In theory, learning how to close a sale is actually pretty simple—show up prepared, make your pitch, answer your prospect’s objections, ask for the sale, and if need be follow up until you get a definitive answer.
In practice however, selling is a bit more nuanced than that; a hard fact I’ve come to learn through countless hours of closing (and attempting to close sales throughout my career).
Now, while there is an underlying formula behind the process of closing a sale, it’s as much an art as it is scientific. Because the two are inextricably intertwined together, we’re going to examine both the art and science of how to close a sale.
Want Free Access to Our Ultimate Startup Sales Library?
The science behind how to close a sale
Let’s start with a surprisingly insightful sales statistic…
A whopping 92% of salespeople report giving up on a prospect after hearing four “no’s.” Conversely, 80% of prospects report saying “no” four times before they get to a “yes.”
Did you get that?
An overwhelming majority of people (80%) give a salesperson at least four “no’s” before they eventually change their minds and decide to give a new solution a try. Yet at the same time, virtually all salespeople (92%) don’t ever make it that far.
And this doesn’t even take into account how many salespeople and founders linger in the dangerous maybe zone forever, without ever getting a definitive answer from their prospects.
Now, this statistic doesn’t mean every lead is just four “no’s” away from turning into a “yes,” but the clear takeaway is that sales is often a long game and the majority of leads aren’t going to close right there on your first call.
By the simple act of committing to follow up, build a relationship, and stay in touch with your best prospects (that stand to benefit most from your solution), you’re going to rise above the vast majority of the competition. Luckily, we’ve got tools to help you do this.
That being said, all of the tools in the world can’t help you close a sale if you don’t have a step-by-step formula to follow and fall back upon—one that’s been tweaked and perfected over time for your specific solution.
Let’s talk about building and modifying that formula for your business.
5 steps to close a sale quickly and effectively
As a salesperson (or founder driving sales), your sole purpose is to create clear outcomes.
Yes or no—but never a maybe. Follow these steps to get your prospects to a definitive outcome as quickly as possible.
1. Accurately qualify your prospects
Much of the real work in closing a sale is actually done in preliminary research and early conversations where you qualify whether or not your prospect stands to benefit from your solution.
If your prospect doesn’t fit your ideal customer profile, then you shouldn’t even waste your time picking up the phone or queueing up an email outreach campaign.
Before even reaching out to a potential prospect, make sure you (or someone on your team) starts by answering crucial qualifying questions like:
- How well do they match your ideal customer profile?
- How big is their company?
- Which industry are they in?
- Where is this company located?
- What’s the ideal use case?
- Which tools have they used in the past?
- What kind of ecosystem are they playing in?
If the answers to these questions support what you know about your ideal customer profile, then they’re a qualified lead that could likely benefit from using your solution.
You’ll still need to take the qualification process a step further and verify your assumptions with the actual prospect if you hope to close them as a happy customer. But first, you need to make sure you’re talking to the right person within your organization.
2. Identify the decision-maker and start a conversation
Qualifying is all about asking the right questions and getting insightful information from your prospect—to verify beyond a reasonable doubt that they’d be successful after purchasing your solution.
Therefore, the quality of information you get from your prospect is extremely important in helping them make the decision to buy (or not to buy).
In order to effectively gather that right information, you need to be speaking with the right person—a decision-maker. Let’s walk through an example.
If you’re selling a tool for content marketers and experience tells you that the ultimate decision-maker on purchasing new tools like yours goes to a Head of Content Marketing or Director of Marketing, it does you no good spending time talking to an entry-level marketing person, copywriter, assistant, or member of another team entirely.
If I wanted to reach out to a decision-maker in content marketing at the digital agency Web Profits, I’d choose to start my outreach with Catherine (and not Diesel) based on the job title of my ideal decision-maker.
Is Catherine guaranteed to be my decision-maker that has unilateral authority to make the purchase of my tool? No, there are no guarantees, but experience gives me reasonable confidence—and that’s enough information to go off of at this stage.
When you start your conversation with the person who’s most likely to be a decision-maker over your solution within your prospect’s organization, your chances of making meaningful progress towards closing the sale increase significantly.
Starting the conversation
If you have a formalized sales process for your organization, then you’ll know which communication medium tends to be most effective for actually reaching your decision-maker and starting the conversation about your product with them.
Should you start with sending a cold email asking to book an exploratory call, or go directly to calling the company and asking for your decision-maker?
While 75% (or more) of adults in countries like the U.S. and U.K. own a smartphone, over a quarter of them report rarely using it for making—or receiving phone calls. This trend of preferring digital communication that’s less interruptive, especially with those not closest to them, is only picking up pace with Millennials.
Depending upon who your decision-maker is, reaching them the way they want to be reached, is half of the battle.
For most sales reps today, this means leaning on email as the initial communication medium, with the typical goal of scheduling a phone (or video) call to discuss the solution in more depth if there’s interest.
