A few years ago I read Propellerhead, Antony Woodward’s highly amusing account of learning to fly. The book starts with Antony’s friend Richard returning to England from Africa with a pilot’s license and instant sex appeal! The magical effect of a pilot’s license on conversations with the fairer sex fuelled Antony’s motivation to learn to fly.
Richard and Antony could only afford part shares in a flimsy microlight but they found a third partner with inexpensive hanger space and low cost instruction in country Norfolk where they would escape to from London for weekends flying.
Unfortunately, Antony proved to be a singularly unskilled pilot. While his friends quickly acquired their microlight certifications, Antony struggled with all aspects of piloting but especially landing. He had absorbed the theory, practised with instructors but when it was his turn to land it all went horribly wrong.
The epiphany for Antony was the realisation that 'the plane lands itself”!
All Antony needed to do was put the aircraft on the right landing path and the plane lands itself. Antony had an erroneous belief that there was a complex action that he needed to perform at the moment of touch down.
And so it is with sales.
There is a widely held, erroneous belief that there are secret tricks to ‘close the deal’.
Yes,there is a secret but it’s not in the landing, it’s in understanding and managing the landing flight path.
Flight Path Step 1 – Buyer Commitment to Change
Every sale involves change for the buyer. If the buyer doesn’t feel the need for change then, not surprisingly, nothing happens! Depending on what you sell, more than half of stagnant deals in your pipeline can be attributed to failing at this first hurdle.
Questions to ask:
“So what are you planning to do about <this issue>?”
Asking potential customer’s about their plans for solving their own business challenges is illuminating, it signals intent. Few sales people ask this question. You can lock in that intent with another question:
“Would you say there is an important need to change < Situation >?”
Rather than you say there is a need to change, you want them to say they will change. Then the psychological law of ‘consistency’ comes into play. People want to be consistent with their own pronouncements.
Flight Path Step 2 – Commitment to Change Now!
The larger and more significant the deal, the more important it is for there to be a compelling event. In general, we humans don’t like to change and we won’t unless we are compelled somehow.
These questions can tease this out:
“Where does this project fit in your priorities?”
“What is it costing you to continue like this?”
“What will happen if you don’t make this change?”
Cost of delay, Success and Future Success (promised land) stories can persuasively move a future customer to take action now. All of these stories should be in your sales team Story Library.
Flight Path Step 3 – Commitment to your Solution Type
For every business challenge there is normally a range of solution possibilities. You may propose productivity software (for example) but your customer could also choose to outsource or hire low cost labour to solve her productivity problem.
Gaining commitment to your solution type requires a good understanding of your competition and the relative benefits of different solution types. Many sales people think far too narrowly about who their competitors may be.
Having understood the competitive landscape, your job now is to get the customer to commit to benefits of your solution type and disavow the failings of competitive solutions.
“Would you say that <insert your advantage> is a critical requirement?”
“So you are seeking to avoid <competitor’s weakness>?”
Again we are employing the psychological law of consistency to get the customer to announce intentions in favour of your solution type.
Flight Path Step 4 – Commitment to You
The customer is now committed to your solution type but why buy from you and not a similar competitor?
Often this commitment is personal and the psychological principle of “liking” comes into play. All things being equal people will do business with people they know and like. The most natural way to invoke ‘liking’ is to find your future customer likeable. The persuasive law of reciprocity says that if someone likes us we will like them back. Engaging in rapport building with two-way personal stories also increases likeability.
Again the psychological law of consistency applies. If you have persistently asked for and received small commitments from your future customer, you become someone your customer gives things to. To be consistent, she should also be inclined to give you the final deal.
I wouldn’t like to give the impression that the sales person need only apply persuasion techniques to win business. By this stage of discussion a solid financial business case should also have been created. Ideally co-created with the customer buying team.
Flight Path Step 5 – Commitment to Pay
Finally we are at closing the deal. At this stage there is often an emotional disagreement over price or terms and conditions. Be aware this is just a normal desire by the buyer to reduce the risk of making a mistake - your buyer's natural fear of a crash landing!
Your future customer is asking herself Will I be fired?, Will it work as advertised?, Am I paying too much?
Your task as the seller is to reassure the buyer that she is on a safe landing path, If you have locked in the first four commitments, it will be ok, reiterate those commitments and retell the ‘promised land’ story.
For details on psychological laws and principles of persuasion in sales, see Robert Cialdini’s,
Influence The, Psychology of Persuasion
, Harper Collins 1984, in which six basic forms of influence are described