As salespeople we build sandcastles nearly every day.

Beautifully crafted appeals to customers. Lovingly detailed presentations filled with numbers and images and schematics. Before we leave the customer we often stand together over our sandcastle and agree how impressive it is and how well it will suit us both.

Then comes the tide. And the waves. The next day – or perhaps only hours later – all that’s left of our creation is a smoothed over patch of sand and a few gullies.

Along with our marketing, research and strategy people, we spend an overwhelming share of our time building stories and presentations and proposals – our sandcastles – and almost no time on the closing and qualification strategies that would help them withstand the rising tide of the customer’s conflicting agendas and the waves of our competitors’ subsequent proposals and ideas.

A focused closing strategy and the time to execute it (the final 25 percent of your time with the customer should be spent on closing and qualification) are the resilient foundation that your sandcastle lacks. They are the difference between telling a good story and having the customer begin to act on it; it’s what takes you from having great calls to having a great career.

  • Isolate the most specific thing your customer could possibly do to advance the deal. A specific recommendation, agreement to alter or waive a policy, allotting specific budget… unless you can put it in the form of a verb, you can’t close on it.
  • Script and practice the moment of truth closing question you’ll ask your customer. Make sure it includes the phrase will you… (leads to your verb!) and includes your desired action, a number (program cost or estimate) and a date (for commitment, activation, commencing work).
  • Your customer will likely toss you something non-committal or ambivalent, so be prepared with follow up: Tell me more about that… Tell me why that’s important to the brand…. Let me ask about how this would be decided and where the budget will come from…

Yes, this takes effort, planning and time: that’s why you’re devoting the last quarter of your meeting to closing and qualification. Yes, this will be a little uncomfortable at first: that’s why we call it sales and not conversation.

So next time you’re fretting over whether or not to add one more chart or page to your presentation, stop. Spend that time instead on the foundation of closing and qualification that your story deserves. You’ll start building your meetings, your stories, your sales and your career on solid ground.