Making and closing a sale

Getting in front of a potential new client, perhaps to make a presentation, is only one step towards securing new business.

The next, and more difficult, step is judging whether that potential customer will sign on the dotted line of a sales contract.

Assess the meeting

To measure the success (or otherwise) of the presentation meeting, you will need to be alert to any 'buying signals' the client may be offering. Sometimes they are clear: an obvious enthusiasm about the product or service; a wish to clarify minor points; a tone of questioning on their part that suggests a future relationship. Sometimes, however, they may be buried among what appear to be objections or more astringent queries: these may simply be a desire on the customer's part to reassure themselves that you are a reliable, well-informed business or supplier with an understanding of the customer's own specific requirements.

During such discussions it is important to be politely assertive but not aggressively so. Take each question on its own merits and explain how any outstanding issues can be answered.

Offer reassurance wherever possible (testimonials from other clients and customers can be helpful here).

At some meetings, the atmosphere is such that you feel confident enough to ask outright whether you have secured the business.

At other times, you may choose to offer leading questions of your own - does the customer have product preferences, will clarifying a particular matter mean that the order can go ahead - in order to elicit clues as to the outcome of the sales meeting.

Should the meeting end inconclusively, arrange a follow-up meeting within the next few days. Commit yourself to resolving any outstanding issues in time for that meeting.

Arrive prepared

Even if you are not expecting to close a sale at the appointment, always come prepared with an order form or contract in case the client wishes to make a decision there and then.

If the sale depends on additional terms and conditions, make a note of them and show them to the client.

Sometimes a client may agree to a sale in principle but requests additional time to review your terms and conditions. In such cases, you may wish to ask them to sign a letter of intent or the notes you have taken at the meeting as an indication of their wish to buy from you.

Get the sale right

Even when a new customer agrees to a sale, be ready for further negotiations. There may well be additional details to be settled. Be ready also to decline someone's custom if their subsequent demands mean that you are not likely to make the level of profits on a deal that your business requires.

It is not uncommon for new customers to pressure on prices. So long as you have offered a pricing structure that is commensurate with the market, with the quality of your goods or services and with your own profit margins, you may be advised to hold out against any requests for deductions. And remind the client of the benefits of your product or service.

Agreeing to lower the price could hit your profits, encourage expectations in the customer that they can negotiate further discounts, or prompt the suspicion that you were over-charging in the first place.

If the client persists in asking for a price cut, suggest that they put in for a larger order.

After the sale

Once the sale has been agreed and any contracts signed, don't take your foot off the pedal.

Confirm the arrangements in detail - timings, payment schedules - and clearly either in a letter or by email.

Make calls to the customer at appropriate stages in the fulfilment of the order so that they are reassured by your professionalism and by your commitment to the agreement.

Develop the relationship

The sales procedure doesn't end with the successful completion of an order. It is, in fact, only the beginning. Given the difficulty in winning new clients, the moment the customer is on board you should be planning how to develop the relationship further.

Repeat business is invaluable business. So take the opportunity to set up more meetings to talk over how you may be able to help in the future. The more reliable, the more supportive you are, the more your new client is likely to turn to you with their next order.

Never forget, either, to ask your new customer for their thoughts on the service you have provided. A phone call may be enough; or a short questionnaire they can complete. And respond to the feedback; if they experienced a problem, promise them you will take their response into account and make any appropriate changes.

Not only will this help you better to match the needs of the customer, it will also give you useful insight into improving your product or service when targeting other new business.