This is my secret to consistent success. Here’s how you do it.

1. Start by accounting for business you know you can get without doing anything new. Do you have closed business that’s still clearing accounting? Count that. Opportunities you started last year that haven’t closed yet? Count that.

Do you have clients who will renew contracts or need more of your services this year?

Look at the prospects in your pipeline. Consider your typical closing conversion ratio and do some quick math to see how much revenue you can expect.

2. Determine how many leads you need to close the quota gap. Now that you’ve counted all that revenue you can rely on, it may be fewer leads than you think. That’s great news!

To figure it out, divide the remaining revenue goal (your quota gap) by your average sale size; then divide by your conversion rate. Easier still, use our free Quota Gap Calculator to quickly calculate the leads you need.

3. Next, break down that number into the number of leads you need each month. But don’t make the mistake of simply dividing by twelve, unless you have a very short sales cycle.

Suppose, for example, you have a 3-month sales cycle. You’ll need all your new leads by the end of September to close business in 2012. That gives you nine months to make your lead generation goal.

Is your business cyclical? Do some months produce more leads than others? Factor that in as well.

4. Once you know how many leads you need each month, you’re ready to plan the activities to generate them. How many calls do you need to make each month? How many per week? How many personal emails or campaigns?

How about hosting events, blogging, attending networking events, asking for referrals or other ideas?

Focus on the activities that work best for you.

Just because social media is all the rage, for example, doesn’t mean that’s a good strategy for you. If you’re not a fluent Tweeter or facile Facebook fan – or more importantly, if your prospects aren’t – don’t make that a cornerstone of your plan.

Are you especially good at personal phone calls or hosting webinars? Focus on your tried and true lead generation strategies and combine them with something new to expand your base of lead sources.

5. Finally, as you’re planning your lead generation activities, keep in mind you still need time for your regular selling functions. Do block out chunks of time for prospecting and generating leads, but reserve the remainder for nurturing relationships and closing sales.

8 Closing Mistakes You Can’t Make

By Colleen Francis

  •  Mistake #1: Not earning the buyer’s trust.

If your prospect doesn’t trust you, 98% of the time, you won’t make the sale.There are two important things to remember about trust. First, trust extends from you. If you begin the sales process by building rapport so that the prospect starts to like you, they will soon begin to trust you as well. Second, trust is not earned overnight; it is built through consistent behavior over time. In other words, if you want the prospect to trust you, you need to consistently speak and act in a way that earns their trust throughout your entire relationship. This includes everything from the big things such as never lying or hiding information from them, to little things like calling back when you said you would, sending proposals on time and showing up for meetings prepared with the right information. All of these actions lead the prospect to believe that you are a person of your word, a person they like and a person they can trust. When they like and trust you, there is a much better chance they will do business with you.Trust can also be built in a new relationship by giving your prospect testimonials from other successful and happy customers. Use testimonials frequently throughout your dialogue as examples of the great work you’ve done in the past. Encourage your prospects to call your current customers and share with them the letters you’ve received singing your praises.

  • Mistake #2: Being afraid to hear “No!”

Many sales people are so afraid of hearing the word “no” that they make the mistake of accepting “maybe,” “let me think about it” or “I need a couple more weeks” as an answer instead. Let’s face it – “maybe” (and all of its counterparts) is just a nice way of saying no. Wouldn’t you rather know that upfront so you could move on to other business, rather than being endlessly dragged along by the false hope that your prospect might, could, possibly buy… one day? If you want to close more business, you must train your customers to believe that saying “yes” or “no” is allowed. Saying “maybe” is not.  Try starting your sales meetings with this simple phrase:“Ms. Prospect, at the end of our meeting today, I don’t expect that you will pass me a cheque and say ‘Let’s go ahead!’ I do expect that we will have gathered enough information about what you need and what I can offer to determine if there is a fit between our businesses. At that point, we can decide together what the next steps will be. Make sense? (wait for answer) Super. Also, if you really feel that what I offer is not a good fit for you, I am OK with you telling me No. Is that OK for you?”If you are afraid to hear no, you will waste too much valuable time with prospects who are simply reluctant to hurt your feelings, and too little time with clients who are more serious about wanting to buy.

  • Mistake #3: Relying on outdated tricks and tactics.

Here’s a simple rule every sales person should commit to memory: If you’ve heard it on TV, seen it in the movies or if it has a really cute name like “the puppy dog close,” don’t use it. Period. End of story.If these outdated tactics have made it to your local Cineplex, odds are, your prospects will know them just as well or better than you do. This is particularly true if you’re selling to someone from an older generation. And as soon as your prospect realizes that you’re trying something they consider to be a sales tactic, you’ll lose all the trust you’ve worked so hard to earn. Instead of trying to show how clever you are, try focusing your time and effort on building rapport by asking questions, creating customized presentations based on your client’s specific needs and aligning yourself with their buying process. In short – as you’ve probably heard me say a thousand times before – be nice, stay focused and get to work! The top 10% of sales people spend 100% of their energy during sales calls on building the customer relationship, not trying to figure out which tactic they’re going to use.  Tactics build resistance. Focusing on the customer builds relationships.Remember: rapport leads to like, like leads to trust, and trust leads to a profitable relationship. In every sales call you make, ask yourself: “Is what I’m doing right now enhancing or eroding my relationship with the client?”

