EPISODE 321: Author James Muir Explains Why The Perfect (Sales) Close Requires Zero Pressure and Involves Just Two Simple Questions

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Creativity in Sales Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales and hosted by Fred Diamond on December 11, 2020. It featured author “The Perfect Close” James Muir.]

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JAMES’ TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Pre-call planning is not that complicated, you can simplify it down to just three questions you should ask yourself before you go in. First, “Why should this customer see me?” That’s the valid business reason for them to meet with you so instead of winging it, just give it a little thought, it basically speaks to your value proposition. Second, “What do I want the customer to do?” The last is, “How can I add value on this encounter?” We need to make the sales call itself inherently valuable.”

Fred Diamond: James Muir, it’s great to have you here today, the book is tremendous, let me show you my copy right here. I’ve gone through it many times, The Perfect Close Workbook, you sent this to me a year ago and I’ve gone through it a number of times in prep for today’s call and there are so many great action items and steps that people can take today so thank you again for being with us. I’m excited to hear what we’re going to be talking about as we come close to closing the year, let’s get to it, my friend.

James Muir: Good topic for closing the year out, right? Thanks for having me on, it’s great to be here. I think maybe some of the folks may have read in the introduction to this session that this closing approach, as proven by science, is a 95% success and I know that sounds like an incredible claim so I’ll let you guys be the judge by the time we’re done here. It is true and we’re going to show you exactly how to do that in this session, there’s five variations of that and I’m going to share all five with you. I think the big question is are you guys ready to walk out of here knowing what the best practice in sales is? It’s just two questions, it’s no pressure and 95% effective. It’ll actually strengthen your relationship with your clients so it’s very different than probably any other approach you may have used.

We mentioned that this approach is proven by science so let’s justify that before we jump

into actually what the questions are. There’s a company out there called Gong.io and these guys specialize in call analytics, excellent company, highly recommend them. They analyzed over a million sales calls looking for the answer to this question: what is the best closing approach? These are mostly outbounds, inside sales folks doing these calls but not 100%, but after analyzing over a million calls they determined that The Perfect Close – which is the approach that you’re about to learn right now in this session – is hands-down the best closing approach. Top performers actually use it three times per hour which should tell you that it doesn’t get old the more that you use it. If you’re on board for learning something like that, then you’re going to enjoy this session.

Fred, let me ask you a question before we start and I know you weren’t expecting this, but what percentage of sales situations do you think end without any kind of a commitment being asked for?

Fred Diamond: It’s a huge number. We also work with a company called ExecVision which is in the same space as Gong.io, Steve Richard. We had Steve on the call and he also analyzed millions on phone calls and he very rightly said that the one thing he noticed was that there was almost no follow-up in the unbelievable majority of calls. I’m going to say 95%, believe it or not.

James Muir: You’re right in the ball park. It varies a little bit by industry but somewhere between 50% and 90% of all sales encounters end without any commitment being asked for whatsoever. That’s a mind-blowing question and let me ask you another question, this is just to your opinion, we don’t know for certain why this is but why do you think that salespeople, entrepreneurs, consultants, executives don’t ask?

Fred Diamond: I think there’s two reasons, one is they don’t understand sales process. When I read the book, I was thinking like the close, like asking for the deal, “Give me a check” but as you’re going to be talking about here, there’s close throughout the entire process, it’s not just one moment in time. I think the other reason, James, and we talk about this every day is fear, fear of asking for the business, fear of asking for the next step, fear of asking for an opportunity to present. I think that’s the one thing that distinguishes great sales professionals from those who aren’t there yet is getting past all of those fears.

James Muir: Right on the money. Totally unrehearsed, guys, I would boil that down to the two things that you basically just said which is will, the motivation to ask or being comfortable asking and skill is knowing how to ask. What would you say then is the most common reason that people don’t ask if you had to guess between these two factors?

Fred Diamond: I would say will, definitely the motivation.

