This article was originally published on LinkedIn by Lahat Tzvi HERE.
*James Muir and Lahat Tzvi
James Muir is a rising star in the field of sales and is also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
His book: “The Perfect Close” is a game changer for anyone how to want to learn how to close the sales with integrity. In my opinion, this is the best book about closing.
I met James a few months ago, we talked a lot and I love his approach. I asked him to take part in a joint interview and answer my questions so that everyone can learn. I think you will enjoy this interview.
James, thank you for taking the time to do this interview.
Please, can you tell us about yourself and your professional sales background?
Well, I’m an accidental salesperson. I started out as an operations person in a family-owned revenue cycle business and would often help sales reps in the field. Then we acquired a business in another region and we needed an operations person who could also sell so I got drafted. So I was basically a technical/operations person in sales.
You can imagine what it was like. I was so anal and process-oriented that I actually created this big schematic of the sales process (you know, what the client would do, what I would do) and I would give it to the client. That’s how anal I was. It didn’t always go over well.
Today I am a best-selling author, corporate trainer and executive coach. I specialize in B2B complex sales – mostly in healthcare. I see my job as making salespeople, VPs and executives as effective as they can be.
I’d like to start this interview with the most important issue – your sales approach. In our conversation, you shared with me your approach to sales, and I told you that I loved it. I appreciate if you can share it with the readers
I don’t see sales as persuasion or manipulation the way a lot of other people do.
Think about a time when you wanted to accomplish something new.
We all would love to have a coach helping us move forward toward our goal at our own pace. Someone helping us step-by-step.
Well, our clients are engaging us because they want us to help them make positive change. They are expecting us to be that coach. They want us to guide them through each little commitment it takes to achieve their goals.
So, sales is not about persuasion or manipulation. Sales is leadership. Sales is coaching. And most salespeople can do a lot better job of coaching and serving clients than they are doing today. So my approach, and my challenge to professional salespeople, is to be a better coach. A better problem-solver. A better teacher. And a better leader so we can serve our clients better.
Your approach to closing is unique too. It looks like a new method. For years we were taught to use closing technics and ask several times for the deal. You’re suggesting we should act differently. Why?
There are many reasons to act differently. The foremost reason is that modern science has proven that most of these traditional closing techniques are counter-productive. That is, they’re not just ineffective, they actually hurt your chances of getting the sale.
For example, thanks to Alec Baldwin in Glengary Glenross. Every salesperson knows the ABCs of selling – Always Be Closing. But the tragic truth is that this has been tested thoroughly and past the first attempt there is a negative correlation between closing attempts and closing success. The More you attempt to close – the less you’ll actually close.
In the Huthwaite study we even know how much less – it’s 33%. So, the gut feeling that most of us have not to badger customers is telling you to do the right thing. And that’s just one of many myths around closing that have been disproven by scientific study.
On the same topic – do you think salespeople forgotten how to close deals?
I don’t think they’ve forgotten it. In most cases, they’ve never been taught to do it in the first place. Statistically, the problem of reps not asking for any commitment at all is much larger than the problem of using the wrong approach. Studies show that the percentage of encounters where salespeople and professionals never ask for any form commitment at all ranges from 50% to 90% depending on the industry.
Yet, what research has borne out is that just asking one commitment question raises the likelihood of closing by 36%. Sales don’t close themselves. We do have to make some effort to advance the sale. They key is to do that in a high-probability, non-confrontational way. And that’s where the problem is.
Today when people search the internet for ways to close sales they get buried by loads of manipulative techniques born in the previous century. So why do 50% to 90% of sales encounters end with no attempt to commit? Because in most cases the person doesn’t feel comfortable with it.
They don’t want to manipulate or pressure the client and they don’t know how to get a commitment without doing that – so, unfortunately, they don’t do anything at all.
Your book in not only about closing. It’s also about the buyer’s journey. Why is that so important?
Remember, we are their coach. We are leading them through what is new territory for them. For many of the companies I work with, their customers may make a buying decision like this only once in a lifetime. They are in completely unfamiliar territory. That dynamic suggests how we should approach our selling.
It’s important to understand where the customer is in their buying process because knowing that tells us how we can best add value for that customer at this point in time. For example, if the customer is still defining their problem and determining if it is large enough to do something about, we don’t want to be talking about why our solution is the best solution – because the customer isn’t at the “Evaluate Solutions” stage of their buyer’s journey yet. Our customer would be better served by helping them quantify the potential impact of their current problem and the possible upside of solving it.
When sellers push, or introduce concepts that are further along than the customer is in their buyer’s journey they come off as pushy. What makes a client feel “manipulated” can typically be traced back to an attempt to move the sales process along faster than the client is ready for.
