How can I close more deals?

by Sam on February 2, 2010

One-Minute Answer: This question is not going to be answered this week. You see, great salespeople don’t close deals. They help their prospects do that. So the question should read, “How can I get prospects to close more deals?” (But were it stated that way, you might not have opened this email!)


In 1996 I co-authored a book entitled Close the Deal—again, a misnomer for what the 100,000 or so sales professionals who would read it needed to learn. That book was a collaboration with the highly acclaimed Sandler Sales Institute. I teamed with that group because of the intriguing and uncommon approach they took to sales training and development.


This week’s five-minute answer is inspired by just a few of the stimulating Sandler insights that were woven into Close the Deal. A few of my own prescriptions are in there, too. Find one that appeals to you.



Five-Minute Answer:  Some of these are little selling ideas; others are bigger ones. They’re all personal favorites. If only one pays off for you, consider yourself ahead of the game.


1.   Increase your margin.  Margin is the capacity you have to take on one more challenge and to persist with your ideas even in the face of tough times and negativity. It’s the resilience remaining in your fabric that will see you through the next “no.” In his book by the same title, Richard Swenson defines margin as power minus load. It’s already obvious to us that we can increase our margin by reducing our load. So let’s take the less traveled path to building margin by acknowledging that we can expand our power in these ways. Draw on the strength of God’s promise to help those who trust in Him. Eat right. Consider energizing dietary supplements. Exercise. Get good sleep. Associate with positive, encouraging people. Find 30 minutes of “me” time each day. Escape into a hobby now and again.

2.   Stay below 30%.  You sell best with your ears. When you’re listening: (1) you can’t be saying more than you should; (2) you’re learning your prospect’s pain; and (3) you’re encouraging the prospect to feel good about you. Gift to the prospect 70% of the air waves. You’ll like the results!

3.   “Don’t spill your candy in the lobby.”  On a sales call, a CEO I hoped to work with started the conversation with, “I’ve heard good things about your work. How can you help us?” You have no idea how tempting it was for me to tell him! I wanted to empty my briefcase, piling books, workbooks, and testimonies on his desk. I knew I could entertain him with a sneak preview of two dozen workshops his people would love. Then I remembered the advice of David Sandler about what not to do at a movie theater. Agreeing with David that most of the features and benefits I wanted to tout would fall on deaf ears or, even worse, turn the CEO off, I responded, “I don’t know if I can help you, but may I ask you a few questions so we can find out?”

4.   Advance the pain-o-meter.  As you make your proposal, the prospect may well be satisfied and content. You’ll encourage a change of the status quo in your favor only when he/she feels less fit. Ask pain-evoking questions, the answers to which will advance the “pain-o-meter” from well to ill. (“If there’s one improvement you’d like to see made in _________, what would that be?”) Continue probing to advance the feeling from ill to sick. (“What is it costing the company not to have made that improvement?”) Finally, if necessary, advance the needle on the pain-o-meter from sick to critical condition. (And how is it affecting you personally?”) Notice that you’re not creating the pain, only uncovering it. Once the reality of the pain is confronted, prospects will welcome your ideas for soothing it.

5.   Shift into reverse.  Susan Chitty once said, “Never answer a question other than an offer of marriage by saying “yes” or “no.” Reversing is the strategy of transferring back onto prospects the pressure they put on you with challenging questions and statements. It often involves questioning the questioner. The reasons to reverse are to keep prospects talking and to move them closer to their real need or intent, which they almost never do on their own. Consider these examples. (There are many more in Close the Deal.)

Q:  “Do you have a fix for me?”

A:  “What would cause you to call something a fix?”

Q:  “Do you provide communication skills training?”

A:  “What do you want your people to leave this training with?”

Q:  “What’s this going to cost me?”

A:  “What price were you looking for?”

6.   Get little agreements that add up to the big one.  Tag questions like these onto some of the unquestionably acceptable points you make during your 30% of the conversation: “Is that fair?” “Does that make sense?” “How does that sound?” Every “yes” or “good” you elicit will make it more comfortable for your prospect to acquiesce at the end.

7.   Control the pendulum.  Three times in the early days of selling my consulting business I walked out of the room with words like these echoing in my ears: “Sam, this sounds great. I can’t wait for you to work with us.” I was thrilled! Yet, in all cases I never heard back, nor were my phone calls returned. I was confused and disillusioned. Now I know what happened. At the end of those meetings the “pendulum” had swung completely in my favor. Sometime later it did what pendulums do—it swung completely back in the other direction. In other words, something I couldn’t control happened in my absence. Perhaps the big boss nixed the deal. Perhaps it took a while for sticker shock to set in. Perhaps the team I was to work with pushed back. So what did I learn to do? Take charge of the pendulum! These days I swing it back myself while I’m still there so that I can return it to my side before leaving. When I hear, “This looks great!” but don’t get a signature I say, “I’m delighted to hear that, but if there’s one thing that could prevent us from actually working together what might that be?” An answer I recently heard was that the team I would ultimately work with might be skeptical. So I offered to meet with them at no cost before the deal was struck to win them over. I controlled the pendulum and got the job.


Enough Said:  Check out these nuggets of wisdom from the now deceased founder of the Sandler Sales Institute, David Sandler.

“You can’t sell anything to anybody—they must discover they want it.”

“The way to get rid of a bomb is to defuse it before it blows.”

“If your competition does it, stop doing it right away.”

“When your foot hurts, you’re probably standing on your own toe.”

“Salespeople don’t get thrown out they bail out.”

“You don’t learn how to win in sales by getting a yes; you learn how to win by getting a no.”

“Don’t look professional: struggle, struggle, struggle.”

“People buy for their reasons, not yours.”


Let’s Talk:  If you’d like to discuss any of these provocative Sandler-isms, call my cell at (412) 487-2379.


Next Week:  Even in challenging economic times we find ourselves needing to hire new people. What are the best practices of those who seem to have a knack for finding winners? Our question on Wednesday will be, “How can I avoid making a hiring mistake?”

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