James Muir: If you asked an audience of a thousand people, literally 90% of them will tell you that it’s the will part of it, but I’m going to help you with both of those things right now. When I first was doing research on this and I found out that 50% to 90% of these sales encounters end without any commitment being asked for, that was a mind-boggling statistic to me. If you asked me, “Why don’t you ask?” I would say probably a big contributor to that is the fact that 99% of the closing techniques out there being taught today are manipulative in some ways. They all have names, there’s the alternate choice close, the yes set close or the impending event close, there’s a million of these gambits out there and they’re all manipulative. If you ask me why I think it is that so many sales encounters end without anybody asking for commitment is not because we’re so much afraid to ask, it’s more so that we don’t want to damage the relationship we have with a client. We can’t think of a way to ask for a commitment without damaging the relationship so we just don’t do anything, at least that’s what I used to do.

The good news is there’s a much better way, a way that doesn’t damage the relationship, a way that makes the customer feel like they’re in control and a way that makes you a consultant or a coach rather than a pushy salesperson. Obviously that’s The Perfect Close but before I share what those questions are, I think it’s important to point out that before you go into any sales encounter it’s important to know what you want to happen. What’s the outcome you’re looking for as a result of your encounter? What you should have is an ideal advance and a couple of alternative advances and just in case your audience isn’t familiar with the term advance, a really great man, author and researcher named Neil Rackham conducted the largest sales study ever done at the time. It was over 35 thousand face-to-face sales interactions and we learned a lot of stuff about selling from that research and he ended up coining a few phrases. One of those is an advance, there’s a more technical definition but the simple definition is just progressing the sale forward in a little way, we make a little progress. Another term that’s probably useful to know is continuation and that’s a situation where the sale is not dead, it’s going to continue but there’s no progress really made.

What Neil Rackham learned that was surprising – and this is especially true for complex sales – is that 9 out of 10 sales encounters actually don’t end where we win or lose, that’s not what happens. What happens at 9 out of 10 sales interactions is we either get an advance where the sale moves forward in a little way or we end up with a continuation where no progress is made. That’s what really happens in 9 out of 10 sales encounters. The point to make here is that once you’re prepared with an ideal advance, one of the small steps maybe and then two alternate advances – and we want those just in case our ideal advance proves unrealistic for some reason, it’s like having a backup plan. With those prepared, then you’re ready to use the two questions that are part of The Perfect Close and there’s an initial question and a follow-up question. It’s pretty common that you’ll only need the first question and this is the moment. If you’ve got something to write with – certainly if you’re driving, don’t do this – the first question is, “Does it make sense for us to X?” Where X is going to be your ideal advance. If I’m talking to Fred and I’m trying to schedule some consulting services or something, I’d say, “Does it make sense for us to schedule an assessment to see what our best options are?” In that example, the assessment is the X, it’s our ideal advance.

If you think about this for a second, there’s only two things they can respond to on this, they’re either going to say yes or they’re going to say no. If they say yes then awesome, you just got your ideal advance and you’re off to the races. If they say no then you’re just going to ask the second question and that second question is some variation of, “Okay, what do you think is a good next step then?” What I can tell you after hundreds of ride-alongs is that what will happen in 90% of cases with that second question is the client will just suggest a very logical advance is appropriate for where they’re at right now in their buying process. That’s a key point, the best close is really the one that paces at the rate that the other person is ready for and by doing it this way, we’ll be pacing it at exactly the rate that they’re ready for. I’m going to add more to that here in just a second. It’s when we try to push the client faster than they’re ready for, that’s when it starts to feel like manipulation to them but by doing it this way, it will be completely non-confrontational.

There’s a couple nuances that you’re going to learn here in a second, but basically what you see on the screen right now is the model. What we end up with is either an advance or a close every single time we use it. I’ve trained hundreds of reps and what I can tell you is that even if the rep doesn’t really even know what the client’s buying process is, using this model the client will actually start to walk them right through their own process because the client will be suggesting next steps and clients are always comfortable with their own next steps. If you did nothing more than this one simple model, you’d end up with a close or an advance about 90% of the time. I can hear you all now, this is not my first rodeo and you say, “James, 90% is pretty good but it’s not perfect, you’re the one that called your close perfect.” You give them 90%, Fred and they ask for 100% [laughs].

