Everything You Need to Know to Close Your First Sale
As a startup founder, you’re required to wear many different hats. You and your fellow co-founders will need to juggle various critical tasks during the early stages before you’re in a position to hire employees, and that means you may end up stepping into some roles outside your comfort zone.
Whether you consider yourself a salesperson or not, before long your startup is going to need to start generating sales. Getting leads is only half the battle—the most important part of the sale is the close. Trying to close your first startup sale is especially challenging because you don’t have any momentum yet. Once you get some customers in the door, it will be easier to get more deals to follow.
Here’s everything you need to know to close your first few sales and start building momentum even if selling isn’t your specialty.
Tips and Tricks for Selling Effectively
Let’s start with some general guidelines for selling well. Every sale should be approached with two basic goals:
- Learn what the customer needs.
- Communicate to the customer how your product can give them what they need.
Step two naturally follows step one. You have to understand the customer’s problem before you can offer a relevant solution. One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a salesperson is to rush headlong into your pitch before you’ve learned anything about the customer.
Of course, if selling was as easy as asking the customer what their problem is and telling them you can solve it, you wouldn’t be reading this article. Here are some practical tips and tricks that can help you turn those two basic steps into a closed deal.
Find Your Early Adopters
First of all, if you’re an entrepreneur looking for ways to earn your first customers, you face a unique obstacle in the sales process. It’s much harder to get people to buy into an untested idea because the risk factor is higher. Appealing to a wide audience at this point is not easy because the typical consumer isn't interested in a product with no track record to speak of.
Your very first customers are called “early adopters,” and they should be your primary focus when you’re building traction. Early adopters aren’t defined by one particular demographic (age, ethnicity, income, etc.), which makes them particularly difficult to identify and target. Here are a few common characteristics of early adopters to watch out for as you hunt for leads:
- They like to take risks. Look for leads who have a history of making “high-risk, high-reward” investments or business decisions.
- They have high risk tolerances. Early adopters (or the ones you should be targeting, anyway) have the means to back up their risky bets. They tend to be well-educated and financially stable.
- They are very susceptible to FOMO. Early adopters are often driven by a desire to have the latest products or the most cutting-edge solutions. Use this to your advantage when selling to them
If you’re struggling to locate anyone willing to give your sales pitch a chance, find your early adopters first. Once you have them on board, the mainstream market will follow.
Start Closing Immediately
When you think of closing sales, it’s natural to think of the end of the process — the moment when you shake hands and the customer signs on the dotted line. Actually, you should start closing from the moment the sales process begins. You’ve probably heard of the ABC rule: “Always Be Closing.” It’s a cliché, but like most clichés, there’s truth behind it. Throughout each step of the sales process, you should be working to position yourself as advantageously as possible.
Each bit of information you learn about the customer in every conversation you have with them should be leveraged to nudge them closer to that final “yes.” Don’t let a conversation end without getting some kind of “yes” from them: “yes, let’s set up another call”; “yes, let’s schedule a meeting”; “yes, I’d like to see a demo.” The idea is to build off each small, incremental close, gradually priming them for the final close instead of making a giant leap at the end.
If You Want to Sell, Don’t Sell
When an inexperienced sales rep is struggling to sell, it’s often because they’re trying too hard. The fact is, most people don’t want to be sold to. In fact, aggressive selling tactics can actually lose sales by annoying or overwhelming customers. Some people just don’t like being “sold” on principle.
Whatever the customer’s reasoning, you have to get them to forget they’re being sold to. Don’t try to persuade them to buy the product — tell them about the product, answer their questions, maybe even mention what you like about the product personally and how it’s benefitted you or someone you know. Guide the interaction toward a sale by giving them plenty of reasons to say yes, but don’t tell them outright what they should do. Let them keep all the decision-making power. People are more likely to buy when they feel in control.
Prepare for Objections
No matter how charming and convincing your sales pitch is, expect to be met with some resistance from the customer. Part of an effective sales strategy is knowing what the customer’s objections are going to be even before they present them. Once you’ve closed more sales, you’ll start to notice which objections you hear most frequently. You should have rebuttals for those objections at the ready at all times.
For now, think of the most likely sources of friction in your sales pipeline. Does your product have a high price point? Does it have a lengthy implementation process? Is there a competitor offering a better deal? If a customer catches you off guard with one of these concerns, it can quickly send the sale into a tailspin. Prepare convincing counters to any and every objection you anticipate and practice delivering them off-the-cuff.
