There are thousands of movies, books, blogs, podcasts and other resources for sellers that address the final phase of a sales cycle: the close. In many of these it’s often wrongly assumed or purported that closing a deal requires control, manipulation, or some creative strategy to “beat the customer” and win the sale. This is a misconception.
We think of this stage of the sales cycle as “advance” instead of “close” – and it’s where many sellers encounter the fifth and final barrier to influence: getting your customer to commit.
“Making a commitment” is probably the most misunderstood of the five barriers to influence – because getting your customer to take action is actually more about alignment than selling.
Overcoming this barrier to influence requires sellers to learn about where the customer is in their decision-making process, offer up the next best step to move them forward in the sales cycle, and gain a commitment from them to do it.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our previous blog posts on the first four barriers to influence:
Barrier #1 – Changing the customer’s perception of you.
Barrier #2 – Opening a closed door (i.e. getting access).
Barrier #3 – Discovering the unfiltered truth.
Barrier #4 – Changing beliefs.
Today, we’ll unpack the fifth and final barrier to influence, helping your customer take action (to advance the sale).
If you’d prefer to listen to a podcast on this topic, check out SALES with ASLAN episode 124:
Advancing the Sale Requires Action from Your Customer
Advancing the sale is contingent upon your customer taking action. So how can sales reps accomplish this? How do we get people to act?
There’s an interesting dichotomy with the relationship between sales rep and customer. When at its best, the relationship should be a two-way street. If the seller is doing all the work, it’s a warning sign that your prospect may not be as interested as you think.
But if the rep and the prospect are sharing in the sales process and the workload, that shows a more serious level of commitment on the customer’s end.
If you assign some type of “homework” to the prospect and it is well-received, that demonstrates they are also invested in the process with you. For example, “I’m going to send you this article to read, before I send over a proposal, just to make sure your questions get answered.” Something like this requires commitment from both sides, buyer and seller.
The key to advancing the sale and solidifying your influence lies in getting your customer to take action – and not only agreeing to take action, but committing to it and following through.
So how do we ensure our customer will actually take the action they’ve agreed to?
Gaining a Commitment
The key to successfully getting your customer to take action is to gain a commitment to a next event before leaving the meeting that you’re in. (And get it on the calendar!)
Your customer is much more likely to agree to a follow-up call or meeting when you’re still in front of them and they’re excited about evaluating your solution.
The probability of your customer reaching back out or returning your calls greatly diminishes after you’ve left that interaction. It’s natural for other competing priorities to take over.
When the customer says, “Let’s get back together next week and continue this conversation,” they probably really mean that. But “stuff” gets in the way. People are busy – they’re juggling multiple competing priorities and initiatives. Even the most well-meaning and interested buyers can get caught up in the flow of business as usual and forget to respond to follow-up messages. You’ll wind up chasing them down, hoping to reconnect and rebuild the momentum you had. Or you risk becoming a nuisance, wondering if your persistent outreach attempts are helpful or annoying. Are the follow-up emails and calls eroding the relational equity you had already built? Are they still excited about adopting your solution?
Most of the time, people make decisions based on what is right in front of them. So if you can get that next step/event on the calendar, gain a real commitment to an action on their part, your likelihood of advancing the sale skyrockets.
Gaining a commitment is the key to getting people to take action – because once someone commits to something, they will (almost) certainly do it. They feel an obligation to make good on their promise. As humans, it feels wrong to go back on an agreement we made with another person, regardless how large or small.
Note: This approach is not a control tactic. It’s not about employing an “assumptive close” or the “power close” – truthfully, I think most sales reps are uncomfortable using any of those “prescribed” closing tactics. So instead, they do nothing. What we’re offering is an alternative. When asking a customer to take action, the goal is not to manipulate, but merely to reveal the importance of being intentional about confirming the next steps. Procrastination is not your friend. Receptivity to continue the dialogue diminishes, and continues to diminish, as soon as you walk out the door.
The big risk is having your competitor move their relationship with the customer forward, while yours is stalled (sometimes indefinitely) when other priorities pile on the decision-maker’s plate. You may not lose the deal, but you won’t win it either, if other priorities take precedence. The antidote is to ask for a commitment to an action item on their part.
Our Regional VP of Sales, John Cerqueira, thinks of it this way: “When I’m wrapping up a call or meeting, I always tell myself (whether it’s true or not) that my competitor is coming in right behind me to meet with my customer. And they are going to have a tight, specific next step for the customer to take. I will be at a disadvantage if I don’t do the same.”
There’s more risk involved in not asking for a commitment to the next step, then there is in asking for it.
What Commitment or Action Step Should You Ask for?
When you leave a meeting or presentation, or any interaction, without getting a commitment to a specific next step, your chances of getting a follow-up meeting with the prospect are drastically reduced. Asking a prospect, “Can I follow up with you in a few weeks?” isn’t good enough. You need to get a commitment, a concrete commitment, with a planned next step in the sales cycle, before leaving the current meeting.
So asking for a concrete commitment to an action step is key – but it has to be the right action step, or you risk getting a “no” from your customer.
What stops sellers from asking a customer to commit to the logical next action step?
We believe the main reason most sellers hesitate to ask for a hard commitment to this next step, is that we don’t know what to ask for. If sellers don’t know the trajectory that their own process should take, it will be very difficult to guide your customer through each step and gain a commitment to each one.
So as sellers, we need to know what those steps are or should be, in order to be able to ask the customer to commit to each one as we advance the sales cycle.
Do some homework. Sit down and make a list of potential next steps/ events. Have (or create) a solid process for someone to evaluate your product or service. A process will actually help you advance the opportunity more quickly – because you will know exactly which action steps to recommend for each phase of your sales cycle. The purpose behind this process is not to undermine your creativity as a salesperson, but to give you “guardrails” to keep yourself on track and moving forward.
Each action step or next event that you come up with should do two things:
- Help them understand your competitive advantage, the value of your solution. It helps them see what you do, experience it and understand it.
- Require action from the customer.
Before you ask for a commitment to an action on your customer’s part, make sure it aligns with where they are in the evaluation process.
How to Ask
Asking for a commitment can be awkward for sales reps. Essentially, you are asking your customer, “Are we moving forward or not?” And either path has to be acceptable to you. The first step is for sales reps to become comfortable with creating a fork in the road.
So, create a fork in the road for your customer, but make it clear that both options are completely acceptable.
“Is this something we should pursue together? It’s okay if what we offer isn’t a fit. But based on what you’ve told me, and our previous conversations, it sounds like we need to move forward and continue at least with the evaluation process of our solution. Should we put something on the calendar for next week to _____?”
Just repeat back to them what they’ve told you and ask to put something on the calendar. You can even ask straight up, “Should we put something on the calendar or not?” If not, that’s fine, but if we put something on the calendar, we’re committing to moving forward in the process together.
But what you don’t want to do is leave the meeting with a vague promise to “follow-up at a later date” or “I’ll call you sometime next week.” You’ll wind up on rocky ground, with no idea where you really stand, trying to regain your footing with the customer: “Hey there! Just checking in again…” You will waste valuable time chasing someone who may or may not have any interest – and that’s the worst place to be as a sales rep.
Summing It Up
Nail down the evolution of your sales process, what it should look like, and some concrete actions steps for your customer to take at each stage. If you do this, it will be much easier for you to lead your customer through the process and ask for a commitment from them when the time is right.
When you and your customer are aligned, taking action will feel like the logical and natural next step for them to take. You will advance your sales process, and win the deal, much more quickly and easily, saving valuable time for both you and your customer.