Whether you are leading a product business or expanding your consulting practice, you cannot rush your prospects to close the deal. You must be persistent but not annoying. You must be available but not “chasing.”
Defining your strategies to respect this invisible line, and to judge when to take an action, is critically important and often learned through experience. And the more personal your contact with the prospect, the more loaded your expectations for a response.
So, here are some approaches that have worked over time:
Make certain you are speaking with the person who can sign the check (the decision-maker). This is done during the first meeting, often by simply asking what decision-making structure exists (is there a management committee, boss, or Board that needs to approve the deal?). If you are not speaking with the decision-maker, move quickly to determine how much work you must do to reach that decision-maker (a simple introduction to him or her, or a series of proposals or bids that move up the chain of command?) and then determine if that work and the margin involved is worth the effort of the close.
Be gracious. Be available to help, offer some top line expertise or sample products, and move to negotiation after there is an initial relationship created. The initial relationship is that the prospect feels supported by you and encouraged by the value of your offering, and that you feel as if you can close and support this prospect and still maintain appropriate margins.
Don’t panic. Often prospects take much longer to close than you would expect. They have some other agenda or hidden issues they may not be sharing with you, other than the decision-making issues.
Don’t believe everything you hear. Sometimes prospects lie. Sorry, sometimes their egos drive them and they mislead you in some way as to their importance or power, or sometimes they are trying to get your strategy in a proposal with no intention of hiring you to execute. Be especially aware of this in international work, where cultural norms and expectations may be different during negotiation. But it can happen often in the U.S. as well.
Don’t take offense. If the close is delayed, do not take it personally. You don’t know what is involved in the decision on the other side. No one is “conning” you (except if they are lying, see above). Stay supportive and persistent without chasing.
Don’t show you need the deal. This “negative-selling” approach is most effective. While you are being supportive of and patient with your prospect, be (or seem to be) easy in your approach to the timing of the close. Imply that all is well, and you are ready when they are ready. Don’t show tension for the new revenue, or in meeting some monthly or quarterly goal. None of this will help.
The customer or client will not sign until they are ready. There may be many reasons for the delay that you will never know. This softer side of selling tends to create longer-term relationships, based on your availability and support, and on your not embarrassing your prospect.
Remember that this prospect is likely to become a client or customer, and this closing phase is the beginning of the lifelong relationship and value you want to create.