We can make these better. As it turns out, there’s actually five variations of The Perfect Close and I think we can go through all of these right now. The first enhancement is what we call the suggestion and in that enhancement we’re just going to add a little prefix to that first question that you already learned. That prefix is going to be something like, “Other clients at this stage tend to do X.” If I was using that with our assessment example, I’d say, “Other clients at this stage typically have us do an assessment to see what our best options are, does it make sense for us to schedule an assessment for you guys?” Hopefully you can see that that’s very facilitative, in fact, it’s very helpful. I’ve been in healthcare IT where we sell these large systems to hospitals for years most of my career and the truth is people don’t buy those more than about once in a lifetime. A lot of us are in that kind of an industry where the thing we sell isn’t sold very often so the customer really doesn’t have a lot of experience buying it. Using this suggestion is actually very facilitative because it tells them what a logical next step is before we throw them the ball and ask them what a good next step is because you probably have a lot more experience with the thing that you’re selling than they do. Hopefully you can see we’re just coaching them along in the process.

The funny thing is there’s some nuance here that I want you to see, you’ll see how perfect all this is. Would you like to know what people are most worried about when you first tell them about this? What they’re most worried about is, “What if they say no?” But I want you to think for a minute, when we ask someone if it makes sense and they say no to that, what are they saying no to? They said, “No, I will not buy”? No, because we didn’t ask them to buy. Are they saying, “No, I won’t take your course of action”? No, because we didn’t ask them to take a course of action. In fact, we’re not really asking them to do anything. At its core, ‘does it make sense’ is actually a timing question so the customer can’t reject your course of action, they can only reject the timing of it. Hopefully you’re tracking with me on this because this is a key point, this is a big deal. With The Perfect Close, the customer actually can’t reject your course of action, they can only reject the timing of it. The best part is we’re telegraphing, they can see where we’re headed because of the question that we ask but we haven’t actually asked for the commitment yet, we’ve only asked about the timing of it and what that means is that regardless of their answer, it leaves us emotionally on much higher ground than if we just asked straight out for an action or a commitment. The truth is you can’t bomb out, it’s zero pressure, non-confrontational. Let’s keep rolling here.

What you see here on the screen now is the suggestion model which I just described. When we use the suggestion in the secondary question, we call that the fall back and that’s why you prepare those alternate advances. If we say, “Does it make sense for us to X?” and they say no or they hesitate, then we can fall back to one of the other alternatives. We’d say, “Other clients at this stage will sometimes do this other thing, does it make sense for us to do that?” We’re using the suggestion in the fall back position. By the way, if you feel good you could even do it again and theoretically you can fall back as many times as you want. I wouldn’t recommend that you fall back more than a couple times or it’ll start to really look self-serving to the customer.

Just so that everybody gets this, let me walk you through it. We say, “Does it make sense for us to X?” and if they say yes, awesome, we can advance. If they say no then we’d say, “Clients at this stage will sometimes also do this other thing, does it make sense for us to look at that?” If they say yes, great, we got an advance and if they say no, then we could suggest another one or we just use that last question that we learned in our very first example. We throw them the ball back and we say, “What do you think is a good next step then?” Hopefully it’s all making sense. The cool thing is that there’s actually a better version of this, it’s even much more fun, it’s called the add-on and the add-on is the exact reverse of the fall back. Instead of falling back to our alternate advances, we’re going to add them instead. Once we’ve achieved success with our ideal advance we just keep on piling on advances until we’ve reached the pace that the customer is ready to go and that’s a really key thing. Basically what this lets us do is if they want to go faster then we’re going to go faster, if they want to go slower then we’re going to go slower. There’s one other unique thing to the add-on and that is instead of ending with a fall back, that last thing you end with is, “What do you think is a good next step?” With the add-on, what we’re going to ask is something like, “Are there any other logical steps we should be thinking about right now?” What that does is it gives the client a chance to suggest any action steps that are logical to them that maybe we didn’t even think about.

What you see on the screen here is an example of that. We say, “Does it make sense for us to do X?” and they say yes, “Sometimes clients at this stage also do Y, does it make sense for us to do that?” they say yes. “Sometimes they also do this other thing, they do Z, does it make sense for us to do that?” If they say yes or no, it doesn’t matter, we’re just going to ask them that last question. “Are there any other things we should be thinking about right now?” Hopefully that makes sense to everybody.

