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Building Towards the Close – Chess Not Checkers

I’m excited to talk about chess in this episode! It’s a game I love which has many parallels to the way I sell. Most sales people who I observe and with whom I talk are playing checkers. That means these sales people are not thinking very far ahead. Rather than having complex thoughts, they […]


I’m excited to talk about chess in this episode!  It’s a game I love which has many parallels to the way I sell.   Most sales people who I observe and with whom I talk are playing checkers.  That means these sales people are not thinking very far ahead.  Rather than having complex thoughts, they are basically just pitching something and playing a numbers game in hopes that some people will say, “Yes.”  The good news for that strategy is people will say, “Yes.”  In fact, if sales people work very hard and talk to a lot of business owners, many will say, “Yes.”  

However, I made the decision long ago that prospecting is not what I want to do with all my time.  Although prospecting is invigorating once I make myself begin, I prefer to sell a higher percentage of people and prospect less to make my numbers.  Therefore, I realized that two concepts of playing chess can be applied to sales for greater success.

#1.  Pressure or leverage.  When playing chess, one object is to put pressure on the opponent.  By moving pieces with that motive, a player can direct the moves of the opponent.  The way to do this is by planning in advance how to be sure the opponent can’t move to certain places.  Thus, the good player memorizes the opening moves:  “If the opponent moves ‘there,’ I know I’ll move ‘here.'”  By moving pieces in a certain way, the player knows where the opponent will move.  Therefore, the opening of the game will require little careful thought.  The opening of the chess game is very similar to the opening in sales.

The opening in sales should be a series of planned responses to statements.  As a sales professional, you pretty much know what prospects are going to say.  If your prospects’ responses are random, and you don’t know what to expect, you need to fix your opening.  The opening and initial conversation should be predictable.  There are definitely variations.  However, you should know generally the direction to take even with three or four variations to each thing.  That is a process you’ll continually improve.

The further into a chess game the player has thought through and planned exactly what move to make in response to the opponent’s move, the better that person can play the game.  Many times experienced professional chess players don’t need to think much for even the first fifteen moves.  They know exactly what they are going to do based on what the other person does.  They’ve already thought through all these variations and memorized them.

Sales is very similar.  As a sales person, memorize all the possible responses so you know your lines.  Know what you are going to say.  Start working on that.  That’s the way of applying pressure by second-guessing the statements of prospects and being prepared to respond.  Have the whole opening figured out.

#2.  Plan ahead.  Think like the opponent when playing chess.  The good chess player has planned several moves ahead.  That player starts closing off options and moving in for the check-mate.  This involves thinking like the opponent, second-guessing the opponent’s move.  That thinking is necessary to ensure victory in the game.

So, the idea here for sales is to think from the prospects’ viewpoint rather than your own.  Most sales people have somewhat mastered the opening but later are unable to do more than pitch benefits and value and use only logic.  However, those sales people are not thinking from the viewpoint of the prospect.  Each prospect is a little bit different.  Each will say things which can cause the sales person to realize, “I see where this prospect is going with that.  I know what he/she is thinking; I get it.”  First take care of that concern or issue before you go in for the close.

Perhaps you’re the sales person who is not closing yet when the prospect says, “Well, my business partner is not here right now.  I definitely want to go over this with him tomorrow.”  That prospect has just indicated which closing tactic is not going to work.  You already know you aren’t going in for a hard “Yes” or “No” close because you’ll get a “No.”  Now in view of the prospect’s thinking and direction, you need to offer a solution requiring less commitment.  A trial offer might be a good idea in that situation.

Slow down and think about your prospect.  Ask yourself, “What is the prospect thinking and feeling?  What do I want the prospect to think and feel?”  Closing a sale is actually all about feelings – not logic.  The logic is taken care of in the prepared and practiced opening.   After you finish the opening and have an interested prospect who is sitting down and talking, there is no script.  There is nothing you can have that is just boom, boom, boom, everything ready to go.

Now you are in a moment when you play off the prospect’s emotions.  What are the concerns or questions?  That’s why I love asking, “I know that was a lot of information, Robert.  Are there any questions you have for me about all this?”   I’m not going to close until I ask that question.  Or often I ask, “How do you feel about all this?”  What a great question!

 Josh Bryan is one of my friends who is just a superstar salesman in a different industry.  We talk about sales a lot.  One of his responses is a favorite of mine.  When prospects say, “Well, I don’t know.  I really need to think about this.”  He’ll say, “What DO you think about it?”  Then he’ll smile at them.

You must ask those questions.  Your whole pitch should move in that direction with prospects which will relieve their fears and solve their issues.  You need to deal with the prospects’ insecurities before moving in for the final close.  Without all your pieces in place, you are going to jump into the close too quickly.  In the example mentioned, you may say, “All right, great, I think I’ve got all your questions answered.  Let’s go ahead and move forward.  Now, what’s the legal name of the business?”  Then the prospect is going to hit you with, “Well, like I said, James, I can’t make a decision right now because my business partner isn’t here.”  How do you recover from that one?  You’ve already been told that.  If you would have been listening, you could have changed your tactic a little bit and done something different that would have worked.

In sales, to recover is very difficult.  Being proactive is much easier.  My advice to you is this:  stop playing checkers in sales and start playing chess.  Start planning your openings and then start thinking ahead.  Adjust your pitch and presentation according to the prospects’ statements.

By the way, if you want to actually play chess, it’s a lot of fun.  You could try that, too.  It would help with your tactics, patience, and strategy.  Have a great day!

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