The Pre- or Assumptive Close

6 tips from the salesperson’s toolbox to combat indecisiveness in the sales process.

Be honest, dear salesperson - your best case scenario would be for your customer to order after your brief and succinct explanation of the product’s advantages. But this is hardly ever the case, and certainly not in the IT industry with its wide range of products all requiring a great deal of explanation.

But looked at another way this is actually something of an advantage. Your market value as an adept salesperson would be somewhat compromised if there really were infallible formulas for closing sales. Instead, you need a well-assorted toolbox from which, with your expert knowledge, you can select the right tool for the right moment.

Here we would like to present some of the tools that have proven useful during stalemate moments in the sales process, and which we can subsume under the term pre- or assumptive close.

First, an example: A passionate jogger in a sports store is faced with a choice between comfortable, air cushioned running shoes and another, less technical pair which he prefers the colour of. What will he do? If he can’t get the air cushioned pair in his preferred colourway, he might leave the store without buying at all. An attentive sportswear salesperson will feel this. He’ll say something like: “What’s more important to you, the style or that your ankles are protected?” And with that, he’s probably got the customer on the hook.

With software or IT products this is often much more important. Whether positive or negative, every option entails risks. If the customers says yes, he needs to get to grips with the advantages and disadvantages of the product and runs the risk of having chosen the wrong one. If he says no, then he has no solution to his problem. His hesitation is only natural. Right at this very moment he’s just as receptive to a little nudge in the right direction as the jogger in the sports store.

How do I recognise this moment?

The most distinctive feature of such a situation is indecisiveness:

The customer ...

  • doesn't look directly at you.
  • tilts their head a little down or forwards.
  • doesn't ask any more questions.
  • expresses uncertainty: "well ...", "so ...", "erm ...", "hmm ..."

You the salesperson ...

  • become impatient.
  • feel unsure, at a loss.
  • have the feeling that you've already explained everything.
  • become nervous and don't want to make a mistake now.

Salespeople often feel that the sale is hanging in the balance, and most of the time this is probably the case. In this situation it is of course important not to make a mistake, but the biggest mistake in such a moment is to do nothing.

Your customer needs some support from your side so he can reach his decision. It’s also possible that one of his doubts has not yet been satisfactorily resolved. He’s not quite ready and it would probably be counterproductive to push him into making a decision right now.

What can I do in this situation?

Draw nearer to the deal by testing the customer’s willingness to buy. Depending on the cause of his uncertainty, there are different methods you can adopt:

1. Too many options: Make it simpler.

If you have offered more than two options, it could be too many. Reduce the complexity of the decision. Ask your customer which of the options he likes the best and then reduce the selection to two if possible. Then go on to #2.

2. Two options: Check priorities.

Ask your customer what he likes about each option and then confront him with the two plus points using the “What is more important to you ...” formula, as in the example we gave above. By doing this, you can find out more about the customer’s buying motive and at the same time mobilise him in the direction of the decision.

3. Alternatives available on the market: Have no fear of comparison.

Ask: "What do you like better about our solution compared to the one from XY?" You can also enquire about the competitor’s benefits, then continue with #2. This method has the additional bonus that it enhances your arguments vs. competitors.

4. What the customer has in mind exceeds his budget/is unrealistic: Go for the half yes

Summarise what you have already agreed on and what the customer likes and get him to confirm this:
"Mr Smith, the interfaces for the management software and your payment systems are exactly aligned with what you need, right?"
"You can customise the landing page to suit your needs too, can’t you?"
With every half yes your chances of getting a full yes and the customer on board increase.

5. Uncertain hesitation: Ask open questions.

If the reason for the hesitation is not so easy to determine, it always helps to ask open questions. Formulate questions in such a way that a simple yes or no answer won’t be enough. Formulate them so the customer must express himself in more detail. This brings life back into the dialogue.

  • What do you think of our solution so far?
  • What do you like the most about it?
  • If we implement all your wishes, what's the next step?
  • How can this be aligned with your budget?
  • How does this meet your expectations?
  • What do we still need to discuss?
  • Do you have any other questions?
  • What exactly does your decision depend on?

6. In all of these situations: Anticipate the close.

  • Assuming you buy today - when would you like it delivered?
  • Assuming you choose our product today - what would be your next move?
  • Imagine you already have our solution up and running in your company - what changes would this bring about?

Questions like these stimulate the imagination. Your customer can imagine having made the purchase and is thinking about the benefits it would bring. And at the same time, you get an idea of what he is actually looking for. Listen to the customer carefully and form your sentences with similar or even the same words when it comes to really closing the sale.

These are some tools for a successful sales pitch, ideal for those moments when conversation stalls because the only thing still pending is the customer’s final decision.

Sometimes several decision makers are involved, and especially in larger projects the situation can be more complex. Here's another article with tips about preventing stagnation during the sales process.

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