Let me share a story and an experience I had on this. My team and I were working with a healthcare organization in Sierra Vista, Arizona and we felt like we were presenting to the wrong people, it was a bunch of IT people. What we wanted to do is our ideal advance was to present to the executive team because we felt like they were going to be the decision makers ultimately in purchasing the system. We do our presentation and everything and then when we get done, I ask them, “Does it make sense for us to schedule a demo for the rest of your team so we can get their input and participation?” He goes, “Yes, we need everybody on board.” I got my ideal advance. I just look at my list, I got this second thing, I say, “A lot of clients on this stage will also have a scheduled time for our technical teams to talk about the conversion. Does it make sense for us to schedule some time for our tech people to talk?” He goes, “Yeah, my guys are really worried about that, that’s a great idea.”

I got two for two. I look at my list and I say, “I think I’ve got everything I need here to put together a preliminary proposal just so you can get a feel for the scope of the project. Does it make sense for me to put together a preliminary proposal?” He goes, “Yes, that’d be super helpful.” Three for three. I just asked him that last question, “Are there any other logical steps we should be thinking about right now?” And Fred, this will blow your mind. This guy lowers his voice a little bit and he looks around and he goes, “Is there any chance I can get a copy of your standard agreement? Because our legal people can be kind of slow.” [Laughs] Of course, on the outside I’m cool as a cucumber like, “Of course, I’d be happy to get you a copy of our standard agreement” but on the inside I’m like, “Are you kidding me? Of course I can send you a contract.” Those moments rock, but here’s the funny thing. We thought we were presenting to the wrong audience, I never even dreamed that sending a copy of a contract would have emerged as a realistic next step with this particular group. I would argue this, imagine that’s my ideal advance, that I wanted to get a contract and I’d say, “Does it make sense for me to get you some paperwork?” I don’t think it would have come off, I don’t think it would have worked but instead, by diplomatically pacing it at the rate that this guy was ready to go, we scored an amazing four advances, one of which we never even dreamed of. Obviously this is the funnest of all the different variations that are out there because in this smooth and Zen-like fashion you just keep on piling advances until you’ve reached the pace that the client is ready to go.

Believe it or not, we’ve already covered four of the five different variations that are out there so let’s do a quick review on that. You’ve learned the basic questions of The Perfect Close which is, “Does it make sense for us to X?” If they say no to that you just throw the ball back to them and say, “Alright, what do you think is a good next step?” There’s the suggestion where we say, “Other clients at this stage do X, does it make sense for us to do X?” Then there’s the fall back where we use that same suggestion but with one of our alternate advances that we prepared and then you just learn to add on. On a smooth way we just keep on piling on these advances until we’ve reached the pace that the client’s ready to go. Believe it or not, you’ve already learned a lot. If you just walked out of here with just that, you’d be doing pretty good.

There’s one more variation that I want to share that’s literally something special and when I say something special, that’s its name. Before I share that, let me ask you another question, Fred. This is a rhetorical question, but have you ever been faced with quarterly or monthly pressure to close business?

Fred Diamond: Of course.

James Muir: [Laughs] we all have. Now let me ask you a harder question, have you ever tried to discount a deal in order to get the customer to close sooner?

Fred Diamond: I would say everybody has, you don’t want to but… It’s interesting you’re talking about this because one of the questions that we got here from Jerry is, “It’s nice, but what if I have to get deals closed by the 31st of the quarter?” It’s what you’re talking about right here, some ways that are probably going to be smart and not so smart to artificially try to close your customers.

James Muir: Jerry, you’re going to walk out of here with the best possible answer to that question. I learned this from the hard school of experience and there are probably some managers that will not like what I’m about to say here but I’m just going to say it, this is unplanned. In my opinion, especially with the complex sales, you might have 10% to 15% control over the timing of the deal. What a lot of managers do – inappropriately, I might add – is they think that the only lever they have is the price so they overuse that lever. I’m going to tell you how I came up with this but this ‘something special’ close will answer exactly that question that you just asked. I’ve got pressure, I’ve worked for publicly traded companies for two decades so there’s quarterly pressure every quarter and revenue recognized this quarter might actually be worth more than that exact same revenue recognized the following quarter because of how it affects the stock price. What we’re doing here if you think about it, when we encourage our salespeople to try to use discounting or we ourselves try to use discounting to try to accelerate a deal, what we’re doing is we’re trading margin for timing and I am officially not a fan of discounting to try to accelerate timing.

