As a professional salesperson it may be difficult to gage when to “close” the sale with a new prospect.  If you try and go for the close too early, you may catch the prospect off guard and get a NO.  If you try and close too late you may miss the opportunity and still get a NO.  Most professional sales people who sell a custom solution typically set up their selling process to include three stages:

  • Stage One:          The Introduction
  • Stage Two:          The Discovery Conversation
  • Stage Three:      The Presentation and Close

The introduction is where you simply work to set up an appointment with the prospect to talk with them further about their needs.  This is the first conversation.  The second conversation is The Discovery Conversation where you learn the important details about your client and determine if it makes sense to have a third conversation or not.  However, it is during the third conversation, The Presentation and Close, that you should convert the prospect into a customer.  It will be difficult, however, to get to a third conversation with a prospect if the first and second conversations are handled the wrong way.

The First Conversation

Here are some quick, simple reminders on what to do during your first introductory conversation with a prospect.

  • No selling. This is way too early. They’ve already come to you. They’ve already started a conversation with you. They are interested. They don’t need to know the details about your product right now. There is a good time for this, but this is not the time.
  • The 70/30 rule. Get them to do the talking. Understand what their needs are. Make sure you control the conversation by asking good, insightful questions.
  • Only spend 5-10 minutes. Don’t make the first conversation over-bearing for them. Make it short and sweet. But take the time to ask a few important questions.
  • Set an appointment. The primary purpose of the first interaction is to set an appointment for later. That appointment can be at your work, at their home or wherever is best suited. But make sure they are excited for the next time they speak with you.
  • Get their contact information. This includes their name, phone number and email address. This is important for the next step, which is…
  • Follow up. Use the contact information they gave you to call and confirm your appointment with them the day before it is schedule. People get busy and they forget. Think about it – how many times would you have forgotten an appointment at your dentist without the reminder phone call? This is the same principle.

CalendarIf you do all of this correctly, your prospect should be willing to set up an appointment to talk with you further.  That brings us to the second conversation, The Discovery.

The Second Conversation

As noted above, the 70/30 rule still applies heavily to the second conversation. You want to control the flow of the conversation through good questioning.  This is critical so you fully understand their core needs and objectives.  If the prospect spends all of the time asking questions and you find you are doing all of the talking (answering their questions), then your chances of closing the sale decrease.  There is an old saying:  “If the prospecting is listening, they are not buying”.

During the discovery conversation there are six different objectives that you have as a salesperson. They are:

  1. Differentiate Yourself from the Competition
  2. Identify the Real Problem
  3. Talk about the Budget
  4. Talk about the Decision Makers
  5. Gather Technical Details
  6. Go / No-Go Time

Differentiate Yourself from the Competition

The likelihood that someone else in your city is selling a similar (if not exact) product is you is very high. This means that the prospect might be considering multiple solutions during their decision making process. So you’re going to need to differentiate yourself from those competitors. Why should they choose you over them? Show them why. Show them what makes you different. One of the ways you’ll do this is by going through the six steps outlined above. When push comes to shove, at the end of the conversation you want them thinking, “This is the last group I’m meeting with. I’m done.”

Identify the Real Problem

Using the little bit of information you gathered during your short first conversation with the prospect, take the opportunity to dig even deeper into those issues during the second conversation.  Ask them questions like the following:

  • What area would you like to see changed or improved?
  • Can you give me an example of what you’re describing?
  • How long has the company been dealing with this problem?
  • What all have you done to try and fix this issue?
  • What have the outcomes of those efforts been?
  • What sort of impact has this issue had on you and the company?
  • Are you still motivated to find a solution to this issue?  Why?
  • What were you hoping we could do to help?

These sort of question help a prospect more fully discover what the real problem is and why it is so critical to fix it.  Their emotional intensity level goes from low to high.  As we know, people are always motive to buy because of their emotions.  They always justify and defend their decision to buy intellectually.  If they are no emotionally engaged they will not be very motive to solve the problem and purchase a solution.

Talk about their BudgetBudget

The prospects budget needs to be discussed up front and right away. Is what they are planning on spending for the desired product or solution going to fit in your company? Knowing their budget right away is going to help eliminate any surprises and confusions during the third conversation when they tell you their decision to buy or not buy.

Talk about the Decision Makers

You also need to understand who exactly is involved in the decision making process. At times it will be solely the individual in front of you, which can definitely work to your advantage. But most times there will be other individuals and factors involved in that decision. Maybe the business owner has a partner they need to consult with.  Maybe decisions are handled by a management team, rather than just one individual.  There is usually only one person who signs the contact or check, but their could be many decision influencers who influence the direction of the sale.  It is critical that you know who the final decision maker is and who the decision influencers are.  Work with all of them and make sure you understand their preferences, needs and objectives before you put a bid or proposal together.

Gather Technical Details

The technical details are those critical pieces of information related to the product or service that need to be discussed.  Things like size, weight, speed, and specific capabilities of the product should be covered in detail.  However, this is where most salespeople go wrong.  Many sales people will spend 90% of the 30 to 60 minute conversation gathering this type of information and hope that doing a good job on these details will produce a sale. However, if you spend so much time focusing on “the what” of the purchase, there will be no time for “the why” or “the how” of the purchase.  It’s critical that you only spend about 30% of your time discussing these technical details.

Go/No-Go Time

At this point in the conversation, it is time for you and the prospect to mutually determine if it makes sense to progress to the next step.  Is there enough of a fit, between what they need and what you offer, to justify putting a proposal together?  If they do not quality based on the urgency of their buying motivations, their budget, time frame or technical requirement; it is OK to shake hands and part as friends.  You do not have to give them a proposal.  I repeat:  You do not have to give them a proposal.

If, however, there is enough of a fit to merit progressing to the next step then together you lay out what that next steps looks like.  Feel free to make suggestions.  Suggest that you could draft up an outline of the solutions you will recommend to them.  Suggest that you send it to them and give them a few days to review it.  Recommend that it would be good to get back together to review the recommendations together and answer any questions they might have.  After that conversation is over, let them know that it is typically at that point when prospective customers let you know what they would like to do.

If they agree to your suggestions, then you will set up a third conversation with them.  Make sure to have a specific time and place laid out.  It will be during this third conversation that you will close the sale.  The magic of selling professionally is this:  If you have done a great job on the first and second conversations, the third conversation is easy and a sale is the natural outcome.  If you have done your job during the first two stages the prospect will close themselves.

When Do You Close The Sales?

Many sales people try to close the sale on the first or second conversation.  While there may be certain exceptions, most of the time these efforts do not pan out well.  People love to buy stuff.  They however, hate to feel like they have been sold.  So, slow down.  Do a good job.  Let the third conversation be where the presentation and closing take place.  If you follow these steps you will find that your selling will take on a new flow and will be much less stressful.  Good luck!  Let us know how it goes for you.

Terry Hansen is the founder of Hansen Group Company, Inc and is regularly asked to train sales and management teams and consult with companies on their marketing strategies.  You can learn more about Hansen Group Company by visiting or by calling 208-346-1005.