The Art of the Close

(alternate title: Where I Was Last Night)

The Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Luxury Marketing Council holds events every so often, where marketers can network and hobnob and learn from one another, and though they’d long ago made a group decision never to plan an event in July or August–it’s difficult to talk luxury when you’re sweating through your undershirt–the Council hosted one last night. What’s more, it was supposedly the highest-attended event yet. I was moderating the panel discussion, but that wasn’t the reason for the big draw. People wanted to see the panel of experts and the topic they discussed: The Art of the Close.

The panelists included:
–Lynn McBee, nonprofit fundraiser extraordinaire. As the organizer (who roped me into the role of moderator) introduced her, “Whenever your assistant says Lynn’s on the phone, you cry–because you know she’s going to get from you whatever she asks for.” Lynn has worked on Cattle Baron’s, Junior League, DMA, and more.

–David Smith from Pocket’s. He looked fantastic, natch. And, ever the salesman, he remembered me–mostly because my dad gave him a lot of business over the years before he (my dad) retired. The salesman part, though, was when I told him I was wearing a hand-me-down suit from Pocket’s. David told me I looked better in it than my dad ever did. He also went out of his way to compliment my dad’s taste. Nice touch.

–Leslie Smith (no relation to David). Leslie is part of the “traveling art show” that is a Peter Max exhibit. The artist has his paintings through this weekend at Reflection Art Gallery, which is where last night’s event took place (great space, by the way). (And I think Max will be there this weekend.) Leslie has been representing artists for years and seems to be good at her job.

–Hesham Elgaghil, sales manager for Park Place Mercedes. Where Leslie seems good at her job, Hesham seems great. He’s stylish, young, Egyptian, intelligent, and charming. Okay, fine, I have a bit of a man crush on him. You would too.

The first question, after a brief mention of “Glengarry Glenn Ross” (minus the profanity) was “At what point during a sale do you actually start closing?” I wondered if, as in that movie, you should ABC–Always Be Closing. The consensus answer: Yes. Hesham says he always assumes the close, from the moment a client comes in the door. He said he likes to paint a picture for the client of what it’d be like to own a Mercedes from Park Place, even before the client’s picked out a model. He tours the service area and the wi-fi-enabled waiting room and the kid’s play area. The client understands the environment and can picture him or herself in it. Leslie agreed: The art gallery isn’t a library and it isn’t a museum. Assume people are there to buy, buy, buy.

Because a certain moderator kept the discussion fluid–more like a conversation that a strict Q&A–I won’t go item by item of each panelists’ answers to every query. But I will pass along tidbits I found interesting and you might find helpful:

I asked when they know they’re ready to break out the contract and pen. Lynn said, “When [the client] stops asking questions.” All agreed. It’s important to listen to the questions (more on that later), and then answer them, but after you answer the question STOP TALKING. Hesham brought up a for instance. If someone says, “How much was it again?” your instinct may be to say, “It’s $7,900 … But we can work out a great deal for you.” Note: the person did not say, “Can you work out a great deal for me.” Just, how much was it. The simple question warranted a simple answer.

I wondered if the client who asks more and more questions is harder to sell to. Nope. The questions present opportunities: to shed more light on a product, to find out more about a clients’ concerns, to help establish a relationship (more on that later, too). Again, Hesham brought up a useful for instance: Say someone is looking at a really nice car. Like, a $70,000 car. But when that someone finds out the car is $70k, they balk. Hesham says he walks them through the decision, “You did say you liked convertibles, right? … And you want the leather interior. And didn’t you prefer the GPS package? All of those amenities are in this $70,000 car.” (Like I said, he’s good.) But he listens. If the person says, “Well really I just like those wheels,” then he offers a lesser model that has the same 18-inch, 5-spoke whatevers.

About listening. Very important. Especially when it comes to unhappy customers. Sometimes, all the client wants is someone to hear them. A clients’ frustration may seem like a minor, trivial annoyance to you, but that teeny tiny thing may be the 14th bad thing in a row to happen to that person. The frustration may stem from something outside of your control, but just being patient and listening can do wonders in building the relationship.

“Building a relationship” seemed to be an underlying theme. Lynn talked about how she pretty much becomes friends with her potential donors–writing notes, taking them to lunch, calling every now and then. (She keeps a “tickle file” that helps remind her when to do what.) David talked about the emotion that’s tied into major purchases: People buy things because it makes them feel good. So he tries to appeal to that. (After all, as Fernando from ‘80s-era SNL said, “To look good is to feel good.” David didn’t say that last night. I only realized it now, and it’s probably best I didn’t bring it up since the reference might have gone over the room.) Leslie says when she nears the very, very end of the close, she tells the client, “Shall we do this?” It makes it less adversarial. You’re in it together. You’re helping them get what they want, even if they don’t know they want it. (She also said she wants to deal with couples, not a husband who has to check with a wife or vice versa. Get all parties involved in the decision-making involved at the same time.)

Building relationships is getting harder, though, according to the panelists. The next generation (read: us) is not as loyal as our parents’. Maybe it’s because of the Internet. Maybe it’s because we have more options. Maybe it’s because of something else. But the panelists agreed that they have to work harder to get the loyalty of their younger clients.

Seems like there was much more good stuff, but that’s about all I can remember.

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