THE CLOSER'S INITIAL APPROACH TO THECUSTOMER: FIVE ESSENTIAL STEPS

1. Approach and Handshake.

When a closer first sees his customer he should walk directly to him in a controlled, poised and confident manner. (Note: Never carry anything in hand when first approaching a customer, such as a pen, brochure, or any other type of sales material. This will only put the customer on the defensive.) When the closer says his first greeting, he should give a quick look at every person in the customer's party, out of courtesy and respect.

The closer should shake hands firmly and pleasantly with the customer, and look him straight in the eye. Do not use any old handshake tricks. When one salesman friend of mine shakes hands he gives a slight pull toward himself, throwing the customer a little off balance. He feels this maneuver gives him some edge of control over the customer from the beginning. It's a cute trick that works sometimes, but in most cases his customers are offended and suspect that he is tricky and not to be fully trusted.

After the handshake the most important thing to do is get the customer relaxed so he can feel comfortable and at ease around the closer. This has to be accomplished if the closer wants the customer to be attentive during his sales presentation.

2. Getting Immediate Control of the Customer.

There is a vitally important moment after the first handshake when the closer can take direct and instant control of the customer, without the customer even realizing what is happening. That moment is crucially important to the success of the sale.

Right after the first handshake and general exchange of greetings, the closer must move his customer to another location — a different closing room, or even another desk. If a closer walks up to a customer, shakes hands and proceeds to give his initial sales pitch, he will lose control of the sales situation almost every time because the customer has picked his own battleground; he has decided where to stand or sit, either in his own home or in a sales office or on a sales lot. The customer has established his position, and is ready and waiting for the closer (at least he thinks he is).

If this sounds silly then you haven't sold much, because this is the way a customer actually feels. The customer is in strange territory when dealing with the closer in the closer's office, store or lot. Once a conversation starts the customer begins to feel he is in control. When the closer moves the customer to a new location, the customer's game plan is thrown off balance. (He simply does not expect anyone to ask him to move after he begins talking in a perfectly good spot.) This relocation will confuse and disorient the customer for a minute — enough time for the closer to take charge.

This moving trick has to be done politely, smoothly and courteously to work. The closer can relocate his customer by saying, “Let's find a better place to talk than this, it's too noisy in here,” or “This office is not private enough.” Any excuse that shows concern for the customer will work.

Once the move is made the closer should make the customer feel comfortable and relaxed again, or he will be right back where he started, with a defensive and uncontrolled customer. Many closers have overlooked this controlling tactic and for that reason many sales have been lost. The closer must gain control of the customer from the beginning, and this maneuver will do it.

Diagram A

THE CLOSER'S INITIAL APPROACH TO THECUSTOMER: FIVE ESSENTIAL STEPS

3. Seating the Customer in a Sales Office Environment.

The closer should keep this rule in mind when seating his customer: Sit close. The greater the distance between customer and closer the less control the closer will have.

(Note: I'm not talking about a desk where the seating arrangement is obvious, but a closing table where the seating is flexible. It should be pointed out that all desks are barriers between the closer and the customer. The closer should try to eliminate that barrier by sitting at the side of the desk during parts of the sales presentation. This way the closer can get nearer to the customer, and make everyone feel more comfortable.)

There are two ways of seating customers and each way has its good and bad points. These two seating options are explained below:

SEATING ILLUSTRATION A

I. In this seating plan the closer has a big advantage: The closer has placed himself in a central position where he automatically becomes a part of the customer's party — he has joined their family. This seating arrangement also breaks up the bond between customers (that feeling of strength from closeness) and weakens any pre-planned sales defense the customers may have prepared.

Diagram B

THE CLOSER'S INITIAL APPROACH TO THECUSTOMER: FIVE ESSENTIAL STEPS

II. Another advantage is that the closer can equally share his sales presentation, both verbally and on paper, with both customers at the same time. The customers can read and examine sales materials from their positions and the closer can have physical contact with each customer for emphasis without looking awkward. (For example: Touching the arm or hand of the customers, to keep them attentive and alert during the entire sales presentation.)

III. With this seating arrangement the closer can prevent the customers from communicating through discreet contact with one another (whispering, nudging). Without such gestures or signals between the customers, the closer will have much more control over the sales presentation, and will be able to keep the customers off balance (because now the customers' prearranged signals are useless). These advantages will work best for the closer if he sits in the middle of the opponents' camp.

SEATING ILLUSTRATION B

I. The main advantage of this seating arrangement is that the closer can maintain eye contact with everyone in the customer's party, at just about the same time. This is the only legitimate excuse for sitting in this manner.

II. There are several disadvantages to this seating arrangement. For example: The customers can see what is going on behind the closer and that activity could hurt a sale and the closer would never know why. The unseen distraction could not interfere with a group seated in Illustration A because the closer will always have controlled eye contact, and can see everything the customers see.

III. In this seating plan the customers can nudge each other and make unseen contact, exchanging pre-planned signals that the closer may be totally unaware of.

IV. In Arrangement B the closer is not a part of the customer's family as he is in Arrangement A. In addition, the closing table becomes a barrier, putting more distance between the closer and the customers and creating a two-against-one environment. In other words, the closer is on one side of the table talking to the customers, not in between the customers talking with them. There is a big difference, and the closer had better realize it.

