Closing the Deal

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Good salesmen are a true rarity. My experience in sales showed that many people have the ability to: do cold calling (maybe not well, though); evaluate leads; make cogent presentations; maintain good contact with potential customers; generate informative and attractive proposals; and perform all manner of other necessary activities. All of those skills are necessary to the sales process and take a significant amount time and effort; however, none of them will get cash flow in without the critical step.

Closing the deal is the most important skill and, as fate would have it, also the most lacking. Sales groups often identify certain people as “closers” and they join up with the good workers, who performed their important tasks, to finish things up and get a contract signed. A number of authors have also written books about closing. Often, I found that the task really just came down to asking the client to give you the contract: if they need something else first, they’ll usually tell you. Of course, there’s an understanding of timing that is necessary; the clients don’t want to feel pushed around.

Japan is culturally different from America in a number of ways and, not surprisingly, this affects closing business. I need to get to sleep, so this post won’t give tremendous eye-opening details. Summarily, a lot of oblique questions are asked to determine factors like ability, availability, and sometimes price. Later, very conditional questions regarding procedural details come up. (i.e., “If we were to contract these services, how would we…”) At this point the closer needs to be extremely patient and politely request good favor and opportunity in the future.

Depending on how this interaction goes and how well you can read the subtleties, you can walk out of one of these meetings feeling pretty confident even though no commitment was expressed. In December of 2005, I left such a meeting feeling good, but I reacted poorly in March last year when I got word I would have to go through a painful application process. I believe everything was decided in December, but the application process was necessary and merely a procedure. Had someone explained things I would have behaved much less foolishly, but none of them could fathom that I didn’t understand.

Tonight I engaged in a similar meeting. We’ll see if I learned anything over the past year. Probably I will stay calm and land a fun and lucrative contract. With any luck I won’t be starving in August.

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