Three years ago, a salesperson—we’ll call him Salesman X—came to work for a roofing and siding company in the South. He had experience working for another company in another city, but his training at the first company consisted of ride alongs with members of its sales team. No classroom instruction, no role-playing, no standardized sales system. He learned a lot, he says, but every guy he rode with had his own way of doing things. He took a little from one person, and a little from another.
So when he went to work for the new company, the first thing management did was send him to a one-week long sales training course in another state. In his first year, he closed about 20 percent of leads. By the end of the third, he was closing at 30 percent. What happened? “They teach you to always ask for the business every time,” he says. “And I was shy about it.”
If asking for the sale—closing—makes that much difference, why doesn’t every home improvement salesperson do it?
Timidity explains some of it, but there’s also the fact that closing is nowhere near as simple as it might seem. You can ask all you want but if customers aren’t in that mental place yet, you’re talking to the wall.
Sales experts offer various definitions of the term. Business Dictionary, for instance, Business Dictionary defines closing as the “final stage in a selling presentation where a salesperson asks for a buyer’s order or commitment to buy.” Blogger Adam Wiggins at HubSpot notes that “closing is a make-or-break moment in sales. It’s the final verdict determining whether or not your efforts will amount to anything at all.”
In other words, a lot has to happen before you get to the point where you ask for the business. You can’t close if the door’s not open. This is why virtually all the best and most widely practiced sales systems used by home improvement companies have the salesperson moving through a series of steps, the last of which is the much-vaunted close. “Salespeople need to earn the right to close a prospect,” says Bill Bartlett of Sandler, a company that’s trained many remodeling salespeople. ”We earn this right when the prospect has a high degree of confidence in the salesperson, is aware of their current situation and has enough knowledge to make an intelligent buying decision.”
Typically these steps involve establishing rapport, identifying what the house/prospect needs, developing a solution to those needs and then convincing the prospect to take action now. That sounds simple and reasonable. But take just the first of those steps, rapport. You’ll get nowhere without it. “Creating rapport at the beginning of a conversation with somebody new will often make the outcome of the conversation more positive,” notes Skills You Need. Especially if it’s a sales conversation.
Rapport building happens by means of questions that are “personalized…unique…appropriate” and, just as importantly, by intent listening. Lots of definitions exist—common ground, harmonious flow, etc.—but essentially it’s a human connection from which trust flows and building it is, according to the Richardson Selling System, “a strategic skill and process that takes forethought and preparation and could take on a life of its own.” Kirk Heiner, a sales trainer and success coach to the kitchen and bath industry, insists that rapport is the key to selling and says: “Most buying decisions are NOT about price.” Even if the ultimate final objection is most often a price objection, that masks deeper, unspoken concerns or unresolved issues.
Drawing Out Hidden Objections
That’s the other key part of the process. Identifying those issues well before closing, a skill involving considerable finesse. “Our job is to lower resistance over time,” notes sales trainer Victor Antonio of Sellinger Group.
“Maybe the customer has a need, but then there are people who don’t know that they need it,” he says. “Our job is to make them aware that they need it…to demonstrate why they need it. Just because they need it doesn’t mean they’ll buy it.”
Oftentimes, home improvement salespeople (or company owners who sell) encounter an objection and, having no quick comeback, falter.
“When someone presents you with an objection, follow it up with a question to keep them talking,” advises trainer John Michael Morgan, “until they reveal the hidden reason. Phrases such as ‘what else?’ and ‘in addition to that…’ and the simple but powerful ‘why?’” Continue to ask questions until all objections are out on the table. During this process, listen. They will tell you everything you need to know to make the sale.”
They Will Tell You
Certainly there’s no shortage of advice when it comes to closing and how to accomplish it effectively. “There are many ways to close a sale,” writes Thomas Phelps, “and each technique has its own value and ‘time and place’ to be effective. But for the confused sales professional or those new to sales, knowing one closing technique, and mastering it, might be all that is truly needed.”
A common one, and effective enough in home improvement selling, goes something like this:
“John and Mary, when would you like us to get started?” (or) “When can we put you on the schedule?”
The whole point of closing comes down to getting the prospect to make a decision. A close turns the pressure up. How high that pressure needs to be is a decision intuitively arrived at, based on every reading of the prospect right up that moment. But still, is it yes or no?
Salesman X said he found out success in selling is “a combination of the two: you have to have a likeable demeanor or you can’t gain a homeowner’s trust, and you have to have the drive,” which means “making the most out of every minute of every day, knowing the products inside and out, being able to differentiate your company from competitors, and how to overcome objections.” In other words, mastering every part of a system. And when all that’s happened, “you just have to force yourself to do it. They will tell you how to sell.”