Adapt Your Alternative Close Techniques For Sales Excellence
Today, with only 17% of the total purchase journey spent interacting with sales reps, the time you have to connect and engage with your customers is limited.
Combine this with the rise of remote sales, digitization, automation, and the surge of the ‘savvy consumer’ who carries out their own research before making a purchase decision.
That’s a small window against a competitive background to close a sale.
This makes it even more crucial to be excellent at closing in this short time. But we’ve got the secret to sales excellence. It’s through:
- Honing your skill set
- Training your behavior
- Executing what you’ve learned in your day-to-day job
The thing is, many sales closing techniques don’t fit the bill anymore. They’ve been called outdated. Manipulative. Hard. Ineffective when it comes to selling to the modern consumer.
So while honing your skill set is great, it’s only the first step. How do you take traditional sales and make them work in the future of sales?
How do you continue to train and elevate your sales knowledge?
We’re here to optimize your toolkit foundation. Then take it to the next level through practice and execution.
With that in mind, we’re going to look at one of the most traditional sales closing techniques: The Alternative Close.
Reframing your traditional techniques and then practicing them against your modern-day backdrop and customers is the way forward to achieving sales excellence.
What is the Alternative Close Technique?
First off, the Alternative Close is part of the Assumptive Closing technique. It makes the assumption that the prospect is ready to buy and then offers alternative choices the customer can choose to complete their purchase.
This is an example of a ‘soft-close’ (ie., background suggestion). Many sales reps have overused this technique, so it comes across as a ‘hard close’ (i.e., command).
As we’ll review a little later, ‘hard’ or command closes are explicit and could create resistance.
If you’re using the Alternative Close (or any examples of Assumptive Closes) in this way – well, that’s just a bad habit that we’re here to break.
In fact, the Alternative Close technique is intended to be a soft suggestion to guide and advise the customer to their final decision. But before we re-train you to do away with this bad habit, let’s go back to your fundamentals for a second.
According to the Harvard Business Review, there are three kinds of closing techniques: 1) Foreground suggestion, 2) Command, 3) Background suggestion.
1. Foreground suggestion
A foreground suggestion is an example of a ‘medium’ close. It’s where the sale or purchase isn’t made explicit. Instead, the seller passively suggests the purchase decision without referring to it directly.
“You can now buy three TVs for 50% off, and this is an offer that will expire in a few days.”
It’s about suggesting purchase reasons rather than giving direct selling commands.
Command closes, on the other hand, are ‘hard’ closes. This takes the phrase above and makes it,
“Hurry, only 2 hours left until this discount expires! Buy three TVs now for 50% off!”
To engineer the hard close, you need to be:
- Confident in your sales capacity (self-assurance).
- Optimistic that what you’re selling is of great need to the prospect (brand assurance).
If you’re using the information you’ve gathered throughout the sales process to inform your hard close, commands can be efficient at reducing customer hesitation.
But they’re also confrontational and could create a lot of unease if executed poorly. Now if you’re thinking – well you just can’t win, can you? It’s time to introduce the category of closing techniques your Alternative Close falls under.
3. Background suggestion
Otherwise known as a ‘soft-close’, the background suggestion leads prospects to believe they’ve come to a purchase decision of their own free will. This is an important definition that will lead to excellent Alternative Close techniques.
For example, imagine you order a beer. The waiter asks,
“Do you want a pint or a medium-sized beer?”
It’s unlikely you’ll ask for a ‘small beer’ because it wasn’t offered as an option. The choice you do actively pursue will feel like you’re deciding yourself. Plus, the waiter gets an immediate upsell of the product they’re selling.
But what does the customer get?
Of course, in this scenario, the customer gets a bigger beer. But you should be careful with employing this kind of Alternative Close. It’s why this sales closing technique has been met with resistance before.
We’ll get into some best practices later on.
To retrain the misuse of the Alternative Close and take it back into a background suggestion, let’s see it in action.
The Alternative Close is a ‘Background Suggestion’: How do you execute it?
Scenario: You’re a TV salesman approaching a client.
Alternative Close: What not to do
You: I see that you’re interested in TVs.
Prospect: Yes, I’m just taking a look around.
You: Great, TV [A] is a smart TV. You can link your Netflix or Itunes.
Prospect: I don’t have Netflix. But I guess a smart TV links to the internet which would be good for Zoom calls.
You: It’s always good to have. This TV [B], on the other hand, had both smart TV functionalities (for youtube, Netflix) as well as great gaming functions.
Prospect: I see…
You: Which TV do you want, [A] or [B]?
Alternative Close: What to do instead
You: Why are you interested in upgrading your TV?
Prospect: Well, we’re looking for a family TV.
You: Great, this TV [A] is a smart TV, which has a lot of options for watching movies. Do you have Netflix?
Prospect: No, but my ten-year-old loves Marvel movies.
You: Great, they can now watch any new Marvel series on Disney+ with this TV! Do you work from home?
Prospect: Yes, I do. A smart TV would be useful for Zoom calls.
You: This TV [A] is great for all those smart features. But does your son like video games?
Prospect: He’s a fan.
