Here's how to make a great closing argument and avoid the many pitfalls that can result in lost sales and a lost opportunity for your customers.
I read somewhere, years ago, that the worst thing a “closer” can do is “have Dollar Signs in his eyes”. Or worse, wear a look of desperation that says, “If I don’t get this deal, I’m getting out of sales!”
Now that we’ve gotten that admonition out of the way, allow me to briefly repeat a few things from previous articles in this series. The Closing step, although usually listed as the final step of the sale, really begins with the Meet and Greet step. What this means is that if the RSA does not get the Greeting, the Qualifying, the Selection, and the Presentation performed correctly, trying to actually close the sale is probably a waste of time.
However, for the sake of brevity and to achieve the objective of this article, we must assume that the would-be customer has been encountered by a competent Retail Sales Associate (RSA) who has performed all previous steps of the sale in a professional manner.
The Closing Argument
The term “closing argument” is usually associated with courtroom protocol. In a court of law, each lawyer presents his closing argument to the judge and jury AFTER the presentation of evidence. This “closing argument” term is also useful, I think, when describing the conversation between the salesperson and the prospective customer. During, and especially after the first four steps of the sale, the RSA acts as one of the lawyers; with the customer acting as the other lawyer. Remember what lawyers do when they hear what they consider to be an improperly prepared argument. They object.
And, that is what customers do as well. Not only are they the lawyer, they also decide the verdict. Will it be a sale or no sale? Along the way they raise objections to the RSA’s statements and persuasions. The customer, then, is judge, jury and the counsel of the opposing viewpoint, which is to reject offers made by the RSA to buy.
One of the problems for RSAs in this drama is to correctly determine exactly WHO is the opposing counsel? He or she must ask, “Am I directing my argument to the correct party who is going to make the final decision (the verdict), or to some meaningless surrogate?” Of course, this is something RSAs should have figured out long before closing arguments begin.
Unlike a courtroom proceeding, however, the sales closing argument may be revised and repeated (by the RSA) over and over until the desired verdict is reached. To accomplish that feat, the RSA must answer each objection satisfactorily or the sale will be lost. For more reading material on how to overcome objections, see two articles on this topic at https://www.furninfo.com/Authors/David%20Benbow/37
I’d like, however, to draw the reader’s attention to another interesting thought. We have observed (probably from all those TV courtroom shows, from Perry Mason to Judge Judy), that in a courtroom, the jury sits in silence. The lawyer does all the talking. Don’t forget, the jury, in a sales encounter as personified by the customer, is probably not doing much talking, either. The lawyer side is talking, but the jury side of the customer is probably playing it pretty close to the vest. How does the RSA, as the attorney for the prosecution, find out how she is influencing the jury’s decision?
That is why it is critical for RSAs to ask questions and to keep asking questions until the final verdict is rendered.
Now, this all sounds rather formal and legalistic, but in real life, it shouldn’t be that way.
Honesty And Sincerity
Groucho Marks, or perhaps George Burns may have said about honesty, “If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” But, the truth is, honesty and sincerity in a Retail Sales Associate is the paint that can cover a thousand flaws, including inexperience. If you don’t know the answer to a customer’s questions, tell the customer that you don’t know, but that you will be glad to consult an expert and find out. The customer should then perceive that he/she has received an honest answer and can confidently wait for an informed one from some remote guru.
Thorough training and preparation is critical to sales success. Training lends the confidence that RSAs need to give customers honest, well-considered answers to any questions. It also has the added benefit of greatly swelling the customer’s opinion of the professionalism and integrity of his attending RSA.
One bad answer can taint an entire sales encounter. That's generally all it takes for an RSA to lose a sale.
The lesson that may be drawn from this discussion is that the RSA must always carefully consider what comes into his head BEFORE it comes out of his mouth.
Know The Competition
John F. Lawhon, in his book Selling Retail, stated that the RSA should know his competition as well as he knows his own store.
Why should the RSA know the competition, you might ask? Here’s the reason. Most shoppers compare products and services before they buy. It’s pretty hard to make a compelling closing argument for your product if you do not know what the competition is offering. I hate to say this, but there is a lot of misleading information out there. How is the customer, who is not a professional buyer, to know the difference?
Offer The Customer An Opportunity To Buy
This one statement sums up the very essence of selling and closing, in my opinion. Most purchases in the modern marketplace are purchases of necessity. Items like groceries, gasoline, rent and insurance need to be purchased to function in the modern world. But how often does a prospective buyer get a real OPPORTUNITY?