But, like I said, I’ve worked for publicly traded companies for two decades so I understand the dynamics involved. I’ve got a long history of management encouraging accelerated sales by whatever means possible in order to hit those quarterly numbers so I can appreciate where you’re coming from here but let me ask you one more question, maybe we can throw this to the whole audience. Have you ever tried to discount a deal in order to get it to close sooner and then it didn’t come in anyway? [Laughs] I know you guys know what I’m talking about, it’s like getting kicked while you’re down. And how many of your clients forgot about that discount the next quarter? You always tell them, “It has to be done by the end of the quarter or you don’t get it.” The next quarter what do they do? They heard about that discount so they ask for it again.

This ‘something special’ variation that I’m going to share with you right now is a classic application, it’s very popular with managers, especially bigger corporations with complex sales, I’m pretty sure you’re going to like it. Let me tell you how it came about, when I was brand new to sales I used to have this whiteboard on my wall and that’s how I kept track of all the opportunities, we didn’t have a CRM necessarily. This one quarter I had exactly 10 deals on this whiteboard in play, one of them was pretty close to closing, the other 9 are somewhere in the middle of their process. A couple weeks before the end of the quarter we get a word from upper management, “We’re having a particularly challenging quarter, we need to use all legal means possible in order to bring in more business.”

I’m sure you guys recognize this fire drill. I was encouraged at that time to offer discounts to all 10 opportunities as an inducement to try to get them to close by the end of the quarter before the month’s end. I did that, I offered that to them and every single one of those customers knew that discount was contingent on getting agreements before the end of the quarter and that they would not get that discount if it came in later than that. I’m sure you guys recognize this drill, let me ask you, how do you think it turned out?

Fred Diamond: Not good.

James Muir: I’ll tell you how it turned out, only one of the 10 deals signed and that was the deal that was already very close to closing to begin with before we started offering discounts to everybody. The remaining 9 accounts, they did not just say no and walk away, they all just continued to evaluate the solution rather than take advantage of the discounts. Of course, I kept working these into the next quarter and ultimately closed seven more for a total of 8/10 which is pretty good. But on every one of those opportunities I had to have this awkward conversation with them about whether or not they were going to get that same discount that they saw the previous quarter. They’d say, “If it was worth it to you before, why isn’t it worth it to you now?” and if I would resist, I could literally see the tangible erosion of good will on their faces. Maybe some of you guys recognize this situation. Thankfully, near the end of the next quarter I found myself in the exact same repeat trying these fire drills that we were doing before where management was encouraging us to offer discounts. In fact, they used to call it being weapons-free, “You are now weapons-free, you can offer discounting in order to accelerate business.” Thankfully, I used that opportunity to provide the same discounts that I did before and everything ended pretty good but – and this is the key point – with lower margins because I wouldn’t have had to offer those discounts if they hadn’t seen it the previous quarter. Incidentally, I found myself unwillingly having trained my clients to wait till the end of quarters to get concessions and that’s maybe a story for another day.

Anyway, it was this crazy downward spiral that got me thinking, “We offer a timing discount but then we don’t actually get the timing that we want and then we have to give the discount away again next quarter anyway. Then we get lower margins, I get lower commissions and then I end up training the customer to seek end-of-quarter discounts. There’s got to be a better way to see if a deal can really close by the end of the quarter without telegraphing any kind of a concession and without having to actually give that concession later even if they can’t.” That’s how ‘something special’ was born. The ‘something special’ variation is just a standard Perfect Close question that reveals the client’s timing without telegraphing what the concession is. A lot of professionals have told me that this one thing is one of the most valuable things that they’ve learned in sales, I’ll let you guys be the judge of that but here it is verbatim, “Does it make sense for me to see if we can do something special for you if we can get everything wrapped up by the end of the quarter?” Naturally you’re just going to adapt the time frame to your situation so if you have an end of month, end of week or whatever it is, that’s fine. Otherwise, I’m going to recommend that you use it verbatim at first until you understand how it works.