Best Closing Strategies
Your approach to the overall sales process has an impact on whether or not you close the deal in the end. But, once you get to the closing conversation, there are a few tactics you can use to finish off strong. Here are some of the most effective closing strategies:
Closing Deals with Questions
If you want to start selling more, ask more questions. You should be seizing every opportunity to find out more about the prospect and their needs and using all that information to fine-tune your approach to getting that prospect’s business.
Throughout the whole sales process, ask the prospect questions that will help you learn about them and create openings for you to highlight your product’s value. For example: “what obstacles are currently preventing your team from meeting their goals?” or “where do you see your business a year from now, in terms of growth?”.
It’s easy to automatically position yourself as the talker and the prospect as the listener — you’re delivering a sales pitch, and they’re the attentive audience, right? In truth, the majority of successful sales pitches are conversations. Your job as a salesperson is to ask the right questions to guide the conversation toward the desired outcome. You’ll notice that most of the following closing strategies involve asking questions of one kind or another.
This is the most straightforward closing technique of them all. A summary close focuses on simply summing up everything you’ve discussed during the sales process so far. By reviewing your product’s best features and reminding the customer of all the ways it can benefit them, you’re pushing the deal’s value to the front of the customer’s mind and steering the conversation away from potential objections.
Now or Never Close
The “now or never” close creates a sense of urgency that spurs the customer to a decision. Dangling a limited-time discount is one way to do this, but many potential customers will see through pricing tactics. Instead of manufacturing urgency, it’s better to find a legitimate reason why it’s in the customer’s best interest to buy right now.
One great way to do this is to ask about the customer’s goals for business growth and position your product as the key to achieving that timeline. If the customer operates in a competitive industry, you could also introduce the idea that they need to act now to close the gap or maintain their competitive edge. The key to pulling off the “now or never” close is to identify and leverage the customer’s existing problems that urgently need solving, not create new problems for the sake of urgency.
The soft close is a good tactic to try when a prospect is putting up a lot of resistance. It’s kind of like the opposite approach to “now or never”; the goal is to put the customer at ease by leading the conversation with low-pressure questions and avoiding ultimatums. Communicate the benefits and invite the prospect to dig deeper without asking for commitment outright. Gauge their interest with questions like: “does that sound like something that could benefit your company?” or “would you be interested in hearing more?”. This can be a good way to warm up a prospect who seems interested but reluctant to engage further.
The assumptive close is a more aggressive tactic, but it can be effective if you use it appropriately. As the name suggests, assumptive closing assumes the prospect is ready to buy and moves the conversation straight along into pricing, delivery, or implementation logistics.
For example, instead of asking the prospect a question like: “does this sound like something you’re interested in?” an assumptive closer would ask a question like: “When would you like to have this implemented?”. If a prospect seems ready to buy, a confident move like this can seize that momentum and win the sale right then and there.
However, it’s very important to thoroughly test the prospect’s interest throughout the process and only attempt an assumptive close if you have good reason to believe they’ll be receptive. Forcing an assumptive close too early can backfire and offend the prospect.
Take Away Close
The take away close is a classic example of reverse psychology. People want what they can’t have, so if you make a prospect think they can’t have your product, they’ll want it more. It might sound childish in such simple terms, but it can be very effective in practice.
Imagine a customer is nearly ready to close, but they’re being stubborn about price. In this scenario, you could apply the take away tactic in a couple of ways:
- You could suggest that you table the deal for now and return to it at another time when the prospect is ready to buy.
- You could downgrade the offer by removing a feature or service and meet the prospect at a lower price point.
Whether you take away one feature or the whole deal, now the customer is thinking about the value they’re losing, not the money they’re saving.
You shouldn’t rush into this tactic, especially when your business is young and your brand doesn’t have much weight behind it yet. If you start taking things away while the prospect is still exploring their interest in your product, they’ll likely walk away. Use the take away close as a way to tip a prospect who’s been sitting on the fence for a while.
Don’t Forget to Follow Up
After you’ve closed the sale, it’s important to follow up with the customer. Doing so is a critical part of building a relationship with that customer moving forward. By following up, you can:
- Build trust with the customer
- Make the customer feel valued
- Proactively address the customer’s questions or problems
- Gather valuable customer feedback
- Identify opportunities to upsell
Closing deals is a complex endeavor that’s half art and half science. You can use this sales guide to set you in the right direction, but if you want personalized help developing your sales cycle further, consider having a look at our available mentors.