What is meant by the word opportunity? As usual, the dictionary does not provide a very satisfactory definition when it comes to the sales cycle.
I think a good definition is something like this. Opportunity is the occurrence of an unusual set of favorable circumstances that offers the purchaser a unique chance to take advantage of those circumstances to improve his life, health and happiness.
What buyer can turn down a genuine opportunity? Opportunity is great, is it not? Who doesn’t want an opportunity? Don’t you think it is easier to sell a great opportunity than to sell a mattress and box springs?
Now, the question becomes, how does the retail establishment (and the RSA) turn the ordinary sale of a mattress and box springs, (or a dinette set, sofa-love, etc.) into an opportunity for the customer? And, make the customer realize and understand that he or she has been offered a genuine opportunity? If you can figure that out, you have learned the secret to sales, and, maybe to life.
Presenting a genuine opportunity for each customer starts with the RSA getting an idea of what the customer might recognize as an opportunity. To get this idea, we ask questions (qualify). Of course, qualifying is an earlier step in the sales process, but as we’ve discussed before, qualifying never really ends. By the time a perceptive RSA reaches the Closing Argument, he or she should have a pretty good idea of what will motivate the customer. With this idea or set of ideas, a plan can be formulated to present an opportunity the customer will enthusiastically embrace.
In a perfect world, the customer would realize that better support, comfort and sleep are the best opportunities. But, it isn’t always easy to translate these obvious sleep benefits into an opportunity that the customer cannot pass up. After all, the other stores in town also offer the same sleep benefits opportunity.
The question for each RSA is, "How does my store set itself apart from the other stores who also offer great products?" This brings us to the concept of URGENCY.
I have heard it said that urgency is the very core idea of the mattress business. “Buy it Today, Sleep on it Tonight!!” has been the theme of a thousand and one sales events. Customers browse through furniture aisles for years, over and over again, getting ideas before ever making a decision. They go to the bedding section one time; they either buy or they don’t buy, and they never come back again.
What does this tell us? When a customer enters that zone of no return, the RSA better be ready to close the deal. The bedding department is NOT on the route of the “be-back bus.”
Urgency works both ways.
1. It is urgent for the RSA and store to close the mattress deal because the customer probably will not be back, no matter what he tells you.
2. One of the best ways to close the deal is to stimulate the “urgency factor” in the customer’s mind.
So, how do we create urgency?
Price And Availability
I’ve known some great retail sales people in the course of my career. One of the best made the following statement after losing a tough deal after a hard closing fight. “It always comes down to price!!”
Now, it doesn’t ALWAYS come down to price, but it does often enough that if you ignore price when considering customer opportunity, you may be making a big mistake.
Let me make a disclaimer at this point. We are getting ready to talk about price and negotiating the price. Please don’t take anything in this article as a suggestion that any store or RSA should or should not negotiate the price with a customer. Many successful stores have a one-price policy and that is fine. Many stores, however, do employ a flexible-price sales policy. So, whether you “deal” with the customer or not, any discussion of urgency without discussing price flexibility would be omitting the discussion of a practice that is widely used in our industry.
An entire book could be written on this subject, but that will have to come later.
Peter Marino, in his book The Golden Rules of Selling Bedding, said, “If all you have going for you is price, there will always be somebody out there who will beat it.” And, he’s right. But price is frequently perceived, especially by men buyers, as THE OPPORTUNITY we’ve been talking about. Some buyers ignore almost every other benefit but the price. They shouldn’t do that, but they are the customer, and can do what they want. Most rational customers, with all other factors being held equal (same feel, same manufacturer, same warranty, similar RSA competence, etc.) will make their decision on price. In fact, I would say that price is the single most important element in the final purchasing decision for most buyers, especially when it comes to bedding.
When a store uses price as a closing technique, it must convince the customer that the price offered is better than any other store’s, for a comparable product. This is not easy to do, unless the customer has visited several other stores, tested comparable sets, and collected prices on each item.
Some stores offer a “best price guarantee.” These offers are usually worded something like this. “If you find a better price on a comparable product anywhere in this town, any time in the next 30 days (or 60 days, or 90 days), just bring in evidence of that price and we will refund the difference to you. That way, you always know you’ve paid the best price, even after you get it in your home.” This has been shown to be an effective closing statement, if delivered with unfeigned sincerity.
