How To Know When A Deal Is Ready To Close


I’ve spent a lot of time with a lot of sales people and one of the biggest problems I see is rarely, too rarely, do sales people know when a deal is ready to close.

Unfortunately, sales people rely on false, weak, unaligned triggers to assess how close a deal is to close. I hear things like,

  • I sent the proposal and they seemed OK with everything
  • They have to buy by end of the month in order to make their delivery timelines.
  • My buyer says they’re gonna buy
  • TheY have the contracts, it will close by end of month
  • They just need board approval

Here’s the deal, some of these may close and others won’t.  These customer responses do very little to provide insight into whether or not the deal is going to close and more importantly if it’s real. Deals close when everyone involved, every stakeholder, influencer and decision maker feels the impact of going with your product or service will change their world for the better and that your solution is key in reaching the goals and objectives they’re trying to accomplish.

Unlike these customer answers, understanding if a deal is going to close starts with understanding why the buyer is buying in the first place, the impact to their organization, the players involved, and the decision process.

To know if a deal is ready to close answer these questions;

Why is the customer buying? What is their motivation? 

You have to know what the business reason is. You have to know what “new” state the customer is trying achieve. It’s not enough to know what the technical problems are, you have to know what the business problems are. What problem is the prospect trying to solve? What advantages, improvements, initiatives are they trying to capitalize on.  Once you know that, you have to weigh the motivations on an urgency or impact scale. Are they solving big, critical, hairy problems or are they solving nice to haves? Understanding this matters because, why the customer is buying drives their motivation to move. The lower the motivation to make a change, the harder it is to close the deal.

Your job as a sales person is to outline a vision of a powerful future state with your product or service in the middle that is greater than the competition or the status quo, thus creating tremendous motivation for change. If you can’t do this or it doesn’t exist, the deal isn’t going to close. So, before you start feeling a deal is going to close, make sure you can answer the questions; what is the business problem, why do they need this solution, is it a big problem and is the impact of our solution (the future state) compelling?

The decision process (criteria):

This is almost always a rather big black hole or blind spot for sales people. Rarely do they know what the decision criteria are going to be in the decision. They don’t understand how the prospect is going to decide. When I say decision process, I don’t mean who, and when, but I mean what. What criteria are going to be used to determine if they make a change or not.  Understanding this is critical.

Even more critical to knowing what the decision criteria are, you have to know if you’re product or solution is meeting their decision criterial. To suspect a deal is going to close without knowing what the decision criteria are and how they are going to make the decision is like shooting in the dark.

A deal doesn’t close until the decision or evaluation process is complete and they feel confident the change they are looking to make is probable.

To know if a deal is going to close requires you know what the decision criteria are and how they are going to evaluate the choices and even more importantly how your product or solution fairs against their decision criteria. Too often sales people can not articulate how their product or solution aligns with the customers decision criteria and just assume it does.

The Players

Knowing if a deal is ready to close requires knowing who all the players are and what their role is in the buying process. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched sales people miss read a deal close date because they didn’t know all the players and how they influenced the final decision. Their contact tells them they are the decision maker and then at the very end, the prospect says; “Yes, let’s do this. I just need to put it past, my boss, the board, legal, HR, etc. and the entire process starts all over.

Knowing who the players are, what their role in the decision process is, what their unique decision criteria are and what their motivations are is a key element in determining when a deal is ready to close. If you know the CEO has to “approve” then you know it’s not ready to close before it gets on her desk. If you know that a particular feature you don’t have is important to the CEO, then it’s not ready to close no matter how bad your buyer wants it or how many times they say yes.

It is impossible to know if a deal is ready to close without knowing all the players involved and what their motivations are.

The sales world talks a lot about “closers.”  I don’t believe in closers. I think closers are bad sales people. You can’t close a deal, only the customer can close a deal. What you can do is influence the decision and if you don’t know who’s deciding, and what they are deciding on, then you ain’t influencing anything.

You wanna know if a deal is ready to close?

  1. Know why they are buying and if the impact of what they are buying creates enough of an impact that NOT changing is more painful.
  2. Know the decision process and know that your solution or product meets all the decision criteria.
  3. Know who the players are and know that your offering meets their unique decision criteria and that all the parties have been involved and are participating.

Every time I sit across from a sale person who says a deal is ready to close, I ask a number of questions. I ask why the prospect is buying and what’s the business problem? I ask what happens if they don’t change/buy? Why do they need to fix this problem now? What other alternatives do they have to solve the problem? If the sales person can’t answer those questions or the answers don’t support a decision, I know the deal isn’t going to close.

I also ask what the decision criteria are. I ask for a very specific, detailed description of what the prospect is evaluating and how they are going to decide. If the rep knows, then we know how we fit. If we fit, it means we’re close. If not, we’re not. If the rep doesn’t know, we could be in trouble. You can’t know if a deal is close to close if you don’t know how the prospect is going to decide.

I then finish with asking, “Who are all the players and are they all involved and do we have ALL of their buy in?”  If she says anything but yes, I know it’s not yes. I don’t listen to all the b.s. sales people love to throw out. This question is pretty simple. If all stakeholders and players have seen it and are on board, we’re close, if they haven’t we’re not.

Most sales people are pretty good at determining IF a sale is gonna close. Where they suck is determining when a deal is gonna close and it’s usually because they can’t answer these questions when it’s most critical.

The brilliance in selling isn’t knowing if a deal will close, it’s knowing when!

Do you know when a deal is ready to close?