by Jacob Wright
It’s the goal, the purpose, the incentive, the intention, the hope, the dream and the promise of something better. It is the catalyst that stimulates creative thought and drives it into action. It provides a reason for playing the game.
It is, simply, that penultimate moment in the selling process called . . . “The Close.”
The Close is what all of us are after, whether it be in sales, sports, personal relationships, or any other aspect of life; if you can’t close the deal, you won’t reap the rewards of your activity.
The Close is to where all the preliminary steps in the sales process lead. It is the Emerald City at the end of the Yellow Brick Road, the place where all our efforts culminate in celebratory elation, or come crashing down around us in gloom, disillusionment, and longing for some less volatile, demanding profession.
I wish to add nothing more to what has been written and discussed regarding the techniques of closing the sale. Instead, the focus of this article is to identify and detail the three different stages that occur after you’ve had that magical moment with the prospect when they have made the decision to go ahead.
The three distinct components to be outlined in this piece, are present in almost every modern corporate sale, yet there is almost no mention of them in texts and other articles on the subject. These “Post-Close” Closings cannot be overlooked if one is to achieve long-term success in sales.
To understand conceptually what we are looking at, it is necessary to span our attention out a bit beyond just the standard sales close and look at the procedure from a 30,000 foot viewpoint. To start, though, we’ll look more closely at the fundamental elements of a close.
WHAT IS THE CLOSE?
It is assumed that the reader has at least a rudimentary understanding of the necessary steps leading up to the initial close, and can recognize the closing opportunity when it appears. Nonetheless, a quick review might be of benefit.
First, let’s agree upon a simple technical definition for the word “Close.”
Paraphrasing liberally from the American Heritage Dictionary, it means, “to bar passage through, to end, to terminate, to enter into an agreement, to bring or come to an appropriate stopping point.”
We shut off the competition; remove the prospect from the presence of other salespersons; close the door on them. And pocket the commission. That’s what we mean by “The Close.”
But let’s not fail to note that it also means “to enter into an agreement,” and to bring to a conclusion, a “stopping point.” Both of these concepts are critical to any success in sales.
We could go further and micro-analyze every minute aspect of every small facet of the sales process, like an endless reflection of mirrors, but that would be fruitless. There is one aspect, however, that bears such scrutiny. It is where an astounding number of otherwise able salespeople botch a perfectly good and simple sale.
THE SALES CLOSE
This is a step that should occur the minute you observe that the “Sales Close,” has occurred, or in any case, as soon as reasonably possible. It also is the first of what I have termed the “Post-Close” Closings.
The “Sales Close” is the most familiar and recognizable of the various types of closings. It is simply the final step in a gradient series of steps that are designed to approach the closing in a comfortable manner. Done correctly, it is as easy as taking the final step up a flight of stairs. It is a win for both buyer and seller, leaving each with the feeling that he has gotten what is needed and wanted from the exchange.
This is where the salesman now has to recognize that he must “Close the Close.” If he doesn’t, the sale can slip from his grasp with mercurial and devastating swiftness. He has arrived at the point where the sale can be closed and has succeeded. That point of awareness has been reached when both parties involved in the sales process are aware of and satisfied with the mutually beneficial agreement that has been reached. The sales closing process should be ended at that point.
To push it further, and continue any purely selling activity beyond this point, the salesperson runs the risk of alienating the prospect. The prospect will tend to put up resistance where before none existed. The salesman can unwittingly create doubt where previously there was certainty. The prospect will begin to question aspects of the product or service with which he had no problem earlier. This, in turn, leads the salesperson to believe that he must continue the selling process.
Unfortunately, this leads to an even worse dilemma. The prospect begins trying to stop the salesperson from doing more selling, and the salesman, sensing the withdrawal, starts to dig in and sell even harder. Thus, the more he pushes, the farther away the prospect retreats, initiating a vicious circle.
Sometimes a botched “Sales Close” can be repaired by directing the prospect’s attention back to the earlier point when he was first sold, thereby rehabilitating the comfortable atmosphere and feeling of commitment that existed at that time. But the best solution by far, is just not to have made this error in the first place.
It is far easier to observe, recognize, and acknowledge the characteristics in the prospect that signal that he now understands what is being sold and has become enlightened as to how it can benefit him or his interests and is prepared to move forward. At that point, the selling procedure should come to an end. You have achieved your “Sales Close”, and now you should conclude it.
So, the proper procedure for closing the “Sales Close” is simply to:
1. Observe that a close is possible.
2. Recognize when a close has actually occurred.
3. Acknowledge that this close is the end of any purely selling activity, and that to continue trying to sell past this point could compromise the whole process.
Now, if only that were the end of the overall process we could just leave and collect our commissions. But, alas, there are two more “Post-Close” Closes that must be achieved.