  • Mistake #4: Focusing solely on selling a product.

Your focus during a sales conversation shouldn’t be on “pitching” your products. It should be on getting the client talking about their problems, so you can figure out what you can do to help solve them. If you’re spending more time crafting the perfect product pitch than you are establishing the right questions to ask, your sales will suffer for it.Instead of creating statements about your products, create a list of engaging questions you can ask during every sales call. Remember, you are at your most productive – and most profitable – when you are talking only 30% of the time, and spending 70% of your time just listening to what your client has to say.

  • Mistake #5: Hiding behind your collateral.

 Nobody ever built a great career just by sending out a whack of collateral after every first contact and then waiting for the deals to come rolling in. That’s a good thing, too. If collateral alone could close every sale, we sales people would be out of a job.Yet so many sales people still hide behind the material they send out, thinking they’re making progress with a prospect when they really haven’t got a clue what he or she actually needs. Surely you’ve used the “just send me some of your information” ruse to get off the phone with a few telemarketers. So why do you keep falling for this trap yourself? Never send information without doing a qualification first. Okay, okay – if you have a simple product and a sales cycle you can measure in days instead of weeks or months, sending information may be the right thing to do. If so, do yourself a favor and send as many testimonials as you can that might be relevant to your prospect. These testimonials are the proof your clients need to trust you. No one or nothing sells better than another customer saying that they’re happy they did business with you. What the prospect needs and what they want are two entirely different things. Wants are more emotional, and are generally based on things like whether or not the prospect likes or trusts you more than the other sales rep. A prospect might need to buy a screwdriver to fix up his house, but he wants to buy it from Home Depot instead of Ace Hardware because he likes Home Depot better. It’s not always a logical decision. Customers buy what they need from a sales people who know what they want.

  • Mistake #6: Not understanding what the prospect really wants.

How can you determine what a customer wants? By asking questions such as:• Why is this problem important for you to solve?
• What value do you see in an ABC solution (solution like yours)?
• What will happen if this problem does not go away?

  • Mistake #7: Lacking personal presence.

How you say something during a sales meeting can be just as important as what you say.How you look, how you act, how you move and how you look at the prospect all send powerful messages about who you are and whether you can be trusted. Up to 80% of sales people ignore the non-verbal part of the sales meeting, which is why they lose 1/3 of the opportunities available to them. Once they discover how to use their personal presence to close more business, their closing ratios begin to soar. Here are a couple of small hints for improving your personal presence:• Shake hands.
• Look people in the eye.
• Dress one notch better than your prospect.
• Arrive early for every meeting.
• Leave your cell phone/pager/PDA in the car.
• Don’t smoke before a sales call.
• Be organized and prepared.
• Take notes.
• Say thank you.
 Sure, none of these are exactly rocket science. But I can guarantee you that more business is won or lost through these and other simple non-verbal cues than through all the fanciest, most complicated presentations in the world.Whether it is golf, playing a musical instrument, learning to dance – or closing business – the basics are always the hardest and most important thing to master. Tiger Woods still sinks hundred of putts every day in practice, because he knows that mastering the basics is what it takes to win.   

  • Mistake #8: Premature Presentation

I can’t tell you how many deals I’ve seen get lost before they’re begun because a sales person starts a meeting with a canned slide show without ever truly understanding what the customer is looking for.Your first job is not to present your information. It’s to listen to the customer. Only once you’ve completed a thorough needs analysis can you create the right customized presentation for your client. Customized presentations close more business, more often. Remember the old adage: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This is true in relationships, and it’s true in sales. I hope these highlights gave you a few ideas to think over or try out in your own sales routine.  

Three New Tricks To Boost Sales Performance – From A Sales Trainer’s Casebook


Years ago in Australia I worked as a consultant trainer for a great trouble-shooter to sort out the underperforming Australian end of a major consumer electronics marketing operation. I worked with them for three years, twice a year, traveling the country, 4 states, doing their sales training.

The first trip was easy, basic techniques stuff, and it is still being taught today. What should I do second, and third and fourth time around? The things I discovered will probably work for you today.

Trick 1: Get the customer to tell you what he wants from you.

I decided to ask a customer. I rang the best consumer goods retailer in Australia; this guy is a living legend.

“How many sales reps deal with you professionally?”

“None! I’ve never met one.” was the blunt answer.