In the ‘something special’ application of The Perfect Close it’s important that we come to that conversation without any particular concession in mind, don’t have one. Determining exactly what the client deems as special is going to require a second step and a second conversation and you want that. What your attitude should be is something like this, “I don’t know what my options are without talking to some folks inside the company but if the timing is right, I’ll go see what we can do.” That’s the attitude that you want to bring into this. The beauty of this approach is that if the timing isn’t right for the next quarter or for the client, then you’re never going to have to discuss what something special might have been, you didn’t telegraph what the concession was and your margins are preserved going into the next period. But if the buyer says that it is possible to wrap things up with a new time frame then first of all, awesome, we know we can make this deal happen, we’ve just got to get the deal elements proper in order to make it work for them. You’ve got a couple of options, the first is you could ask them what they would find more valuable, again not guaranteeing anything until you talk to some other folks. Then you’re going to tell them that you’ll go see what you can do and then you’re going to report back. These aren’t mutually exclusive, I actually do both of these. The only time you really wouldn’t want to do option #1 is if the force is telling you that this customer is going to ask for a concession that you can’t deliver on. If you feel like that’s going to happen, then don’t do it because that’s just going to set an expectation that you can’t meet.

I know you already know this but I’m just going to say it anyway, and that is remember, you’ve got a lot more concession options than just price. I’ve been often very surprised that my client’s preference for some kind of concession has nothing to do with price at all, it was not what I was expecting. Very often they prefer things on services, there’s other things you could do besides the price that they would value more than that and I’ll give you some examples here in a second. What you’re looking for is something that’s of high-worth to them but of low-cost to you. I actually inserted a little vignette here for you, I’m talking to Gary the executive here and I say, “Gary, does it make sense for me to see if we can do something special fo you if we can get everything wrapped up by the end of the quarter?” Gary says, “I don’t think so, our CEO is out till after the holidays, we wouldn’t be able to do anything till he’s back.” I’m like, “Good to know.” If I had telegraphed a concession here, it wouldn’t have been able to accelerate the deal anyway and maybe this is a good moment to say that timing issues are not pricing issues. Timing issues are totally separate things and the idea that we could have made this particular thing happen by throwing price at it is out the window because the CEO can’t do it.

This one is a real conversation that I had, I say, “Gary, does it make sense to see if we can do something special for you if we can get everything wrapped up by the end of the quarter?” Gary’s like, “What are you thinking?” He’s throwing me the ball and I’m like, “I don’t know what my options are without talking to our CEO, but if we can actually do something this quarter he said he’d be willing to work with clients.” Gary is like, “If the offer is good enough, we’re ready to do something. Why don’t you go find out what he’s thinking?” Again, he’s putting it on me, he’s throwing me the ball so I’m like, “You got it. Just to speed the process up a bit, is there any part of the proposal that you’d get more value out of than another? I’ll see if that’s an area we can play in.”

He goes, “There is, Allison is concerned that some of our folks are going to need more training than usual, anything you could do in that area is going to make me a hero with her. From my perspective, it would be great if there’s something you could do with the maintenance, either lowering it or starting it later would be great. Those two things, maintenance and training, see if there’s something you can do there.” Before saying anything else, do you see how this works? First of all, we know we can close this deal and he just told us what the bullseye was for the concessions we should be offering and ironically, they had nothing to do with the price – unless you count maintenance as part of your price.

In contrast to that, I want to show you how not to do this. This was about 14 years ago and I’m working with one of my new reps, he’s got an opportunity he’s hoping to close by the end of the quarter, client’s got the proposal, they’ve been through all the different stages of our sales process and to seal the deal, my rep wants to offer a discount to see if he can get him to close by the end of the quarter. I told him to use the ‘something special’ application of The Perfect Close that you just learned and I said to just ask him, “Does it make sense if we can do something special for you?” and he goes, “What if he says yes? What’s the something special?” I’m like, “Wait, there’s a lot of things we could do, let’s just see if the timing works first and then we’ll figure it out.” He goes, “What kinds of things are possible?” I’m like, “There’s a lot of things, we could play with the terms, we could play with the deposit, we could change a licensing scope, we could play with the maintenance, we could get some user group passes, there’s a lot of different things we could do.” He goes, “Can we get him a discount?” I’m like, “Yes, absolutely, discounting is one of the options. Let’s just see if the timing works and then as a second step, we’ll figure out which one of those concessions is going to be the most effective.” He runs out of my office all excited. A little later I see him in the hallways looking kind of dejected and I go, “How’d your call go?” He goes, “Your question didn’t work at all.” I’m like, “Really? What happened?” He goes, “Well, I asked him your question and then he got all angry with me and asked me to create a new proposal with a bigger discount.” I’m like, “That’s not usually the reaction we get, why did he get mad?” He said, “He said he’d let me know when he was ready to buy and he was mad that we hadn’t already offered our best price.” I said, “Wait a minute, he immediately assumed that ‘something special’ meant a discount? That’s strange.” He goes, “Yes, now I’ve got to go create a new proposal” and he runs off.

