Closing the sale

This the most important stage of the selling process and often salespeople leave without ever successfully closing a deal. It is at this point where you need to employ an affective means of bringing the buyer to a decision. In the foreign environment where you are not familiar with the culture and language, it may be very difficult for you to gauge when to try and close the sale. If you do it too soon, the buyer may feel that you are being too ‘pushy’ and may withdraw from the discussion. Leave it too long and the buyer may get bored and frustrated with your presentation with the same ultimate effect.

It would wise to ask advice on what the cultural norms are and what signals to look out for. If there is a DTI trade representative in the country, ask them what to do. You may also wish to read up on the business etiquette in that country. At the very least, you should acknowledge that you are not familiar with their culture, and that you do not want to show disrespect, but that you want to know whether the buyer is interested in what you have to offer and whether he/she has any questions or queries that can answer. Done in a polite and respectful way, this could help break the ice and bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion.

It is also during the closing stage (but often also beforehand) that you will enter into negotiations with the buyer. Negotiations involve a to and fro interaction between yourself and the buyer about various aspects of the deal (such as price, delivery times, specifications, quality, quantity, ability to deliver, delivery dates, etc.). The negotiation process is an important part of the selling process.

Some tips for closing the deal:

  • Just ask for the business! – ‘Please may I take an order?’ This often works well.
  • Look for buying signals (i.e. body language or comments made by the client that they want to place an order). For example, asking about availability, asking for details such as discounts, or asking for you to go over something again to clarify.
  • Just stop talking, and let the client say ‘yes.’ Again, this again works well.
  • The ‘summary close’ allows the salesperson to summarise everything that the client needs, based upon the discussions during the call. For example, ‘You need 12 000 items of product X in blue, packaged as we discussed, and delivered in Hamburg by the end of February’ Then ask for the order.
  • The ‘alternative close’ does not give the client the opportunity to say no, but forces them towards a yes. For example ‘Do you want product X in blue or red?’ Cheeky, but effective.

It is important to realise that closing the sale is really about getting the buyer to agree to buy from you. The first step is really simply a verbal agreement to the parameters of the order that the two of you have discussed the past hour or so.

To begin with, in most instances it is unlikely that the buyer will agree to the order immediately. The buyer more likely will want (a) specifications both in terms of capacity and price that you may still need to confirm back home, (b) some time to think about the order (in some countries such as Japan, it may take many, many visits and several years of interaction, negotiation and discussion before you ever receive an order), (c) a formal quotation on which to make the decision.

A few flamboyant exporters may tell you that you should not walk out of the buyer’s office without a signed order form, but it is seldom as easy as this. Because of the many cultural and language differences, a single order form is unlikely to suffice in all instances. The requirements between buyers may also vary drastically especially as you move from country to country. Finally, most export orders are confirmed on the basis of a quotation, which usually takes the form of a proforma invoice.

In many instances, the actual closing of the sale often takes place away from the original meeting and forms part of the follow-up process that is key in the export selling process.

Following up the sale

As we said above, the follow-up is an important part of selling process especially in export markets. Depending on whether the agreement was signed at the time of the sales presentation, you will either want to (a) thank the buyer for his time and custom, and assure him of your attention to the supply of the goods sold, or (b) thank him for the meeting and provide a proforma invoice that covers all of the issues that the buyer asked you to address (these may have had to do with quality, quantity, price, colour, specifications, delivery dates, insurance, freight, etc.). We deal with the preparation of the proforma invoice in the section on quoting for exports.