Next, you’ll need to quickly find (and verify) your decision-maker’s email address using a tool like LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator Lite, Rocket Reach, or Hunter, so that you know you’re sending your cold email to a real human. Like so:
Once you’ve confirmed the right email address for your decision-maker, it’s time to write a very short, straight to the point, cold email that has one very clear call-to-action in it: usually booking a call to discuss your solution in more depth.
Here’s a cold email template you can use (and here are 4 more stand-out examples we use).
Hey [first name],
I hope this email finds you well! I wanted to reach out because [explain how we got their contact information and how we relate to them: talked to a colleague, saw your company online, etc.].
[Name of company] has a new platform that will help (your team at) [organization name]. [One sentence pitch of benefits].
I know that [our product] will be able to help [name of your company] [insert high level benefit here].
Are you available for a quick call [time and date]?
Notice how the emphasis of this email is on getting your prospect to either book a call or reply back with a clear yes or no to the question of, “are you available for a quick call on this day, at this time?”
The last thing you want to do is ask your prospect multiple questions within your first email—leaving them open to the possibility of decision paralysis, where they feel overwhelmed or unable to answer multiple questions (and thus write off ever replying to you in the first place).
For most SaaS products before you can hope to close a sale with a prospect, you have to get them on the phone and sell them on the benefits of the solution beyond just what’s possible over email.
Keep your eye on the next goal right in front of you (booking a call), not the one three steps ahead. Once you’ve booked them for a call or a demo, it’s time to prepare your pitch.
3. Pitch your solution (not just the product)
Good salespeople know their product inside and out.
Great salespeople transcend just their understanding of the product, and intimately comprehend all the ways it’ll have a positive impact on both their prospect’s business, and in their daily lives.
When you’re trying to sell your prospect on the basis of features, you’re telling (not selling) and you’re most certainly not speaking their language.
Never forget that your prospects care about real tangible results, and how your product will create a solution to a problem their business has. That’s selling, and should be the focal point of your pitch.
Here’s an example of telling vs selling.
Telling: "Our platform measures over 100 different metrics, charts, and graphs for your website including this, this, and this. Let me explain how each one works!"
Selling: "We have over 100 different metrics, charts, and graphs for your website on our platform. Which types of metrics are most important to you? What do you want to see?"
The difference between these two approaches is astounding, and more than anything will signal to your prospect what you care about—helping them solve their unique challenges or just signing up another customer to hit your quota.
Solving your prospect’s most pressing problems (as related to your product) requires a partnership that goes far beyond just a transactional conversation.
4. Meet their objections
Along the path to closing any sale, you’re going to field difficult questions, objections to certain features, push back on pricing, and any number of other sales objections.
Here are some of the most common objections you’ll face:
- I don’t have the time
- I don’t have the money
- Your product is too expensive
- Please just email me more information
- We don’t need this at the moment
- [Industry-specific challenges/questions]
You need solid answers to these objections before getting on a sales call.
Anticipating and dealing with these objections is a natural part of your journey to close a sale, but it requires adequate preparation ahead of time—otherwise you’re leaving your deal up to chance.
When you improvise and try to answer your prospect’s objections on-the-spot without a clear foundation, the quality of your answer will depend heavily upon your mental state in the moment. Plus, you run a serious risk of appearing like you don’t know what you’re talking about; not a good situation to be in as a salesperson.
If you’re on a sales call with a prospect, and they’re clearly expressing interest in your product, but when you get to pricing, they tell you it’s too expensive, you could respond with any of these answers:
- “I understand. You know what, I actually had two other customers like you recently who were unsure about the price at first. But what they found was… ”
- "Oh really? If you don’t mind me asking, how are you coming to the conclusion that the product is too expensive?"
- "Is the price point a cash flow issue, or a budget issue?"
- “Let’s explore some creative strategies for fitting this into your budget.”
- "Ok, I understand. Is there a part of the product you don't need?"
All of these answers to the general pricing objection will probe at different underlying reasons for that objection bubbling up to the surface.
To prepare yourself for every major sales objection in your space, start by building a list of all the most common objections you’re facing.
Write down concise answers to them, get feedback from others on your team until they feel strong enough to walk into any conversation with, and rehearse until you know them by heart.
5. Ask for the sale
Perfecting how (and when) you ask the question, “are you ready to buy?” is at the core of how to close a sale. And yes, you’ll need to get comfortable asking it.
As Steli often shares when delivering talks and sales trainings around the world, “The biggest mistake salespeople and founders can make, is not asking for the sale.”
On the surface this sounds obvious, right?
Well, if you’re not a naturally gifted salesperson—and haven’t been through the right sales training to equip yourself for success in this field, it’s easy to think your prospects will come knocking your door down to hand over their credit cards after seeing all the benefits and features you have to offer.
But this is a common misconception of sales rookies, and to those who’ve ever closed a sale, you know this is rarely (if ever) the case.
