Want to close more deals? This is the 1 question you need to ask

by Steli Efti
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How often are your deals derailed by the unexpected?

A prospect says, “We need to run this by legal" or "Technically, procurement has the final sign-off."

When faced with surprises, many salespeople blame the prospect. I qualified them. I asked questions. They don't have their shit together.

But if you’re caught off-guard by legal or procurement, you didn’t do your homework. You didn’t ask the right questions. You didn’t go for the virtual close.

After you’ve qualified a prospect, this should be one of the first questions you ask:

“What will it take for you to become a customer?”

You're doing two things with this question: 1) exploring the prospect's buying process, and 2) encouraging them to imagine a scenario in which they buy your product. We'll talk about even more benefits later in this post.

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Here’s what a typical conversation might look like using the virtual close:

You: “I definitely think we’re a good fit. What will it take for you to become a customer?”

Prospect: “We’ll probably have to take this information back to the team.”

Don't be satisfied with this response. Keep asking follow-up questions. Push for more information. It's your job to eliminate last-minute surprises during the sales process. Think: What else do I need to know?

You: “Once your team reviews this information, what typically happens next?”

Prospect: “We’ll schedule another call and get our stakeholders together. I’m sure they’ll have more questions.”

You: “Okay, and let’s say I answer those questions to their satisfaction. What happens next?”

Prospect: “We’ll probably want to get a pilot proposal from you.”


This is where you can ask more specific questions, like:

  • What’s the average length of a proposal?
  • Is there any specific information the proposal should include?
  • What’s the average length of a pilot?
  • How do you measure success?

Even after you find out the necessary information—they want a 5-page proposal that includes a high-level breakdown of the onboarding process, the pilot will last 1-3 months, and their main KPIs are sales growth and customer acquisition costyou're still not done.

You: “Once we send over the proposal, what typically happens next?”

Customer: “Well, then it would have to go through legal.”

At this point, most salespeople might stop asking questions.

They've learned a lot about the prospect's buying process, and identified some important next steps. But stopping is a mistake. They still haven't arrived at the virtual close. 

You need to keep pushing:

You: “After legal gives the go-ahead, are we ready to move forward?”

Customer: “Yes, we’d only need to run this past a few higher-ups, then the ethics committee and procurement.”

You: “Interesting. What can you tell me about this part of the process?”

Customer: “Well, the ethics committee usually takes a couple weeks to review agreements, and if everything looks good, they'll send it to procurement, who has the final sign-off."

You: “Great. And then we're in business, right?”

Customer: “Yes. At that point, we'd purchase your product.”

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Now you have the whole roadmap for success. You understand exactly what it's going to take to close this customer. No surprises.

What are the benefits of the virtual close?

  • You understand all the necessary steps to close a deal
  • You guide the prospect through these same steps to avoid confusion
  • You explore opportunities to shorten the time it takes to close (eg. running the proposal by the ethics committee and procurement at the same time)
  • You help the prospect visualize a future where they become a customer
  • You discover major red flags that could slow down the deal or prevent it from happening

This last reason is why you need to ask for the virtual close as soon as possible. If they say, "We have a 78-step approval process and our budget is $125 per month," is it really worth your time?

They might also say, "Our budget is allocated until 2020, so we can't buy your product any time soon, but we're still interested in a pilot."

That's pretty good to know, right? You want to discover these red flags in the first conversation, not 3 months into the proposal process.

When you ask for the virtual close, you gain clarity.

99% of “surprises” are things you could've foreseen if you'd taken the time to understand the prospect's buying process. Remember, when a deal derails, it's likely because you didn't do your homework.

Practice the virtual close. Memorize this very simple question: "What will it take for you to become a customer?"

Then ask the prospect 40 more follow-up questions, until they finally say the magic words: "Yes, that's when we'd purchase your product."

 

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