I love your two questions in Chapter 12 – brilliant! How did you discover those questions?
The Perfect Close questions came as a result of my own experience and years of training and managing salespeople. As a manager when I would onboard an entry level positions where candidates had little to no experience, I found myself saying, “There must be a way to get these guys productive sooner.”
Given that our particular solution was a complex, multi-stage sale I had a pretty tough set of criteria to work with. I mean, how do you get a new sales rep that is unfamiliar with the steps customers go through when investing in a solution to logically advance the sale in a way that doesn’t come off as pressuring or manipulative and at the same time doesn’t risk destroying the new rep’s credibility with the client? It’s a tall order.
With some careful thinking, I came up with a way. As time went on we improved up on that model and those are the five variations you see in The Perfect Close.
By the way, do you think there is a “right” moment to close (in the sales process)
There is a lot of talk about identifying the emotional highpoint of a customer during a meeting and springing a closing question on them at that time. I don’t want to discount that, but in my experience, it’s not necessary.
The time to ask for an advance is when the customer has enough information to do so. Doing that earlier will cause the customer to feel pressured and damage trust. My favorite approach is simple. Create an agenda for the meeting and put an item near the end for “action items” and “next steps.” When you get to that part of the agenda you simply ask your Perfect Close questions.
If you’ve given any thought to it at all you will very naturally advance your opportunity in 95% of cases.
James, Can you share with the reader’s some “closing secrets”?
Sure. There are 22 closing secrets in The Perfect Close and folks can download all 22 from PureMuir.com for free. Let me just offer up a few of them for your readers.
#1 is that closing is more effective when it isn’t high-pressure or manipulative. The science behind this is overwhelming. Using an authentic approach is more effective and makes the experience much more enjoyable for both the salesperson and the client.
#5 is that intent matters more than technique. This is such a big deal that I devote all of chapter 3 to it in The Perfect Close. Customers make some very important judgements in the first few seconds of any meeting and these judgements make a huge difference on the outcome of a sale. Many people are surprised to discover that in selling situations customers weigh intent more heavily than competency. If your intent is flawed no technique can save you. But if your intent is good even a flawed technique can win.
#16 (and several in this range) relate directly to The Perfect Close questions. The secret here is that by asking a timing question customers cannot reject you or your course of action – only the timing of it. Regardless of the outcome that leaves us on emotionally higher ground and paves the way for the right advance for this client.
What is the right mindset for sales and closing?
If there’s a secret to selling it’s just to actually care. Every great salesperson I’ve ever met can tell you about this moment where they finally truly understood that if they just genuinely helped the client get what they wanted they would be taken care of. Zig Ziglar probably said it best when he said, “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”
So I would coach sale professionals to just get off of what’s in it for you for minute and figure out how to actually help this client. If you genuinely help this client solve their problem the money will take care of itself so get off of it and focus on actually solving the problem. Be present and serve this customer. The reward will take care of itself.
What kind of skillset salespeople should have?
Learning how to ask for commitments in a facilitative, non-confrontational way is definitely an important skillset but I think I’m going to zoom out a bit here. Having worked with a huge number of executives I’ve found that there are three skillsets that are common to the highest achievers. They are:
Ruthless time management.
And a strong Bias for action.
With these three skillsets, you will be continuously learning, improving and operationalizing what you have learned in a virtuous cycle. These are meta-skills for ongoing success.
Last question – What are the biggest mistakes salespeople make about selling/closing and how they can avoid them?
I think we’ve touched on some of the biggest mistakes and how to avoid some of those pitfalls. My biggest suggestion would simply be to get your head in the right place. Selling is serving.
Helping a customer move towards their goal is an act of service. It shouldn’t be difficult or stressful at all. It should be easy. The mistake that a huge number of salespeople make is going into any opportunity thinking about what’s in it for them rather than what’s in it for the customer.
This inadvertently triggers a whole bunch of undesirable things and causes the buying and selling process to become dysfunctional.
Getting your head in the right place will make the whole process much more enjoyable for both you and your customer. And it will make you more successful as well.
Thank you, James, for taking the time and your willingness to share with us your sales knowledge
James Muir is a professional sales trainer, author, speaker, and coach. James shattered records as both a field rep and manager. His guidance comes from experience and the school of hard knocks. Three decades of experience has given James a fresh and practical perspective on what works in real life and what doesn’t.
He is the best-selling author of The Perfect Close: The Secret to Closing Sales that shows sales and service professionals a clear and simple approach that increases closed opportunities and accelerates sales to the highest levels while remaining genuinely authentic.
Those interested in learning a method of closing that is zero pressure, involves just two questions and is successful 95% of the time can reach him at PureMuir.com.