I counsel my teammates on three simple closing techniques for smart people.
And I want to share them with you, because I’ve seen what a dramatic positive difference they can make for your customers as well as your colleagues.
In my previous blog, I observed something weird that happens to smart people when it’s time to close a deal. Smart people turn to mush! It happens when it’s time to close a project, hire a star candidate, get hired to your dream job, close an M&A deal, or make a large product sale. I summarized the common pitfalls smart people face: hitting mute, not wanting to impose, dazzling with complexity, winning the argument but losing the deal, and staying safely vague.
It’s one thing to help a client identify a problem. It’s another thing to help them solve it. I believe that a key part of client service is winning the privilege to help a client solve his or her biggest problems that are standing in their way of achieving their vision.
Even the super smart folks at my firm struggle with closing, before they learn these three simple closing techniques.
Summarize the underlying need.I was in the office of a greatly-admired billionaire CEO. He had asked my colleague and him to come strategize for 90 minutes how to identify and solve his top leadership challenges. The client prospect’s story was very animated, very passionate, and the details swirled around like a hurricane. I appreciated the candor and the urgency of the issues on the mind of the CEO. He talked about scary changes in the industry, deficiencies in his senior leadership team, tactics for changing the culture, and a range of other topics from broad strategic thoughts to tactical concerns. Then he just stopped talking. He took a sip of water. I thought this was a perfect time for my colleague to summarize the underlying need the client has (that he is fearful that his company’s spectacular stock performance won’t continue and he will feel like a failure, unless he makes some big changes to his strategic priorities, shake up his leadership team, and re-set the cadence of communication and accountability).
Instead, my colleague asked the client, “What do you think next steps should be.” The client was like “Well I don’t know, I was hoping you might tell me.” The closing conversation should have looked like is this:
“So that’s what’s on my mind.” (The CEO says, panting to catch his breath after giving us a lot of content for 60 minutes).
“Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. OK, it sounds like your biggest need is this—you have a big, bold vision that you seem to us to be very excited about.”
“But you fear you don’t have the organization to make it happen.”
“And if you don’t make some big changes to your strategic priorities, your team, and your overall culture, you worry your stock price will take a round trip, and you’ll look like a failure.”
See how good that is for the client? To know that you understand what his or her underlying need is. In this case, his underlying need was to not look like a failure. It’s so real. It’s so visceral. Once you “touch” the emotion behind all of the formality, your client will trust you to propose a plan. You are ready to move to step 2.
Say what you plan to do.Say what you plan to do, to help the client successfully satisfy their underlying need. Smart people worry about putting themselves out there by offering a plan. They worry that another smart person is going to disagree with them. They worry about proposing a plan that doesn’t work. That’s why many advisors stay “safely vague” rather than offer a specific plan. But being vague doesn’t help leaders some their biggest problems. You have to have the courage to propose a plan. Like this, carrying forward the example from above.
“I have some ideas about how you can achieve your goals. Want to hear them?”
“Yes!” (the client says, while taking out a notebook and a pen).
“There are five parts to what I think you need to do, in this order. They are designed to increase your power score—priorities, who is on your team, and relationships. First, there is no way you are going to be able to take the company in a whole new strategic direction without the board’s support.”
“So first, we have to articulate your vision, your priorities, on paper with goals and strategy and budget implications, and then get the board’s support.”
“Right, it’s going to change our budget, so rather than let the board nix it this fall, I should get out in front of this and get their support from the beginning.”
“Second, you seem to have questions about the capabilities of many of the key leaders in the U.S., Europe, and in your Asia region. It would be helpful to assess your team, to have a clear point of view of who is going to fit in the new organization, and who is not a fit.”
“Yes, that would be helpful to have an X-ray of the org chart and figure out who needs to go where to align with the new strategy.”
“Third, fourth, and fifth will be all about culture change. Change the incentives. Change the meeting cadences of what metrics are tracked and discussed—who meets when to discuss what. And what some of our most successful clients have done in situations like this is design workshops—like a road show—for you and key leaders to educate and train the next two levels on what you expect from them and why, in the new world order. This gets the troops aligned behind your new vision.”
“Wow! Yes, yes, and yes.”
“And even if you do all of that, I only give it a 70% chance you will fully actualize your goal within 3 years—in the market and culturally. Still, that is a lot better than the 5% chance you give yourself today.”
“I’d take 70% over 5%.”
Ask if they want your help.So many smart people get a gag reflex, sort of a “barf in my mouth” feeling when it comes time to ask for the sale. They think selling is evil. They don’t view themselves as salespeople. And besides, if a client realizes how great a consultant is, they will ask for the sale themselves, won’t they? But business doesn’t happen that way. The client wants to know that you want to help. It’s their insecurity that often holds the client back from closing themselves. That’s why you have to do it. And don’t view it as selling. View it as offering to help. Don’t you think it’s a nice thing, to offer to help somebody accomplish something important to them? Like this:
“In that case, would you like our help?”
“Well, how long would it take you to do the five things in the plan?”
“Three months for the board work and senior team assessments, another three months advising on rewards redesign. And a full year from today on new meetings and the vision road show. Your power score will be rising rapidly during this first year. And you will likely see it show up in results in the marketplace, in your culture metrics, and in your stock price over the next two years.”
“What will it cost?”
“The biggest cost will be this project will take a lot of your time. But you seem very motivated to make your vision happen. For our work, it will cost around $2m in year 1, and half that in subsequent years to sustain the change. We will break the work up into many small pieces. If you are unhappy with our performance at any time, we’ll refund your fee for that work. And you can fire us at any time if you don’t want to proceed. But we have a 97% client satisfaction score. So I give it a 97% chance you’ll love this work, and will see it through to completion.”
“That’s not cheap.”
“Correct. And a moment ago I believe you told us that if you achieve your vision, it could be worth an incremental $10b to your market cap. So, that’s like, what, a 3,000-to-1 return on investment?”
“OK OK. Do you have availability to help me on this?”
“Yes. I think your vision is very exciting. We want to help you achieve it. We are all busy people. So let’s not waste any time if you don’t want our help. But if you want our help, I’d like to know sooner than later, so I can get to work on reserving my colleagues’ time. How about I get you a proposal by Friday, and you take a week or two to think about it, and get us a yes or no answer by end of month?”
“You got it. That sounds great. Thank you very much for coming to see me today. I look forward to working together.”
If you think these tactics are useful, please download our other free leadership tools at SMARTtools for Leaders™.
scott mesh says
Awesome. Great points and great story. My company works with ordinary folk, but we have found the same general principals work. The most important first step in an exchange is to listen (actively). Starting out with the speaker agreeing that you understood them is perfect. Then action steps on what is needed and finally if they want you to help them. Love it. I’m sharing with my management team. Thanks Geoff for another goodie.