Best Doughnuts in the World

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I spent the entire holiday season reading about selling. In particular, I read everything I could about closing a sale. No other area of selling seems as popular as closing. More words, more pages and more books are dedicated to closing than any other part of the selling process. During the first few days of my research, I discovered that every author believes he or she alone has the "world's b...

April 01, 2004

I spent the entire holiday season reading about selling. In particular, I read everything I could about closing a sale. No other area of selling seems as popular as closing. More words, more pages and more books are dedicated to closing than any other part of the selling process.

During the first few days of my research, I discovered that every author believes he or she alone has the "world's best close." All of these authors also believe that their close is a sure-fire way to double your sales. I was astounded. The more I read, the more I thought about a story I had heard years ago.

A traveling salesman who had gotten up early to get on the road decided to stop and have something to eat. As luck would have it, he spotted a doughnut shop as he pulled into the next town. "I can't go wrong," he thought. "The sign says, 'Best doughnuts in the state.'" Not one to pass up a good thing, he quickly pulled over and parked. As he walked up to the shop's door, he noticed a sign in the window one store down: "Best doughnuts in the country."

"That's for me," he thought, and he went next
door. But before he got inside, he noticed a sign in a third shop window: "Best doughnuts in the world." This continued shop after shop, each claiming its doughnuts were better than the others. As the salesman neared the end of the street, he spotted one
more sign: "Best doughnuts in the galaxy."

"Finally," he thought, "I've found my doughnut shop." But just as he was about to enter the last shop, he spotted a little trailer with a hand-painted sandwich sign out front. The sign said, "Best doughnuts on this street."

Can all of these sales trainers claim to have a close better than the rest? And can they all have a close that will double your sales? That's for you to decide. In the meantime, I think I can give you the "best advice on this street."

Begin at the Beginning

In two weeks of reading, I learned that every sales trainer believes "closing is king." It was the one area on which they all agreed. And I'm not talking about just the authors outside our industry. I'm talking about authors and trainers inside our industry, too. Here's how you could summarize their philosophies on closing:

1)
Closing must begin as early as possible in the sales process.

2)
You must close as often as possible throughout the selling process (five seems to be the magic number).

3)
The more closing techniques you know, the more you will sell.

4)
Sales success is directly related to closing ability.

Sound familiar? It's what sales trainers have been telling you for the past 10 to 20 years. Their philosophies didn't work then and don't work now. In fact, these are the worst philosophies to use if you're trying to sell homes.

Been Seduced Lately?

Ever wonder why so many people can be seduced so easily into believing that closing is the answer to more sales? There are a couple of interesting reasons. The first has to do with our everyday observations, and the other has to do with our attitude about risk and reward.

Imagine shopping in preparation for a Colorado ski vacation and spotting the coolest ski jacket you've ever seen. On top of this, the sales associate shows you a couple of features that make you even more excited. After three or four trial closes, the associate asks you to buy, and you do.

In this case, the close worked because there was nothing to think about. You liked the ski jacket, and that was enough. If you really like something and it doesn't cost much, a good close works every time.

I've just described what sales researcher Neil Rackham defines as a small sale. His definition is the foundation for our first rule for closing a sale: Closing techniques aren't effective unless your customer perceives that the risk of a bad decision is low.

So if you sell ski jackets, Palm Pilots or cell phones (small sales), you should close as early and often as you can. It will only in-crease your sales success. On the other hand, if you sell new homes (large sales), closing early and often has a completely different effect.

Excitement isn't the problem in a large sale — that comes easily. The problem is that all that matters to customers considering a new home is that their decision makes sense. It's particularly true because so much money is at stake, and it's the reason they always seem to tell you, "We need to think things over."

Customers think things over because they're afraid they might overlook something important. If a customer overlooks something in a large sale, the repercussions can be tremendous. What would happen if you tried to close a sale with a customer who's scared of a bad decision? All of a sudden, you're asking the customer to deal with the pressure of your close and the pressure of a high-risk decision all at once — a bad strategy.

If you want to sell more homes, you need a different approach. You don't want to work on being better at closing, you want to work on being better at making closing easier. That means mastering the skills that will reduce your customers' perception of risk.

Sit, Clarence, Sit

How can so many people be seduced into believing that closing causes
a sale? It's the lure of the reward.

What's the best way to get Clarence, the family dog, to do a new trick? You say, "Sit," push his butt down and give him a treat. And you repeat this sequence over and over until Clarence sits by himself. You know that a quick reward guarantees a quick response. You know that the reward influenced Clarence's behavior. Well, you're no different from Clarence. Rewards influence your behavior, too.

Closing is the only selling behavior immediately reinforced with a reward. This makes most salespeople assume that their closes cause sales and that if they close more, it will cause more sales.

Closing made sense 20 years ago when we didn't know any better, but today we have proof from Rackham's research that it works only if you sell products that cost less than $500. This brings us to our second rule for closing a sale: Closing techniques increase your chance of making a sale with an inexpensive product but reduce the chance of making a sale with an expensive product.

So if you want to sell more homes, quit working so hard on closing techniques and start working on strategies that reduce your customers' perception of risk. This approach will turn even average sales associates into great closers.

Rick Heaston is recognized as the industry's leading expert on selling high-risk products. He provides workshops for builders across the United States and Canada. He can be reached at rheaston@touchpointselling.com.

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