Chances are you’re using a pipeline to manage your opportunities, and that pipeline includes several stages between lead qualification and verbal approval. Chances also are that you equate this middle section of your pipeline with making a presentation.  I can’t blame you because many of our education customers try to narrow our access to them down to just a presentation.  This is one time we can’t give the customer what they want.  Anytime you write a prescription before diagnosing the problem it’s bad medicine.  We need to conduct a complete sales process during these middle stages to expertly guide customers through their decision-making process and thereby set them up for success.

Moving a qualified lead through to approval is a courtship; the growing romance from first date to the altar.  Missteps like talking about yourself too much, not caring about the other person’s needs or even proposing too soon are going to end that courtship.  But the odds are definitely in your favor at this point.  Something sounded reasonable enough to get that admin to give you 20 minutes of their valuable time, and that something is probably quite a bit deeper than your clever repartee on a cold call. They’ve probably checked out your website, product videos and possibly have already gotten a positive reference for your solution from a colleague. Prospects that land in the mid-section of your pipeline are pretty serious about seeing the relationship take its course.

Seeing as this is fertile ground, small improvements here yield big sales growth. Just going from a close rate of 2 in 10 schools to 4 in 10 schools DOUBLES your sales. So let’s not “yadda, yadda, yadda” the steps we take from qualified lead to approval. Use a formal closing process like this one to make the most of every qualified lead you land.

Closing Step 1 – Needs assessment

Every rep has the best intention of diagnosing a district’s need in a sales conversation, but when the lights go on at the actual event, they start with something lame like, “So how did you hear about us?” and then dive right into their presentation. AGHHHH! That approach wouldn’t make for a great first date, nor does it work in winning over educators. They are the star of the sales meeting, not you or your product. Get them talking about their goals, their particular mix of technology, curriculum and assessment programs, and their high priority needs.

Here are a few tricks:

  • Create a formal list of “Tell Me’s” that you need to ask every customer. Hint: these should include not only uncovering their objectives, but who all the decision-makers are, their budgeting process, their purchasing process, and their time frame for solving these objectives.
  • Get several of your questions out of the way before your first meeting. You can do this in an email confirming the appointment. Keep it to no more than 3 pre-meeting questions or it will feel like a chore to the prospect. “To help me prepare, can you tell me a little about your existing assessment tools?”
  • Open your meeting by pulling out your partially completed list of Tell Me’s and confirm those bits. Now say, “Could you tell me more about [next Tell Me.]
  • If you get stuck in your question asking process, “And how do you feel about that?” is an awesome recovery question.
  • Conclude your needs assessment by confirming the information you’ve ingested. “Let me just confirm back what we’ve discussed are your high priority needs….” They may add something or simply agree.

Closing Step 2– Solution

Only when all of the above has happened are you in a position to talk about your offering. I hope you were listening because here’s your chance to impress. You can now hand-tailor a few short statements that zero in on how your program meets their highest priority needs. Your goal is to move the customer into the next part of the buying process which is to gain consensus from their stakeholders in some form of formal evaluation. Once you establish a commitment to seriously look at your product, there are a couple more things you can do to increase your closing odds.

You want the prospect to start thinking about sustainable funding and an implementation plan to support this purchase. There are no greater buying signs in education than securing those two elements. You don’t want to ask about them if they have not yet agreed that your solution meets their high priority need, so timing varies. It might be after objections are presented and overcome, or after a formal evaluation. When you know they are seriously considering a purchase, open the floor to funding and implementation. How specifically your buyer responds to these two topics tells you not only how high the probability of closing is, it will give you an expected purchase date.

Closing Step 3 – Formal evaluation

Once you’ve presented an overview of your solution, the normal order of things should be that more stakeholders (already identified in the needs assessment) are going to formally evaluate your offering. Sometimes you need to coach the buyer that this is the next step. Just taking a sample or a trial login and that cuts YOU out of the evaluation process is a bad idea.

  • Establish a standard evaluation process for your solution which involves you. (See some ideas in “Closing Through Consensus.”) Don’t try to skimp on this stage because of the effort involved. You want a very detailed hands-on review of your solution by the key decision-makers. The length of the evaluation should be limited, but the depth of the experience should not.
  • As part of the pilot, sample review, visit to an existing client or other evaluation steps, set a follow up meeting to gather feedback. Make it pleasantly clear that this is a mandatory step for the evaluation to take place. Give the prospect a rubric or evaluation sheet which is based on their needs assessment to “grade” your solution.  This is pretty much your agenda for the follow up meeting.
  • Manage the evaluation with every tool you’ve got. Offer to handle scheduling, collateral, running webinars, rubrics and surveys. Track and verify that the evaluation steps you can’t see are actually taking place.
  • Use the follow up meeting to review findings and establish that the solution delivered on meeting their high priority needs. They might not have liked every feature, but if their highest priority need is met, you’re closer to the altar.

Closing Step 4 – Ask for the sale

B2E reps kind of despise asking for the sale. Here we are having this lofty, idealistic conversation about improving educational outcomes and then we have to go and ruin it by asking for money. Focusing on “when” rather than “if” while asking for the sale that might not make your stomach churn as badly while doing it.

  • “Sarah, your students are the exact users we had in mind when we designed our solution and we would love to have you on board. When can we make that happen?”
  • “Do you think our solution meets your need to [their need]? That’s great, when can we get started?”

Or the “paperwork.”

  • “I think we agree this solution can meet your need to [their need]. If so, are you ready to begin on the paperwork?”
  • “It looks like we have a good solution figured out for your students here. Shall we begin the paperwork?”

Now that you know the big closing steps, make sure you track the completion of them for each of the opportunities in your pipeline. Start thinking about how each of them contributes to your win percentage. Knowing what their worth is in wins will encourage you to follow through!

2 thoughts on “Closing is a Process, not a Sentence

  1. Closing step 1 is so key!! I see many reps who skip this step completely. Show up and throw up time is over. I have used a list of questions with every customer and even have them when I travel with reps. It’s difficult to come up with a solution if you don’t know the problem.

  2. Re: Step 1- do your homework. Districts often put out massive documents describing a technology plan, or a school improvement plan. Many of these documents are not actively in use, but rather lay out a philosophy of an approach at a given time in the district’s development. However, there can be key nuggets in there that will tell you about what is important to the folks with whom you are meeting.

    Also, just click around the district website, and you’ll get a sense for the priorities. For example, a district concerned with the achievement gap will certainly have a blog post from the supe or an initiative that gets announced on the website.

    Also make sure you know a bit about the people with whom you are meeting. Many district leaders have Twitter feeds and LinkedIn Profiles, and I find more and more are willing to be connected via these social media tools these days. This only serves to increase communication across the vendor/district line of demarcation, which improves everybody’s ability to improve solutions for kids.

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