Even salespeople who’ve been actively selling, often wait too long to ask for the sale. And for that reason, they miss out on opportunities to close more sales every day.
How much do you love rejection? Not very much, I’m guessing.
It’s tempting to want to avoid the possibility of rejection, and in fact we’re hard-wired to fear rejection—but in a selling context, this often translates into waiting until we feel there’s a guaranteed yes, before we propose the question of whether they’re ready to buy.
Instead, the default for many people is to provide more information and reasons to buy, assuming that they’re eventually going to close themselves.
So, when is the right time to ask for the sale?
Before you think they’re ready.
If you’ve done your job qualifying your prospect, delivering your pitch, and still believe they’d be a good fit for using your product, ask for the sale.
Expect an initial no from most prospects, but build this into your selling process—because you’ll often catch a prospect off guard and they won’t immediately have an ultra clear reason not to buy when you’re both on the same page about the value they’re getting.
Say something like, “Hey, it seems like you guys are a great fit. I’ve shown you how we’re going to solve your problems effectively. Are you ready to buy?”
Like we said, at this point they’re probably going to say no. But be okay with that.
Immediately follow up their no with the question, “What’s the process we need to go through in order to get you ready to buy?”
This shows your prospect that you don’t fear rejection, it exudes confidence, and illustrates that you have a willingness to work with them to get to a place where saying yes makes sense. Remember, closing a sale is always a two-way conversation.
Plus, any objections they were harboring will immediately come to the surface.
10 more ways to ask for the sale
- “What are all the steps we have to take to help make this deal happen?”
- “Are there any obstacles that could prevent this deal from happening?”
- “Based on what we’ve discussed, do you think our solution is a good fit for your needs? Why?”
- “When do you want to make a decision and begin implementing a solution?”
- “When is the best date and time to schedule our next meeting?”
- "Is there any reason that you wouldn't do business with us at this point?”
- "If we could find a way to deal with (objection), would you be ready to make this deal happen next week?”
- “Taking everything into consideration, I think one of these two plans would work best for you. Would you like to go with (X) or (Y)?”
- “Do you feel ready to move forward? I can send over the contract right now.”
- “Unless you have any more questions or concerns, I think we're ready to get started.”
After asking for the sale, there are only three possible outcomes—yes, no or maybe.
If you get a yes, great! Keep the ball rolling until you get the contract signed; following up often until it’s complete and you can start onboarding them.
If they’re not quite ready, why not? You qualified them as a great potential customer, so keep probing your prospect for objections until you get to a definitive no.
Accepting a maybe will be the death of your startup, so it’s crucial to get a clear answer either way—in sales, you need to live in absolutes.
But remember, a no today doesn’t mean no forever.
Keep in touch with your prospect as their business grows and evolves over the coming months, following up every now and then to check in and see how things are going. Strive to build long-term relationships that extend beyond just the transaction.
Final thoughts on how to close a sale
Everything from your interaction style, to tone of voice, and how well you can perceive what your prospect’s thinking, will play into your ability to close a sale quickly and effectively.
If you waste time droning on about product features your prospect clearly couldn’t care less about, or spend ten minutes talking about the weather, you’re wasting their time—and that’s the fast-track to never hearing back again after an initial call.
One of the most underappreciated, often subconscious, aspects of sales, is carefully choosing your interaction style with your prospects. Let’s talk through a few of them.
Hostile + Strong: Reminiscent of the movie, The Wolf of Wall Street, this strong-armed selling style is all about doing and saying whatever you need to, just to get a prospect to buy your product—regardless of whether or not they’d stand to actually benefit.
Friendly + Strong: This is your sweet spot. Be on your prospect’s team, and take the mentality that you’re here to help them with the best possible solution to their problems. When you believe your product is that best solution, you’ll hold steady on your recommendation—and don’t cave into throwing out discounts right and left, but if your product isn’t the best fit, you’ll help guide them in the right direction.
Choosing to embrace a Friendly + Strong selling style will help you build stronger connections with your prospects in the long run.
Hostile + Weak: The worst selling style that combines a negative energy and mentality, with the willingness to go in whichever direction the wind is blowing that day. Suffice it to say, this isn’t the approach you want to take when you’re trying to close a sale.
Friendly + Weak: With this selling style, you’ll get a couple of points for being friendly, but at the end of the day, you’ll run the risk of being thought of as too nice (even a pushover). Have the conviction to confidently ask for the sale when it’s time, and don’t make major sacrifices just to take on a customer that may be proving to be a little abusive.
Live in the friendly & strong zone and your energy will be infectious, (yes, even through video demos and on phone calls with prospects—hoorah inside sales).
Your prospects will be able to feel your confidence, which when it’s coupled with being friendly (not overly confident), builds their trust in you.
And like in any relationship, nothing is sexier than trust and confidence.
Want Free Access to Our Ultimate Startup Sales Library?