By Anthony Iannarino
The art of closing a sale hinges on the ability to win commitments from the people you’re working with. And for that reason, the underlying principles of closing are about more than simply making sales. They’re about helping people make needed change.
What would you change at your bank?
If you are a marketer, one of the potential obstacles you will face in doing your job well is gaining the support of the leaders in your company, including C-level executives.
For many companies, marketing is a strategic initiative, and that requires an investment of time, resources, and money. Gaining the support you need—and the money to go with it—is an internal sale. And this is going to require that you go through the process of helping people change, and helping them understand what the real dangers are. This requires transformational conversations—those conversations that allow people to resolve their concerns and move forward.
Let’s take a look at the process of helping people change, and then look at a few common fears that prevent people from moving forward—and how to address those fears.
To bring about change, first think about the series of commitments you need to earn.
First, you need a commitment of time. You need a C-level executive’s time so that you can share your ideas or initiatives, and together explore change. One of the reasons people resist the initiatives we need to pursue is that we don’t take the time to help them understand why we need to change.
Once you have established the case for change, you have to gain the commitment to do something different. This is where a lot of people struggle. The status quo tends to be well entrenched in most companies. Even if things aren’t going as well as we need them to, it feels safer to keep doing what we’ve always done.
These next two commitments work together and can be an iterative process: collaboration and consensus. It is easier to get someone to buy a solution that they helped to create. If it’s your proposal and not my proposal, I will have an easier time rejecting it. But if it is our proposal, well now, that is different. If there are stakeholders who care about what you are doing and are going to be in some way affected, you are going to gain their consensus to move forward.
Then, there’s the commitment to invest. Much of the time, when we are asking to make changes, we also need to ask for more money. This is always going to be a concern, and it is always going to cause some consternation.
At some point, you are going to review the ideas that you have created through this process, ensuring that you can get a “yes” to your final proposal. And then you are going to have to resolve your C-level executive’s concerns. After you have done both of these, you can ask for a decision to move forward.
How can you make this process easier?
Why does it feel like pushing a rock up a hill to make changes and sell a new idea internally? There is one answer: we tend to fear the wrong dangers.
Selling ideas means having the transformational conversations that shift the focus of that fear to the real—and greater—dangers. Let’s address three of the most common fears.
- “What if this doesn’t work?”
No one wants to be embarrassed by supporting an initiative that fails. So we often view the process of change through a lens that exposes the risks, seeking to avoid them. The truth of the matter is, if what you are doing now was working well enough, you wouldn’t be proposing change. If there weren’t greater gains to be made, you wouldn’t need to do anything different.
The transformational conversation you need to have here is about the risk of not changing. It might sound like this, “I recognize that you are concerned with the risks, and that the initiative may not produce the results we need as quickly as we need them. What I am concerned about is the greater risk of doing nothing, and falling further behind our competitors, many of whom have already shifted their budgets into these new areas and are already producing results. Can we look at this as a longer term initiative and eliminate the threat of falling further behind?”
This is a shift in focus. It moves the conversation from a focus on the possible failure of the new initiative to the potential long term damage that comes from doing nothing.
- “This is more money than we are spending now.”
There is a simple but hard truth about business: if you want greater results, you have to make greater investments. The investments you are making now are producing your current results. This is true whether those investments are time, money, or resources. Oftentimes, you have to address the need for more money.
This conversation might sound like this, “You are right to be concerned about the greater investment. We are going to have to be certain that it generates the returns we need. But our greater risk here isn’t spending the money, it is underinvesting in the results we need. If new client acquisition is our priority, then this is the investment we need to make now. Is that still true, or should we be shifting our focus to another area?
It’s true. Your greater risk is underinvesting, taking half measures when it comes to money, time, and resources. If you need to invest in order to produce better results, you have to help identify the risk of underinvesting, which are almost always greater than investing more money.
- “How can we be sure this will work?”
The very word executive includes the idea of execution. Many C-level executives fear that they will agree to an initiative and it will not be pursued aggressively enough to succeed.
There is a story about Jack Welch’s time as CEO of General Electric. At that time, he was buying or a selling a business every day. One of the ways he decided whether to approve or reject an opportunity was to criticize the idea, and aggressively attack it while it was being presented. If the person presenting vigorously defended the proposal, fighting back, Jack approved it. If they didn’t, he assumed that their lack of passion would cause the initiative to fail, and he rejected the idea.
The fear of approving an initiative that doesn’t get the attention it needs to succeed is very real. But there is a greater danger still, the danger of doing nothing.
Here, the conversation may sound like this, “I want to make sure you are 100% confident in this solution and our execution before we move forward. Even though we expect that there will be challenges and know we are going to have to make adjustments as we move forward, I am going to personally oversee this initiative. Here is the table of milestones we expect to meet along the way, the touchpoint we are going to have with the teams, and the reporting schedule we want to propose for keeping you up to speed. What else would you need from me to be 100% confident in what we are doing here?”
Behind every expressed concern you will ever hear is a fear. That fear is almost always tied to the change—not the greater risks that come from refusing to change. If you are going to sell your new ideas and initiatives internally, you are going to have to understand how we make change and the commitments that allow us to help people through the process. You are also going to have to lead the people inside your company—even in executive leadership—to face the real dangers of not changing instead of their fears.
Anthony Iannarino is an international keynote speaker and workshop facilitator, sales leader, and sales coach. He blogs daily at The Sales Blog, teaches part time at Capital University’s Capital School of Management and Leadership, and is the author of The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is adapted from The Lost Art of Closing by Anthony Iannarino with permission of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Anthony Iannarino, 2017.