May 18, 2012. Contributed by Steve W. Martin to Harvard Business Review
My last HBR blog post, How to Close a Sales Call, reviewed sales call closing techniques. Now let’s analyze whether or not you are a natural born closer.
The drive to take command of a situation is instrumental to a salesperson’s success. Salespeople with a weak dominance instinct are never quite in control of an account. They operate under the direction of customers or are at the mercy of the competition. They also find it more difficult to close the sale because they are uncomfortable exerting their will over the customer.
Dominance is gaining the willing obedience of the customer. The customer listens to your opinions and advice, internalizes your recommendations and agrees with them, and when you close the sales call follows your course of action. Your personality greatly influences the way in which you establish dominance during sales calls.
Nowhere during the sales process does dominance play a more important role than when closing. Take this short test to determine your natural tendencies to dominate group settings. Score your answer after each question with zero, one, or two points.
1. Assertiveness within groups. Let’s pretend you are having a hallway conversation with three colleagues. Do you remain silent the majority of time letting others speak (0), speak an equal share of the conversation (1), or usually find yourself talking the majority of the time (2)?
2. Conformity within situations. Using the hallway example above, if someone said something you disagreed with would you typically remain silent (0), maybe challenge the person to explain themselves (1), or usually confront the person directly (2)?
3. Self-consciousness around people. If a colleague said one of your important ideas was stupid would your embarrassment cause you to remain silent (0), perhaps defend yourself (1), or would you reject the person’s comments outright and criticize their arguments (2)?
4. Candor around people. When speaking with colleagues are you someone who carefully edits your words (0), tactfully speaks your mind (1), or is completely open and honest with all your thoughts (2)?
5. Humility around people. Are you someone who feels genuinely humble and respects all others (0), generally believes you are equal to others (1), or usually thinks you are better or superior in some way to people around you (2)?
Total your score for all questions. A score of six or below indicates you have a low natural tendency to establish dominance in group settings. Consequently, you may have a more difficult time closing. A score of seven or more indicates high natural tendencies. Most likely, you are a “natural” closer who is more comfortable in the uncomfortable position of asking prospective clients for their business.
There are two basic approaches to establish dominance during sales calls:
The direct approach is based upon personal prowess, while the indirect approach is based upon finesse. The approach you should use depends upon attributes of your personality. If you scored a high level of dominance, you are typically well suited to use a direct approach. This approach is based upon first establishing yourself as the focal point of the purchase. In essence, the customer is buying your credibility, your personal experience, and your ability to help them accomplish their goals.
If you scored a low level of dominance, you are more likely better suited to use an indirect approach. This approach is based upon establishing your product and the capabilities of your company as the focal point of the purchase before you start selling yourself. For example, a salesperson with low dominance that transitioned her career from a technical position into sales can have an equally dominant presence as a seasoned sales veteran. However, she has to use a different approach. Instead of projecting a powerful presence in person, her deep-rooted technical understanding of the product draws customers to follow her.
A salesperson’s goal is to gain dominance over a submissive customer. While dominance is commonly associated with brute force, this is not the case in sales. It’s simply how people judge others. People are continually sensing whether their position is superior to yours, relatively equal, or inferior in some way. In turn, this impacts what they say during the conversation and how they behave.