It just so happened that we were testing a new phone system that would let us audit calls for coaching systems. You’re thinking what I’m thinking, right, Fred? I’m like, “I’m going to go listen to that call.” Here’s what I found, instead of asking, “Does it makes sense for me to see if we can do something special?” He says, “If you’ll sign before the end of the quarter, I can get you a bigger discount.” That is utterly and completely different than what I had instructed to say, I actually even had him write down the phrase. In effect, what he was saying is, “Will you sign by the end of the quarter if I give you a discount?” and guys, that makes the question about the action rather than the timing, that’s a big deal. So I continued to listen to this conversation and I heard the guy say, “I haven’t even given the proposal I have now, which was supposed to be your best and final proposal, passed to our board yet and they don’t meet until the 15th of next month.”

By changing the question, my rep put this prospect in a difficult position and that’s the thing that made him angry. He didn’t say it on the call but I could tell he thought it was going to be impossible for him to pull together a board meeting in the next two days for some kind of impromptu meeting. I could also tell that he wanted the solution, it was really just a question of the timing and that’s why I say timing issues are not pricing issues, they’re not the same thing. When I’m talking to my rep afterwards, I’m coaching him and I say, “Why did you change the question so dramatically even after I had you write it down?” Here’s what he said and it’s the point of this whole story, he thought he was speeding up the process by changing what was going to be a two-step process – ask about the timing, then ask about the concession, something special – and he tried to simplify that down to a single question, “Will you buy if I give you a discount?” That’s the contrast that I wanted to share.

What can we learn from this? First, asking about the timing of a possible action is really very different than asking directly for that action. It gets a different response, it feels emotionally very different. Second, The Perfect Close is a two-question, two-step process. Sometimes you will only need one question but trying to be efficient and shortcutting the process typically backfires. At the very least, it’s going to reintroduce all of the negative risks and the ramifications of a direct close and eliminates all the benefits of The Perfect Close. Just be patient, your client is going to let you ask a second question, they’re not going to suddenly stop talking to you. Last, I would just recommend especially with this ‘something special’ variation, just stick to the recommended phraseology at first. There’s really plenty of room in this for you to customize it and tailor it to your own style, I encourage you to do that but before you do, have a clear understanding of how it’s actually working so you don’t end up doing what my rep did.

Let’s wrap this up. The ‘something special’ variation accomplishes three really important things, I’m trying to remember the name of the person that asked that question, Fred, hopefully I’m delivering on your question here. That is that first, it doesn’t telegraph any kind of concession or the size of that concession, it does reveal whether the client is actually able to do something within our suggested time frame without having to telegraph what that concession is going to be. Lastly, it positions us as an advocate, we’re doing this on their behalf, we’re trying to help them.

If you’ve ever found yourself on this end-of-quarter roller coaster that I was on, publicly traded companies tend to have this problem where we’re getting towards the end of the quarter, revenue is not where we want it to be so we start pulling out all stops to try to get this stuff happening. We get on this roller coaster where every single quarter we’re doing this exact same behavior to try to accelerate the timing of the deal. What this will do is this will help you preserve your margins and when you go into the next quarter you’ll automatically be giving the discounts that you offered to everybody in the previous one. If you’ve ever been on that roller coaster, you’ll appreciate how this preserves both your revenues and your commissions.

Fred, everybody always asks for those models [laughs] I’ve done this enough time, so if you would like a copy of all those models you can just go to puremuir.com/resources. They’re right there for you for free, there’s a whole bundle right there that includes all the models that we talked about today and actually a whole lot more stuff in there. With that, we can take any questions that you might have gotten from the group.

Fred Diamond: If you could go back to the slide where you list the question, I think that’s the home run here.

