I keep track of the number of people who contact me who then end up becoming clients. My closing rate is currently at 96%. Since I started keeping track of it in 2008, it has consistently been in the low or mid-90’s.
I think I can safely say that this is an exceptional closing rate, one that any salesperson would love to achieve, given that the average is closer to 15% – 25%. I’m going to tell you how I do it.
First I should say that my closing rate would be closer to 100% if I took on jerks as clients, or if jerks were comfortable working with me. Neither is true. If, during the first phone call, I sense that a jerk is on the line, I find a way to back out. I also make jerks uncomfortable, which is OK with me. Manipulators don’t like my straightforward approach, and usually decide during our first conversation (or even just reading my blog content) that I am not a fit for them. This accounts for the remaining 4%.
Here are the 5 reasons I have such a high closing rate.
1) Constant, relevant content.
The most common scenario is the CEO or entrepreneur calls me and says, “I’ve spent the last 5 hours reading your blog,” or, “I just finished reading your book.” And then, “I really want you to work for us. I think you can help us. I have three questions. Would you and can you work for us, how much do you charge, and when could you start?”
Those of you who have read my book know that I am selling an “intense scrutiny” service – as opposed to a light, medium, or heavy scrutiny service – which means that the customer has zillions of questions and the buying cycle is traditionally very long and complex. So why do they only have three questions by the time they call me? Because my content has done my selling for me.
Anyone reading my blog figures out who I am, what I do, how I do it, how it helps my clients, how I treat people, how hard I work, and what I might be able to do for them. My content is always educational, not “salesy,” so they don’t get bored with an endless pitch. They learn something with each article, and in doing so, they come to trust that I will be able to help them.
More salespeople could be order-takers if their marketers provided relevant content to their potential customers – no matter where it appears. In addition to my blog, I also tweet frequently, sharing either my own content and ideas, or others’ content and ideas.
I know what kind of content potential clients are looking for, because I work so closely with my clients. I help them solve their business challenges, week after week. The problems we solve together are the same problems my readers have, and once they’re solved, the solutions evolve into blog posts.
This close association with my clients, their customers (via interviews) and employees (via coaching) is where great content comes from. If marketers were continuously interviewing customers, their content would be much more relevant than it is now.
2) They’re sold before they come to me
I don’t have to convince them I can help them. By the time they finish reading my content, they have already convinced themselves. All that remains now are the “when” and “how much” discussions, and perhaps a confirmation that the chemistry is going to be good.
Today’s buyers get most of their questions answered before they contact a salesperson. The ones who do contact a salesperson are quite far along in their buying process and are hoping to make a purchase. It is the salesperson’s sale to lose.
3) I investigate more than I pitch.
On my website’s home page, I tell people that the first hour is always free. This seems fair to me, because during that first hour, I want to spend as much time as necessary to find out as much as I can about their situation and the kind of help they need. They know a lot about me by the time they call me, but I still have a lot to learn about them. Many years of experience has removed any temptation to start giving advice until I know what they’re struggling with. I ask a lot of questions, and I really, truly listen.
Salespeople don’t realize that they are selling best when they are asking questions, not answering them. As the salesperson asks questions, the customer is thinking, “Are these intelligent questions? Are these questions helping me think this through, and helping me make a decision that I’ll be happy with?”
You can sell more effectively asking smart, thoughtful, wise questions than you can by slipping into robo-pitch mode, which is boring and insulting – especially if you haven’t yet gotten the full picture. I’d say 95% of the salespeople I’ve coached make this mistake. They listen just enough to think they “get it,” and then they launch into their pitch. The customer knows full well that they haven’t heard the whole story, which means that their pitch will be off-target. The customer begins to mentally disengage. The salesperson is losing a sale he or she could have made.
4) My agenda is their agenda.
I was coaching a salesperson the other day, after listening in during a long and involved sales call. I asked her, “What is your goal with each sales call?” She said, predictably, “To close the sale.”
She thought I would be pleased with that answer. I wasn’t. “Too bad,” I said to her. “The problem is, that’s not the customer’s agenda. The customer only wants to make an informed decision that he or she won’t regret later. That’s it. So right from the start, your agenda opposes your customer’s agenda and creates mistrust and friction.”
I suggested that she put her own goals aside. She may as well, because the only way she is going to meet her closing goal is if the customer is satisfied. So the real goal should be to satisfy the customer.
“Tell the customer at the beginning of the sales call that you are going to do everything you can to help them make an informed decision that they will be happy with. Then keep your promise,” I said. “Explore their options, and be honest about how your product can help them meet those objectives, including the areas where it isn’t as strong as they might hope. And be prepared to admit that it won’t solve their problem, if that is the case.”
If a salesperson does this, as the call progresses the customer will come to trust the salesperson, and will be much more likely to de-emphasize product deficiencies. The buying process is an exercise in weighing tradeoffs. Customers do not expect perfection; they just hope to find the best possible solution. If you help them, they will go out of their way to buy from you.
5) I can answer all their questions.
I first started selling in earnest when I was 17. I sold machine-shop tools for a Pratt & Whitney distributor. That job taught me a valuable lesson, the hard way: You better know what you’re selling if you expect to be able to succeed. Now I sell what I produce, which is a form of salesperson heaven. I know exactly what I can do for them. No matter what they ask, I have the answer.
Most salespeople sell a product or service that they don’t create themselves, so it’s more difficult. I’ve been in that position myself, and I know it’s possible to know the answers to all customer questions. It takes work and dedication – you can never stop learning – but it can be done.
One often hears salespeople selling technical products say, during a sales call, “Well, I’m not technical, so I can’t answer that question.” This is a cop-out, and the worst thing they could say. It sends all sorts of negative messages to the customer, including:
- This product is so difficult to understand, I gave up trying.
- I’m here to answer your questions, but if you get too technical, I won’t be able to help you.
- If I cared more about what I do for a living, I’d know the answer to this question.
There is no excuse for not learning everything about the product they’re selling. And, if they really don’t know, their knee-jerk reaction should be to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get right back to you after our call.”
Managers – here’s your part in all this: In order for salespeople to be able to answer all questions, they should be constantly trained on the product or service being sold, with “lunch and learn” sessions or other weekly meetings. The sales manager and marketers should be keeping a list of all the questions that customers ask, in a database, with appropriate answers.
Salespeople should be tested, in every single weekly meeting. Their manager should ask them a question, and see how well they answer it. The other salespeople should then critique the first salesperson’s response. All salespeople should get their turn on the hot seat, so the process is fair. Given how competitive salespeople are and how much they hate looking stupid, this is a very effective way to ensure that salespeople improve their skills in this critical area.
So that’s how I achieve a 96% closing rate. Doing likewise will help you raise yours.