Avoiding the crunch question won't impress buyers
'Nobody asked for the order!" exclaimed the professional buyer. It was the close of a long day of back-to-back presentations from sellers.
"They were all enthusiastic about their products and clearly wanted to learn more about our needs," the buyer continued.
But they all left without asking for the order. Has asking for the order suddenly gone out of fashion?
Closing techniques from the 'always be closing' school are struggling in the face of lengthening buying cycles and formalised buying processes.
Sellers have come to grips with the reality that in most cases the buyer will not be hurried into a premature decision by anything that the seller might say or do.
In respect of the B2B complex sale, the rush to close has been replaced with the desire for greater engagement, consultation and collaboration.
However, could it all have gone too far?
Professional sellers are hesitant to close until they fully understand a buyer's needs, engage with the buyer around defining the optimal solution and build relationships with those making the decision.
That can lead to buyers making the following surprise remark: "In pitches and real meetings, some salespeople seem to be happy if 'the meeting went well'."
Only about 50pc end by asking questions like: "Do we have a real chance?", "Can we expect an order?" or "What do we need to do to win your confidence?".
Avoiding asking the obvious won't impress the buyer – it may even suggest a lack of drive.
One of the consistent findings of our years researching buying is that crude or premature attempts at closing can be damaging to the sale.
However, 'asking for the order' is more important than ever. Obviously, some ways of asking are better than others.
In asking for the order, the seller needs to be cognitive of what the buyer can and cannot do.
The seller needs to know not just how much the buyer wants to buy, but any obstacles that they will need to overcome before they can.
In the context of modern buying, the most effective way to 'ask for the order' is asking the question: "How do you want to buy?"
It is a question that is quickly followed up by: "How can we help you to buy?"
These questions need to be asked more frequently by sellers. They are a mix of closing pre-qualification and helping the buyer to buy.
Asking "How do you want to buy?", recognises the internal requirements of getting the purchase sanctioned. This question can help identify and clarify paperwork and procedures, budget parameters, competing priorities or projects and potential internal resistance.
Nobody knows better than the buyer how to get the money for a purchase, which internal approvals will be required and so on.
So, rather than corralling the buyer through a set of steps from your sales process or snowing them under with information and documentation, stop and ask the buyer what is really required.
It is all too easy to let a salesperson do all the running. But as sellers know only too well, they are sooner or later going to have to pass the baton to the buyer.
After all, it is the buyer who is going to have to get the purchase across the line, with all the sign-off and paperwork required.
Asking "How do you want to buy?" is aimed at enlisting the buyer's full creativity and resourcefulness in getting the purchase sanctioned and building the internal momentum of the deal.
It is also a test of just how much they want your solution and the buyer's real power of decision.
John O'Gorman is a leading global figure on selling to professional buyers. He is a director of sales at the consulting and training company The ASG Group (www.theasggroup.com).