James Muir: The ‘something special’ question?

Fred Diamond: Yes, let’s just leave that up for a few moments here. I want to remind all the people who are watching who are IES members, James went through a lot of content real quickly, all of our past webinars and every past speaker we’ve ever had is available behind a secure firewall on our Wistia site. If you want to watch this presentation again, it’s up on Wistia, we’ll pop it up today.

During the challenging time that we’re in right now, we’re doing today’s interview on December 11th, a lot of the models are flipped upside down where our customer is really faced with three things. They’re faced with getting past COVID, they’re faced with getting past the financial challenges related to COVID and then whatever the third thing might be that they’re dealing with internally. You talked about Neil Rackham before, Neil famously said that sales is all about value creation so we have to be creating more value than ever before with our customers. Thinking about what most people think closing means is really not going to put you in a great position with your customer who is probably going through the biggest challenge that they’ve ever faced because everybody on the planet is going through those challenges right now. The ‘something special’ is a great way to show not just that you’re bringing them value but that you’re empathetic, that you’re putting their needs ahead of your needs and that you’re really thinking. One of our guests just chimed in here, “It’s really all about the customer.” It’s always been about the customer but even more so now it’s been about the customer.

James, I want to thank you again for all the great work you’ve done. I’m not sure if you really know this or not, but you’ve provided so much value to tens of thousands of sales professionals around the globe. I have my copy of the book here, The Perfect Close Workbook, there’s so many great checklists and things to fill out, it’s one of the smartest designed books out there for sales professionals to think through where they are with the customer, where they need to go next putting the customer first. I want to acknowledge you for all the great work you’ve done for salespeople around the globe. You’ve given us so much great information, it’s been very quick. Kevin said, “Thank you for the enlightening us, this will be extremely useful.” A lot of people are chiming in here, “This was great”, “Thanks for the great information”, Kevin says, “All the best.” Joey says, “This was great, good use of time.” Billy says, “Lots of crisp information.” Josie, who comes on every single day says this was great.

James, as we like to tell everybody before we end, give us one action step that people can do today, December 11th, if they’re listening in the future to the Sales Game Changers podcast, just tell us something they must do today. You know what I would do? I would get that ‘something special’ statement and I would get a T-shirt made or something.

James Muir: [Laughs]

Fred Diamond: I don’t know if you have posters made, that’s like one of those, “Life is good” type things that people should be wearing every single day. Chris says, “Thank you, I was partially doing this, now I’m doing this better.” Give us an action step here, one thing specifically.

James Muir: Let me give you something you can do with your pre-call planning that ties into what you just learned. Pre-call planning is not that complicated, you can simplify it down to just three questions you should ask yourself before you go in. First of all, “Why should this customer see me?” That’s the valid business reason for them to meet with you so instead of winging it, just give it a little thought, it basically speaks to your value proposition. The second question you should ask yourself is, “What do I want the customer to do?” That’s what you just learned, you just learned that you need to have an ideal advance and a couple of backup advances and then now you know how to ask for them at the right time.

The last is, “How can I add value on this encounter?” The reason you need to do that is that because of the internet, people can get all the information they need from us now so it’s important that we as salespeople are adding some value in addition. We need to make the sales call itself inherently valuable. Sometimes this scenario happens when you send a proposal to somebody, I hear this all the time, they email a proposal and then the customer goes silent. If you think about why that’s happening, what’s happening is the customer thinks they’ve got the last valuable piece of information from you so they don’t need you anymore so there’s no reason for the talk. What that means is you haven’t really been delivering value throughout the sales process so it’s really important that you think a little bit.

In the workbook and in the book I give you some ideas, there’s really seven main ways that you can add inherent value to your sales call so that when they go they’re grateful to have met with you. What will happen is even if there is a problem with your proposal or something like that, they’ll still keep coming back to you because you’re adding value, they like every experience that they have with you. There’s some science around it and we won’t have time to go through that now but I’m just going to say do your pre-call planning, it’s not that complicated. Basically, “Why should this customer meet with me? What do I want the customer to do?” and, “How can I add value on this call?” If you do that today, this time that you’ve spent with us on this call will be worth a thousand times the time that you just put into it because your calls will be so much more effective.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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