Ask Straight Up — and Close the Deal

by John Baker

Most salespeople, when it comes down to it, are downright scared of being direct and to the point and telling people in no uncertain terms, “Here’s what I want!”

Think about it. There’s a conspiracy that encourages people to bury their most important wants and desires. Marketing trainers use consultative selling to draw people out. Social media consultants say, “Selling directly is suicide!” People hem and haw, and they even are afraid to ask what they most want to. They feel vulnerable about being honest and up-front. It petrifies even the best of us!

Yet when it comes to being successful in business, being frank, open and clearly asking people to give you what you want is what wins the day. In fact, I believe the world would be a better place if marketers were totally up front and said, “I’m selling windows today; are you buying?”

Several years studying the fears and trepidation people demonstrate in situations across the whole spectrum of human interactions has shown me that most people do not know the best way to get what they want. Yet my documented observations of the tactics and strategies of people who were getting exactly what they were after has resulted in a discovery that is absolutely earth-shattering in simplicity: The most successful people ask for what they want. Then they give the three very best reasons that explain why it makes perfect sense to say yes.

Consider the case of a salesperson who has met with the client and properly identified the needs and tailored a solution that meets the clients’ needs as well as budget. What happens all too often is, after the meeting is complete, the salesperson thanks the client and says he will follow up with him in a few days.

Even experienced salespeople, young and old, are often stumped over asking someone for the order. They stumble and bumble their way through touchy-feely talk about their hobbies, the weather, their pets, family or weekend plans — anything but what they are really after.

Oh sure, all sorts of experts emphasize the importance of building a relationship, or drawing out the prospect, or listening for buying clues, and any number of other items, but the crucial, bottom-line issue is, they never get around to asking the big question. Yet the quickest and best way to ask for the order is to go right up to the person and say, “Would you do this for you? You’ll see what you want happen. You’ll be able to do this and get to do that, and I’ll have it to you by specified date … within your budget. Guaranteed.”

It is crucial to identify the exact most important request, and brainstorm before deciding on the best reasons. Each reason needs to be carefully selected from a larger number of options and be backed by three important facts.

By far the best reasons are “emotional verbatims”: something a client or prospect has said that sheds light on the underlying motivations they have to grant what the salesperson is asking for. When making the request, the salesperson should take the opportunity to remind his audience of both what they said in the past and, more importantly, help them remember the emotions they attached to it. For example: “I remember when you told me that on-time delivery was a critical success factor for you. I recall how angry you were when you told me that the prior service provider constantly missed deadline; you said it really made you look bad in front of your boss. That’s not going to happen with us. We’re the industry’s leader in on-time delivery. We have a 100-percent-money-back guarantee. And 100 percent of our clients will back up our claim.”

Often, salespeople get tripped up when a prospect asks about price, but rarely does price carry any emotional baggage and rarely is it a best reason. By focusing on price, the salesperson allows the conversation to be commodity-based. Carefully choosing a best reason that appeals to an underlying emotional response gets things done and decisions made.

When an “emotional verbatim” isn’t available, sales professionals can use the power of research to derive a best reason. This could be as easy as quoting from recent press coverage or a CEO letter to the shareholders. I trained my salespeople to walk over to the Mission and Values statement hanging on every prospect’s office wall, point to the document and say, “Right here, you state that your organization’s No. one asset is its employees. We agree. Our firm is committed to a one-and-done call standard where 100 percent of your employees’ issues are completed satisfied in the first call. None of our competitors can claim this standard, but we feel that’s how your most important asset should be treated.”

A best reason needs to answer the question, “Why would this individual want to give me what I am asking for?” Brainstorming may suggest that your industry-leading technology platform gives you a competitive advantage, but if your prospect couldn’t care less about it, it’s not a best reason.

It’s about that easy, and the power of this strategy is more than a little amazing. This method is proven successful in penetrating difficult accounts; closing difficult sales calls; shortening a sales cycle; protecting price margins; reducing meeting time; speeding up Powerpoint presentations; and structuring personnel reviews, sales letters, company communications with suppliers, corporate memos and even e-mail messages.

What’s more, it is proven to be quite helpful in corporate and business personal interactions with personnel, especially with supervisors and staff.

And it really helps if you put your money where your mouth is: “Director, let’s implement the plan as follows. We’ve got this and that for an entrée, and it addresses the crucial factors like this. It will improve how things operate like this, and we’ll even make sure that it all happens by closing!” Conversations are clearer and there is less misunderstanding, and I earn a lot of points for being thoughtful.

There are three key rules to this formula: Only offer information that is meaningful; the rest is trivial. Get to the point and ask for what it is you want. Be quick about it.

Building a relationship is great, but overdoing it creates a nuisance. The biggest problem with consultative selling, for example, is that it gets in the way of the selling. It’s technique overload. It targets intimacy over decorum. It allows for procrastination. It enables salespeople to avoid rejection. After all, a salesperson who is busy probing the needs of the prospect doesn’t have to risk asking for the sale.

Imagine a vendor at a ballpark consultatively selling a hot dog: “On a 1-to-10 scale, rate your level of discomfort with your hunger.” “Tell me your main objective with the hot dog.” “When you had a hot dog before, how satisfied were you with the mustard-and-ketchup ratio?”

Isn’t he more effective when he just yells, “Hot dogs, hot dogs, come and get your hot dogs!”

John Baker has held top leadership positions in sales, client service and operations in Fortune 25 companies for more than 25 years. A member of the National Speakers Association, Baker is a noted speaker on topics of leadership, leader development and building winning organizations. His book The Asking Formula – Ask For What You Want And Get It, is based on his Asking Formula workshops and consulting practices.

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