Close the sale or open the door for competitors

May 1, 2007
DON'T YOU HATE that? You run ads, get the call, set the appointment, run the lead, price the job, present the offer and your prospect needs to "think about it." Egads. No close, no sale. In your mind, he's doing all that "thinking" while dialing up competitors and/or his drooling, semi-employed brother-in-law who owns a pipe wrench. OK, so maybe I need to lay off the double espresso just before bed

DON'T YOU HATE that? You run ads, get the call, set the appointment, run the lead, price the job, present the offer and your prospect needs to "think about it." Egads. No close, no sale.

In your mind, he's doing all that "thinking" while dialing up competitors and/or his drooling, semi-employed brother-in-law who owns a pipe wrench.

OK, so maybe I need to lay off the double espresso just before bed — or maybe I need counseling. But something has really been bothering me lately: doors.

See, all your marketing efforts are "doors" into your business. The questions are how many do you have, what shape are they in, and how easy and inviting are they to enter?

Some plumbing companies are content with a shabby door represented by an ill-designed Yellow Pages ad; others have dozens of well-designed ones generating calls and appointments.

Set yourself up for success
But no matter how many doors you have, it doesn't matter if you don't turn those who enter into sales. You let them in, close the deal and lock them in as repeat customers.

Fine and dandy, but two things can go wrong here. If you're not closing the sale, you're sending these costly prospects elsewhere. Secondly, if you're not locking the door behind the closed sales, you're leaving paying customers vulnerable to even more loss.

Total cost for green sheet and gift bag: $4.

The three parts of a sales visit are the presentation, the proposal and the close. The presentation sets up the others and vastly improves your closing ratio, but it's at the close that even great presenters get jittery. The presentation is when you gather the info you'll need to close. This is generally done with a "home plumbing inspection." (Do not ever call it an estimate!) The answers to specific upgrade and price questions are handled here.

Advised for service calls: a "green sheet" of your services, products, pricing disclosures and guarantees on one sheet of paper. This credibility builder is something your competitors are not doing (differentiation), or they use a slick brochure clearly from a manufacturer. Yawn. Hand the green sheet to each new customer or service call, saying, "These are just a few of the reasons that we're glad you chose us, and we hope you will be too!"

Better: Include a small gift bag with a pen, mints, refrigerator magnet, coupon for the next service call and more. Total cost for green sheet and gift bag: $4. Cost of not using it: senseless.

Advised for bigger ticket upgrades: A binder to allay fears and make comparisons to other products, even competitors. (Yes, I said competitors. This is the most effective way to overcome shopping and build your credibility.) Your binder will have testimonials, guarantees, installation photos and more.

The proposal is where you "re-frame" the prospect's exact answers and put them on your proposal form. Your form had better be like a "sales script" and not some generic form that only you can follow. Fill it with guarantees, benefits and comfort statements.

Advised for service calls: Show two prices — one with a maintenance agreement and one without.

Advised for bigger ticket upgrades: Show the prospect a "good, better, best" approach to pricing for the higher ticket items. Then you go right into ...

The close. If you've done your presentation properly, you eliminated the objections of "thinking about it," "price is too high" and "our water heater is fine," so the close is natural.

Closing is not an isolated step in the selling process. It is the natural conclusion to what has already occurred. Still, it's this last part that sends techs or designated salespeople into confusion.

Ask and ye shall receive
Any salesperson who has attended any sales training has been taught, "The most important thing in closing is to ask for the order." But in spite of all that attention, many salespeople do not close.

The close needn't be any more difficult than any other part of the sales interaction. If the salesperson really understands and applies the entire selling process, then closing becomes much easier.

Closing is perceived by salespeople as one of the most difficult parts of their jobs. In a national survey of sales representatives, more than 35% identified closing as their No. 1 sales problem. In a study conducted through records kept by plumbing buyers of a major industrial firm, 47% of salespeople who called on that company did not attempt to close.

So, how can you close a sale for which you don't ask? You think your prospect is gonna jump up and say, "I've got a great idea! Sell me two new toilets, a quieter disposal and please upgrade my water heater! While you're at it, put me on an agreement!" I think not.

Sell yourself, buy the customer
Studies also reveal that one of the largest closing problems is lack of confidence in the benefits the salesperson is promising. It is difficult to ask a customer to buy when a salesperson is not 100% convinced that buying is in a customer's best interest.

But even a sales representative who is a "good closer" may run into this problem. The lack of confidence might come not from the salesperson's lack of confidence in the product but his lack of confidence in his ability to effectively sell and to support the sale.

The solution to this problem is simple — be prepared. Know your product or service, talk to those supporting it and gather testimonials from those who have gotten the benefits you profess. Then present it and the value effectively.

Another large group of sales reps expressed that the problem with closing is they don't like to close. Why? It represents the potential for rejection. They enjoy the customer interaction and rapport that is built up during the sales interaction. They like finding out about the customer and his needs, and they enjoy talking about their product or service and their sales proposals.

But they don't like having to ask the customer to buy. They don't want to "mess up a good relationship" or " pressure the customer to buy." They're "unsure" whether the customer is really sold, so they avoid the risk of this altogether by not finding out.

Sorry to disappoint you here, but unless you find out if your visit has been worth a plugged nickel to the customer, it has potentially been a waste of time. And that "worth" is measured in whether you presented him a solution to his problem.

My favorite close is called the " assumptive close," which merely assumes he's getting what was proposed by saying something like, "We can take the old water heater right through here [pointing], and make sure that none of the rusty water that's been giving you problems leaks out. Your new one will fit right back in it's place, but be a thing of beauty ... at least to a plumber! You'll agree once you and your family start enjoying it!"

There are nine more closes we advise clients for service and sales.

Bottom line: You can either close more sales or you can leave your business open to your competition. It's that simple. And since closing is just a natural part of selling, if you can't close, you may have problems with your entire set of sale tactics.

So go on, serve your customers and yourself by boosting your closing ratio. Maybe that will give me something happy to share with my therapist.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Readers can get the free report, "Things You Should Say (and Never Say) to Get More Plumbing Sales" by faxing their letterhead with the request to 334/262-1115. You can also call Hudson, Ink at 800/489-9099 for help or visit for other free marketing articles and reports. All who respond will get the free newsletter, "Sales & Marketing Insider" e-mailed or faxed every other week.

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