The sharp closer plans his seating arrangement to allow him to have maximum visual and physical contact with the customers. The key rule is: “Distance is a barrier.”

4. Three-Step introduction.

This is a great approach every closer should know. The technique will make customers feel like old friends just minutes after the first greeting. Not many closers use this approach because it is not well known, but believe me, it's fantastic and really does work. This is how it is done:

Step 1. When you (the closer) meet your customers, after the handshake greeting and relocation maneuver, tell them you have to go check on something (a phone call, your inventory, etc.) and ask them to relax and help themselves to some coffee. Then leave them for a few minutes.

(Note: Let the customers get their own coffee, try to avoid getting the coffee for them unless they are elderly. If you get coffee for them you may strike some suspicious types as a “smoothey” trying to get their guard down, making them even more difficult to close. You are also putting yourself in a subservient position and the customers may begin to feel they are in complete control.)

Step 2. After you have been away from the customers for a few minutes, go back to them and sit down for a minute. Ask the buyers a couple of easy, relaxed questions such as: “Where are you from?” “What kind of business are you in?” “Is this your whole family?” Listen to the answers with interest and excuse yourself again for some believable reason (you're going to get yourself some coffee, etc.) and leave. This ends your second meeting with the customer.

Step 3. After you have been away a minute or two (or even longer, if you think the Syouknow. The customers need more time to relax or more time to get accustomed to the environment) go back to your customers and start the sales presentation. This will be your third meeting with the customers and they will actually feel as though they know you by this time. This ends your third meeting with the customer.

Now I'll explain what took place during the three-step introduction. Initially customers are on guard and have built a defense shield around themselves to skeptically view all sales presentations (especially those from strangers). When the closer first excuses himself, letting the customers get some coffee and relax a little, that defensive shield starts to weaken because the expected sales pressure is not present.

In Step 2, the closer comes back to the customers and asks some general questions, and then leaves again. The customers' defensive shield is weakened even more because the customers get to know the closer from these brief conversations and have some breathing room in between.

By Step 3, when the closer approaches for the third time the customers have had time to observe the closer, nearby and from a distance so they feel they now know him much better. (That protective defensive shield really starts to come down at this point.) The customers have also had time to begin to like the closer, feeling that he is their representative, responsible and caring for them.

Now the closer can make his sales presentation in a relaxed and comfortable manner, with an atmosphere that is pleasant both for himself, and for the customers.

The three-step introduction works if it is used properly. I have seen many closers start right in on their sales presentations without giving the customers any kind of breathing room. This loses sales. The closer has to defuse the customers and get that protective shield lowered if he wants more sales.

I have to say it one more time: The three-step introduction will do the job, everytime. (Note: When the closer is away from the customers he will have more time to analyze and observe them.) The three-step introduction works for the closer in the same manner it works for the customers.

5. First Meeting Closing Traps (Trap Questions).

There are some easy and fun ways to get a customer committed to buy, right from the very beginning of the conversation. These Trap Questions are powerful weapons that can make a sale before the closer even explains the product. The best way to describe them is to give examples:

A. “Mr. and Mrs. Customer, if I could show you how you could save X number of dollars a day or X number of dollars a month for so many months, and at the end of that period of time I gave you back all your money, plus some extra, would you be interested? Now, remember, no strings attached. If I could show you the way it worked, would you be interested?” (Note: The customers will give an answer, but first they will try to ask questions about any strings attached and what they have to do, etc. The closer should ignore these questions and keep saying, “Don't think about that now, but if I could show you the way it works, would you do it? Could you save that much a month to do it?”)

The customers will nearly always say “Yes.” Now the closer has received Shaswana commitment and can use this affirmative answer later against them if he has to. The customers will trap themselves almost every time, if this question is presented properly and with sincerity.

B. “Mr. and Mrs. Customer, let me ask you a question. If I could show you a way to insure your family's future and give you total peace of mind concerning your children's future education, would you be willing to save X number of dollars? If I could completely convince you, would you be a little interested?”

C. “Mr. and Mrs. Customer, would you like to have the very best product for the least amount of money possible? And to know in your heart that you're getting the best service with that product, would you be interested? Just tell me the truth — if it was that clear-cut and simple, would you?”

These three examples of initial Trap Questions illustrate a few of the avenues a closer can use to get the initial affirmative commitment from the customers. They do work. But they have to be delivered lightly, in a soft, sincere and relaxed manner so they don't scare the customers off. The affirmative answer tricked out of the customer will be light and easygoing also, but it can be turned into an unexpected commitment later on by the closer. The customers are not aware of the impending trap and will stay attentive during the sales pitch because they will be curious about the closer's provocative and tricky question.

The closer's next move, after he has received an affirmative answer is to drop the subject of his Trap Question and continue with his regular sales presentation.

A good way for the closer to get from the Trap Question back to his basic sales pitch is illustrated by this example:

“Mr. and Mrs. Customer, all right, let's forget about what I just said for now and let me explain to you how it really works …”

These traps are great tools to get the attention, curiosity and involvement of the customers from the beginning. The closer can devise any kind of Trap Question he thinks will work but he has to ask it gently and sincerely. The trap won't be effective if the customers think it is a joke.

Before we go on to our next topic concerning the first meeting, we should take a look at a summary chart that puts the initial approach to the customer into proper perspective.

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