“Would you invest an hour telling a group of sales reps how they should do business with you?”

“Yes.” was his immediate answer and I visited him to set it up.

In due course he arrived and was ushered into my training room. The trainees were impressed and slightly terrified about having to meet, and listen to the great man.

He spent an hour berating them about all the mistakes sales reps make and I’m sure the list has not changed. A small sample:

  • Treating him like a consumer..
  • Total product feature focus – we’ve got an x and a y and a z and its great.
  • No understanding of the most basic question; “How does this guy make a buck out of selling my product?”
  • No interest in my business.
  • No idea how I set up a product range, and the position of his brand in my retail strategy.

He spent the second hour telling them how to sell to him. It was the easiest sales training session I ever “ran”.

They were a sorry, bedraggled, miserable lot when he finished, so he gave them a consolation prize in the form of the biggest single order that office had ever received. Beer all round that afternoon? You bet.

Ads by Google


The strategy was still working two years later. So if you are selling to retailers, try it. It’s free, and customers can’t resist the chance to tell sales reps what they are getting wrong.

You can do this yourself, and I suggest you should. It’s a great way to build customer relationships. I bet you will get an increase in sales. You may need to adapt the approach to your business.

If you are a retailer, why not get a disgruntled customer to come in and tell your people what went wrong, and what the customer really wanted. You may need to give them a gift, but if you consider the extra sales you will make, that’s cheap training.

In a hospitality business, you can get the customers on your side by giving them an opportunity to explain to your staff how they feel when they are confronted by a can’t do system or attitude.

Trick 2: A day in the field is worth three behind the desk.

The easy way to find out what your sales people really need to learn is to spend a day in the field with them.

When I did it I would make sure that I was introduced as the new boy, new to the business and just learning to find my way around. I would say very little, only hello and goodbye. I would listen and watch and make my mental notes.

The hardest part was to resist taking over and making the sale myself.

When we left for the next call, I would ask the salesperson the “why” questions.

  • When she said that, what was she really looking for? What did you say? Why? What happened next?
  • Why did he say no?
  • This kerb-side conference worked best when I teased out the things that could have been done differently or better.

A day in the field gave me renewed insight into the behaviour of sales people, their doubts, fears and blindness to opportunity and customers’ buying signals. I had enough material to work on for two or three days of real training. And my credibility rose because it was all real, their world, and I could do it, not just teach it.

The bonus was that the discipline of listening showed me what the customers really wanted.

Trick 3 Self-image counts

If you work with a sales team for an extended period, you will see that a salesperson’s self image is reflected in their personal presentation. As their personal presentation improve so will their results.

I mentored a talented salesman over a period of two years. At the start, he was really rough uncut diamond. Slightly scruffy, shoes not polished, jacket and slacks, tie not well tied and slightly out of date. His speech was sloppy, with excessive use of jargon, and poor question asking skills. He was too matey with some customers, and ill at ease with others. He looked as unprofessional as he behaved. But he could sell.

Gradually I saw his appearance change. He invested in a good suit with ties and shoes to match. He had regular haircuts. He changed his speech dropping the slang words. As the self-image he projected improved, his customers treated him with greater respect. They sought his opinion and responded to his suggestions. His sales improved. He worked hard to understand their business and made suggestions as to how they could range his product to achieve higher profits.

The last time I saw him he looked good, sounded great and was stepping up the sales management ladder really quickly. It was not about sales skills; he had those. It was all about self image and self confidence.

The moral of this story is that anything you can do to build a person’s self confidence will pay off in sales.

Here’s hoping you find these ideas useful, and can work out a way of putting them into practice in your business.

Is it Time To Search For A New Position?

By Susan Enns

Every once in a while when many of us evaluate the past and look forward to a better future.  For some, that means the question arises as to whether they should make a career change and start looking for new employement. 

Should you move to greener pastures with a new company  After all, we spend far too many hours at work not to be happy in what we do.  On the other hand, changing positions is no guarantee things will get better once we’ve made the switch.  The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t, as they say.

The only way to truly answer that is question is to ask yourself if you are achieving your goals with your current employer.  If the answer is no, and more importantly you think you never will, then yes, it’s time to start looking for a new job.

Before you start sending out your resume though, do you really know what your goals are?  Are you sure because most people don’t have a clear direction for their life?  To help you with your goals and objectives, download our Goal Setting and Action Planning Tool from the B2B Sales Connections Free Download Centre.  It’s available for free for a limited time.

Once you have clearly defined your goals and you still believe that you need to make a career change to achieve them, start your job hunt. We have a number of job search tips on our Blog to help you get started.

The bottom line is you shouldn’t settle for anything less than the best plan to get you where you want to go in life.  As a wise person once said – “Many people look forward to the new year for a new start on old habits.” – Author Unknown. 

Aim Higher!