THE LEGAL CLOSE
This sometimes dreaded step involves activities of other individuals, behind closed doors, looking over the legal and contractual aspects of your sales close. These are mostly professionals who are dedicated to and paid for finding what is wrong with this contract, often to your detriment. You will rarely, if ever, get to talk to them directly, and they are not there to be sold, in any case. As this step is inevitable in corporate selling of any size, it is better to accept that it will occur, and work through it as swiftly and effectively as possible.
Most often, it is best to have your legal department deal with the clients’ attorneys on contractual language due to what has been called the “Lawyer to Lawyer Communication Rule.” That is, from a lawyer’s viewpoint, he can always communicate better with other lawyers. Whatever the reason, this rule seems to exist, so we might as well use this knowledge to our advantage to get the job done.
A definition of the Legal Close, then, is offered here for descriptive purposes.
The Legal Close:
Actions taken by legal professionals that result in a legally binding, written contractual agreement representing the mutual understanding and satisfaction between both parties, completed in a timely manner.
The legal close is important and not to be taken lightly. The overall sale can be lost at this point due to various elements. It is sometimes used to grind down either the price or the terms to a more favorable level. Taken too far, this grinding can disfigure the agreement you worked so hard to reach earlier, to the point that it is no longer viable or even recognizable. But hopefully, through vigilance, skillful communication, and persistence, you will prevail in the manner desired.
It should not go unnoticed however, as in the previous step, that you have to observe, recognize, and acknowledge the completion of this step. The contractual elements must be handled conclusively. Sometimes they will accept your contract as is, but usually they will draft one that their lawyers are familiar with and incorporate the elements necessary. In any case, this is a legal close and should be ended when the mutual agreement is finally contained in the contract, and is legally binding on both parties.
Unfortunately, it’s not yet time to celebrate for there is another dangerous foe equally capable of scuttling your commission. The administrators await.
THE ADMINISTRATIVE CLOSE
The final step is what has been termed an Administrative or Accounting Close. This is included as a reminder so that it is not neglected through oversight and enthusiasm over getting the contract completed. This step is both internal, in that it deals with your company and its procedures, and external, as it involves the clients’ accounting personnel and their own procedures.
Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever been involved in the “business of business” will attest, leaving something totally in the hands of accountants or lawyers is tantamount to abandoning all control over the area.
Accountants often only see and think in numbers and lawyers are sometimes trained to look for and see only problems, possibly even where none previously existed. As such, they both can give you a somewhat altered view of the situation at hand and you must remain alert to this possibility.
You as the sales executive have to be constantly vigilant to ensure that the deal you have worked so hard for doesn’t just disappear in their hands. Quite obviously, the deal is not done until all the paperwork is fully completed, and in the hands of those who will handle it.
It is, once again, the responsibility of the salesperson to ensure that all details are fully concluded and implemented. I offer here a working definition of what I have labeled the Administrative Close.
The Administrative Close:
The point when all necessary paperwork is fully completed and in the hands of the proper personnel, such that the swift and efficient transfer of funds for product or service can and does take place.
Though perhaps a bit dull and mundane when compared to the emotional high derived from pulling off an important sales close, it is crucial that this step be fully concluded. Once again, it can’t be stated too often that it is the salesman that drives this process. It is his responsibility to make sure this administrative or accounting close actually takes place, even though others may actually be doing the work. The job cannot be considered complete until this is done. Once it is introduced into the “machinery” of the business and begins to operate without constant further attention, the salesman can consider this step complete . . . not before.
THE FINAL ACT . . .
In summary, “it ain’t over till it’s over.” And that means utterly done. In regard to this, the final act, the salesman has to function as an Executive.
For a working definition of “Executive,” lets take a look at the word “execute,” which means:
“To carry out fully, to put completely into effect and to do what is called for.”
It can easily be seen then that an executive is the one who gets something done!
The “salesman as executive” has to monitor the overall sale with great attention to fine detail so that each step is fully completed before moving to the next. The sales executive must have the sales process, the successful methods and procedures for his particular product or service down cold.
Any weakness in his knowledge of this process will be exposed instantly under the pressure of an actual selling activity. He or she should face and handle any deficiency he knows to exist before it becomes embarrassingly apparent to everyone when revealed in front of the client. But this is just the beginning.
Any professional sales executive also must be ready to take complete responsibility for seeing that the sale is brought to a successful conclusion after that first Sales Close … and that takes at least three separate closes:
1. The Sales Close
2. The Legal Close
3. The Administrative Close
His own personal prosperity and the ultimate success of the business depend upon what he does regarding these actions above.
Fail to do them, and we all have to work harder for less.
Do them, and we’ll all win.
Copyright ©1998-2002 by Jacob Wright, Ph.D.
Jacob Wright is the president of Growth Management Consulting, a sales consulting group; author of The Sales Executive, a manual of common sense articles on the complete sales process; and a book to be released in 2002 entitled The Romance of Salesmanship.
You can contact Mr. Wright at:
Growth Management Consulting