You: Then I would recommend this TV [B] instead, which is smart and good for gaming functionalities. All these things considered, would you prefer TV [A] or [B]? We also have a great range of TVs in our ‘remote work’ section.
Alternative Close best practices: What to do every time
Which of the scenarios above will be more effective at closing sales? If it seems like a no-brainer, you’re on the right track. In fact, there are a few best practices for the Alternative Close that you can start putting into play as you execute.1. Ask questions to determine your prospect’s purchase path
- What led them to buy this product?
- How did they find your brand?
- What’s their purchase goal?
- Would they rather/prefer to have [A] or [B]? (Ask for preference rather than direct buy-in)
- A smart TV can get your Zoom calls hooked up to the internet [feature] which can optimize your working from home situation [benefit].
- If your ten-year-old likes Marvel movies [benefit], a smart TV includes features like Disney+ [feature].
The choices you offer in your Alternative Close will depend on your customer’s background, your competitive position, and circumstances that are unique to the entire sales cycle.
Always have a fallback position if the choices don’t resonate or create resistance. This is negotiations 101.
In the example scenario above, maybe you’ve picked up that the prospect is more interested in the features of the TV that will help them optimize their remote working space.
Agree with their objection. Give them nothing to push back on. The more complex you make your alternative choices, the worse.
Clearly define your offering, and then give two to three alternatives that fit in better with their buying goals.
When do you use the Alternative Close Technique?
Like all interactions with your prospects, where there are clear best practices, there are also clear methodologies. Take the BANT methodology, for instance.
This sales methodology follows the Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeline of your prospects to help you determine the best way to close a sale.
Without understanding things like budget, or who has the authority to make the final purchase decision, it’s hard to say when you can use techniques like the Alternative Close.
Especially with the state of how customers purchase today. Which begs the question: How can you make Alternative Close work for your modern-day buyers?
The state of your customers buying behavior today
1. Your customers are drowning in information
With so many choices at their disposal, and so much information from word-of-mouth to personal search, how do your prospects pick the best solution for them?
Solution: Give them two to three options that fit their needs with the Alternative Close. Here you can easily educate the buyer without overloading them with information.
Use the Alternative Close in this way and you aren’t just guaranteeing closed sales, but building a rapport with them for future relationships and referrals.2. Customers have shorter attention spans
There’s little time to assess what we buy anymore; you could overload your prospects with information about the features and benefits of what you’re selling.
But time is money, and customers have limited attention spans. According to the Economist, they’re also becoming wary of age-old selling techniques and being sold to.
Solution: The Alternative Close condenses information into options that fit your customer’s buying behavior (which you’ve analyzed and gathered throughout the sales process).
Give two to three alternative choices and say why you’ve chosen these exact ones for them.3. Customers are suffering from choice overload
Customers experience decision stress when it comes to filtering through all the choices that sellers give them.
Solution: The Alternative Close means you’re doing all the heavy-lifting when it comes to filtering out options. You collect information about what products, services, or solutions are right for them, and then give them narrowed-down choices.
This helps alleviate some of that buyer hesitation and choice anxiety. Plus, the more optimistic and confident you are about what you’re selling, the more your customers will mirror this confidence in their decision.
But once again this is about retraining your behavior and leveraging the Alternative Close in a way that works for your modern-day consumer.
Making the Alternative Close work in this context: Re-train your behavior
Getting buy-in throughout the entire sales process is about adopting new skills and then practicing them in your day-to-day.
It’s about training your behavior so you’re able to:
- Spot buying signals
- Listen and react to your prospect’s requests
- Gain agreement throughout the sales process (each agreement is like a mini-close!)
- Be optimistic that what you’re selling matches your customer’s needs and lifestyle
Do away with bad habits that turn something like the Alternative Close into a command. Closing isn’t something you do to your prospects. It’s a mutually agreed-upon situation where you come across as helpful and informative.
The Alternative Close works because you’re effectively removing the word “NO” from the table. As Krauthammer consultant Leon de Vries puts it,
“It’s not enough to close a sale on an assumption. Something like “So do we have a deal?” leaves room for the customer to say NO. Hope is not an effective closing strategy. Instead, you need to retrain your mindset to adopt a listening and learning behavior across the customer lifecycle.”
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With the rise of digital and remote sales, your customers are doing their own research, comparing, reading reviews, and have more touchpoints with your brand than they’ve ever had before.
In the future of sales, you need to be the center point of interaction with your prospect/s. You need to customize your closing techniques throughout the entire sales funnel.
And then close in a way that applies everything you’ve learned throughout this relationship.
It’s this customer-centric approach that will take your Alternative Close – like other background suggestions – to the next level. You may just be able to turn your Alternative Close into your sales closing go-to.
By 2025, 50% of CSOs will shift their focus from being leaders of sellers to leaders of selling. A smaller window to engage your prospects means you have to deliver sales closing techniques with excellence.
To achieve excellence throughout the sales process you need to retrain your behavior. Get rid of old habits. Change your mindset. And take traditional closing techniques to the next level.
You may not be able to teach a dog new tricks, but you can train the tricks and adapt them. Optimizing traditional sales techniques through training, practice, and execution will let you compete in the future of sales.