After teaching sales to many clients over the past few decades, I think one of my favorite seminars was the hostage negotiation seminar I conducted in Baltimore several years ago. It was an exhilarating experience as I connected the world of selling to the world of hostage negotiation. They were receptive and engaged, but the presentation turned on a dime when we got to the final step about “closing.” I walked them through three, simple steps:
- Summarize the benefits. By summarizing what was agreed upon, it allowed them a way to make sure both parties were on the same page.
- Gain agreement. This step allowed them to ask, once and for all, for a firm commitment from the person they were trying to negotiate with.
- Discuss logistics. With an agreement in hand, this allowed these negotiators to formally map out the final steps to end the crisis at hand.
Oh, and I threw in a bonus step. I casually mentioned reassurance; I liked to reassure the person I’ve gained that commitment from. I never placed that step in my materials, nor had I ever really pushed that hard for others to do this in my seminars. I could hear my New York Life manager telling me, “Jolles, once you’ve made the sale, get out of the house!” The thinking was, if you had a commitment, any further conversation could only lead to disrupting the agreement you had already achieved. In the situation with the hostage negotiators, however, I felt that the risk of a buyer’s remorse was worth the risk of throwing in a few comforting and reassuring comments.
I guess you could say this was a hunch of mine, and the response was clear with one, dramatic story from a participant in the audience. Once I finished throwing out this final idea, a participant walked up to the microphone provided for this audience and began to speak.
“Mr. Jolles, I happen to agree with your suggestion. Two months ago, I was on the phone communicating with an individual for almost forty hours. After twenty hours, I got the children out of the house. It took me ten more hours, and I got the wife out of the house. Ten hours later, I was able to reach an agreement to get the suspect out of the house. His last words to me were this: ‘I’m coming out, but not without my gun.’ It was the best I could do, and my last words to him were ‘just go slow.’
The suspect stepped out of the house onto the porch. I moved up the driveway slowly with the SWAT team by my side. The suspect looked out, he looked back, he looked out, he looked back. Then he blew his head off.
I spent forty hours on the phone with this person and I can tell you that this was not the kind of person who intended to come out and put on a show. In an instant, he changed his mind. I will always wonder if I could have handled this differently. If the last words out of my mouth had been; ‘You are doing the right thing. I will be here every step of the way and everything I promised you will happen, I can assure you’ I wonder if I could have saved his life.”
Needless to say, this was an emotional moment for everyone at the seminar. I swallowed hard, finished the seminar, and I never made this step optional to the closing process again.
Obviously, most of us are not in a life and death struggle when we persuade and look for a commitment. It is a natural step, in the decision making process, for people to question the changes they are agreeing to. It makes sense that they may reconsider the moves they are making. Our job is not finished when someone agrees to change. People will hear a voice in their mind questioning the change they are considering, no matter how persuasive you think you are. Let them hear your voice telling them this: “The hard part is over. I’ll be here every step of the way to make sure everything we agreed upon happens just like I said it would. Congratulations; you’ve made a wise decision.”
Forget running out of the house, or quickly getting off the phone. I think you can see why you won’t ever regret a closing comment like that again.