Negotiating the price, which almost always means dropping the price, or discounting it, is not an exercise for a neophyte RSA. Effective price negotiating requires experience and skill, because like everything else on the showroom, the price drop has to be SOLD.
Spur of the moment price discounts, coming out of the mouth of an RSA, must be believable. Any price discount should come with a valid reason that the customer can easily understand. Just blurted out with no reason to justify them, price drops make it sound like your prices were too high to start with.
The availability of a product (One of a kind!!... Only three left in stock!!) is another way of creating urgency. Limited availability coupled with a price discount can be a powerful incentive for a customer to perceive an opportunity that won’t ever come again. Of course, this principle of a price discount, limited availability, and limited time is the very essence of the sales event. BIG SALE THIS WEEKEND!! Our entire consumer culture is built around phrases such as, "Big Sale This Weekend Only!" It plants the notion in the buyer’s mind that this opportunity will never come around again.
But, what if you are not having a sale? This very same idea can be used to close sales on non-sale days. You don’t need a sale if you can, every day, effectively use the same principles that were used when they invented THE SALE.
Lest we forget, the point of a sales event is to drive traffic into the store. A strong sales staff (defined as one which does not fall back on the “adv” items and tries to “step up” customers) will take care of the rest.
The Greeter/Closer Concept
This is a sales practice found frequently on car lots. The less experienced sales person greets the customer, hopefully finds a vehicle they like, does a demo drive, draws up a four-square, and perhaps makes a feeble effort to close the sale. After failing to close the sale, the customer is then turned over (TOed) to a Closer. This closer is usually a veteran car salesman with all the experience, techniques and patience to get the customer to sign on the bottom line, no matter how long it takes.
I have rarely ever seen furniture stores use this sales device, though, mattress chains use the turn-over (TO) to great effect. With this idea, the greeter not only greets, but makes every attempt to close the sale, as long as NO price drop has been made. If the customer is about to leave without a price drop and without buying, the greeter then turns the customer over to another sales person or better still, sales manager, and the person receiving the TO becomes the “higher authority” with power to negotiate the price or any other available closing mechanism.
Malpractices To Avoid
Don’t use the “comfort exchange” as a closing argument. This is a really weak technique and it should and will come back to haunt you.
Don’t use warranty as a closing argument. Here are a some examples of abuse.
1. Over-promising warranty coverage: “If anything at all goes wrong, even if it’s been nine years, eleven months and twenty-nine days (on a ten year warranty), you just bring it back and we’ll give you a new one!!”
2. Adding years to your warranty offer: “You say R.O.T. Furniture, down the street, has a 15 year warranty on their mattress? We’ll add another five years onto that.” Try getting a warranty claim on a 16 year old mattress.
3. Neglecting to mention that a competitor's warranty is prorated: “That Big S brand down the street only has a ten year warranty. Our mattress has a twenty-five year warranty. That means it’ll last over twice as long. And, it’s three hundred dollars cheaper!!”
Also, don’t over-promise by telling customers...
- “You’re going to LOVE this mattress!
- “This mattress will NOT get body impressions.”
- “This ten year warranty means your mattress will be just like new ten years from now.”
- “Our delivery men will be at your front door tomorrow morning, nine o’clock sharp.”
A trial close, in my opinion, has a dual purpose. The first purpose is to elicit a response from the customer that will tell the RSA how the sale is progressing. The second purpose, less often considered in sales training, is to spur the customer into thinking about actually making the purchase. For example:
1. “Will you need your mattress delivered, or do you prefer to pick it up?” This question makes the “assumptive close.” A positive response gives more promise of a happy conclusion, and it reminds the customer why he came in to begin with. Strange as it may sound, some customers only become buyers when the salesperson reminds them, in a tactful way, that buying is the whole point of their visit.
2. “Do you like this bed better than any other you’ve seen so far?” This is a powerful trial close. A positive answer may crystallize in the customer’s mind what was only a vague idea before the question was asked. “Yes, as a matter of fact, this is the one I like the best.”
Summary And Conclusion
When it comes to closing the sale, there is really no end to the discussion. There is much more that could be said, but if you only come away with a single idea from this article, it's the importance of offering customer's an opportunity to buy. Who doesn’t love an opportunity? And also regret missed opportunities? I think most people remember their missed opportunities even more. So, don't let the frustration and regret of an unfulfilled promise haunt your customers. Give them the best opportunities to buy.