Improve your sales close rates


Selling excellence has never been so important as it is in this low-growth world. In our experience, high performing sales representatives employ simple but powerful techniques to overcome buyer reticence and differentiate their offering. Some of these methods have been the subject of academic research, recently published in the Harvard Business Review, and summarized below.

Ask for advice

High performers pursue two important objectives in a sales relationship: 1) gain vital information on the customer’s business and personal needs, target price and decision criteria. Securing this information allows sales reps to link their products with high value and justify their price points and; 2) build trust with the buyer, especially when the seller has no previous sales relationship with the organization. Satisfying these objectives is not easy when buyers are reluctant to share information or are not accessible.

Successful sales people secure key information and develop trust using a simple approach: they ask the buyer for advice on how to overcome barriers or solve problems. Some sellers may be reluctant to do this; they may perceive this as pandering or displaying a lack of skill. In reality, the opposite is true. In their research, professors Katie Liljenquist and Adam Galinsky found that asking an opponent for advice made the seller appear more warm, humble and cooperative, improving the chance of closing the deal at a desirable price.

Asking for advice provides three key advantages (in addition to getting valuable information). First, it makes a sales rep appear more likeable, warm and cooperative. Furthermore, the buyer may be flattered because the request is an implicit endorsement of their expertise and status. Second, through conversation buyers will be able to see things from the rep’s perspective leading to more creative problem-solving and solution alignment. Finally, asking for advice could turn the buyer into an internal advocate. Providing advice is an investment of their time and effort making them more likely to follow through on their recommendations and become the seller’s champion.

The beauty of asking for advice is that it is simple, low-cost and works with most people. Sometimes, however, sales reps face a head-to-head selling situation where they need to stand out from the competition.

Give the buyer something extra

Most large organizations employ skilled buyers and rigid procurement processes to minimize purchase costs, eliminate rogue buying and qualify vendors. This creates special challenges for companies who have little or no previous selling history at the company or offer a relatively undifferentiated product. Often, at the end of the process buyers will go back to the finalists and tell them the bids are equivalent, asking them to provide “something more” to break the tie.

The typical seller will respond with the well-worn tactic of stressing the bells and whistles in their product that may be lacking in the competitors’. When that doesn’t work, sellers will usually default to price concessions, added features or better terms. According to research by professors Anderson, Narus and Wouters, most buyers are not looking for these things. Our experience is that offering late-stage price concessions can signal desperation, reduce trust (since the best price was supposed to have been submitted earlier), or introduce concerns that quality and service will be shortchanged with lower prices. The researchers assert that when buyers ask for additional value, “they are actually looking for a justifier: an element of an offering that would make a noteworthy difference to their company’s business.”

A “justifier” helps buyers visibly demonstrate to management that they are making a contribution to the overall business — without sacrificing quality, service or delivery — helping enhance their status and providing psychological validation for their choice. Providing justifiers delivers many benefits for suppliers. Firms are better able to differentiate their product, powerfully link it with the prospect’s strategic goals, and price their offerings at or near the upper end of each customer’s acceptable range.

Identifying and leveraging justifiers comes from deeply understanding how a company really uses the product and what their larger business priorities are. These differentiators could improve ease of use (and lower overall cost) through the use of special sizes, bespoke logistic services or seamless integration with complementary products. As an example, a real estate-developer client used the tactic of paying a prospective tenant’s moving costs to fill buildings. In another case, a robotics company we worked with secured a major project with this justifier – integrating two different components (one of them from another vendor) into a sub assembly, reducing the customer’s labour and inventory costs, and ensuring seamless interoperability.

In many cases, the best product, service or price will not secure the business. A skilled sales representative can still provide the edge in a competitive situation through employing proven relationship-management techniques, as well as other successful practices while creatively addressing fundamental client needs.

For more information on our services or work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

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