Secrets of Closing the Sale

"You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want."

- Secrets of Closing the Sale, page 26 and 42

With this famous quote, Zig Ziglar, author of Secrets of Closing the Sale, sums up one of his central convictions and an important theme of this book. It was originally published in 1984 and updated in 2003. In an entertaining and engaging style, this book summarizes all he learned over his lifetime of 86 years as he practiced his art as a successful salesman. He taught and inspired millions through motivational speaking, audio recordings, and books. He lived by these words, and he shows us how with more than 100 stories, 250 sales techniques, and 700 questions in over 400 pages. He recommends reading the book four times, underlining and making notes while practicing, then to use it as a reference. Is that too much? He quotes Abraham Lincoln, “If I had nine hours to cut down a tree, I would spend six hours sharpening my ax.” A professional salesperson has chosen the profession of selling, and proper preparation makes it easier and more rewarding. These diverse and easily adapted examples can be tailored to your situation. Practically every selling situation is mentioned with solid advice on how to convince, persuade and close the sale. This book teaches us as much about the sales process as it teaches how to develop the salesperson.

Ziglar says even if you are not a professional salesperson, everyone is a salesperson, and everything is selling. It is so natural even a child does it intuitively.  The core values and behaviors that make a professional salesperson successful will benefit you in any encounter with another person. With that in mind, successful selling is a skill, there are no born professional salespersons.  The skills you need must be developed, practiced and maintained daily. There are some basic skills and practices he illustrates throughout the book.

There is a significant amount of information in this book. As Zigler says, “It’s far better to use one effective procedure or close if that’s all you know than it is to know all the techniques in this book and not use any of them.” That is the purpose of Actionable Books summaries. The one technique I will focus on for this summary is how to choose the right sales words and how to say them effectively.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Paint an Effective Word Picture

"…we think in pictures and we buy pictures if we are painted into the picture as satisfied customers."
- Secrets of Closing the Sale, page 255

Words and phrases paint pictures that effectively sell products or “unsell” them. Some words create a positive emotional feeling while others are neutral or negative. Ziglar encourages us to memorize the words and look each one up in the dictionary. These are common words, but it is important to use them right.

Words that sell: the customer’s name, understand, money, right, deserve, proven, safety, results, happy, health, save, truth, trust, easy, new, comfort, value, guarantee, love, proud, fun, discovery, profit, vital, you, security, advantage, positive, benefits.

Words that “unsell”: deal, lose, sold, obligation, cost, hurt, price, liable, pay, buy, decision, fail, contract, death, hard, liability, sign, bad, difficult, failure, try, sell, worry, loss.

In addition to using or avoiding certain keywords, Ziglar encourages us to use “full” words, words that evoke emotion instead of neutral words. Use home instead of the house, invest instead of buy, deposit instead of payment, agreement instead of contract, fine automobile instead of nice car. These are a few examples where you can choose words that apply to your situation.

In all interactions, avoid using repetitive phrases. The phrases, “You know” “Do you understand what I mean?” “You know what I mean?” are mentioned in the book. I am sure we can all think of other repetitive words and phrases we have heard others use (or use ourselves) that are tiresome and distract from the speakers purpose. Never use obscene, vulgar or profane words. No one buys because of that language, and many people would not buy because of it. There’s no sense in losing any sales.

Ziglar uses examples of how to create positive word pictures in verbal as well as written sales. With practice, choosing the right words is automatic. Now that we know the words, we can learn to use them in a sale effectively. The key is mastering voice inflection and knowing how to use imagination. Find out how by reading the Insights.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Practice Voice Training

"In my judgment, voice inflection is the most important single undeveloped skill you need to concentrate on in your pursuit of professional sales excellence."
- Secrets of Closing the Sale, page 60

Ziglar explains that most of what we say is superfluous, meaningless to the sale, and we speak in monotone without expressing the meaning of our words. This results in an ineffective presentation. To make our words effective, we need to master voice inflection. The exercise in the book involves recording a simple sentence of eight words eight times and placing emphasis on a different single word each time. The meaning of the sentence changes with each repetition. Then listen to the recording and re-record until you have mastered (at least practiced) voice inflection to create meaning. The sentence to use is, “I did not say he stole the money.” After you master this sentence, record your sales presentation. Listen to the recording and re-record it several times changing your voice inflection until you are communicating your meaning clearly. Ziglar recommends practicing 15 minutes a day for ten days to get the fundamentals. Continue to practice; the effort is worth the payoff. You will have a better understanding of what your customers hear.

I got an added benefit from practicing this exercise myself. I speak with a mild accent that others hear, but I do not notice when I speak. I was able to identify certain words I say that may be difficult for others to understand. I can substitute words that are easier for me to say clearly. This was useful knowledge that made me more effective as a broker over the phone.

The book talks about a cassette Ziglar recorded to help the reader understand and practice effective voice inflection. It provides an 800 number to reach Ziglar Training Systems. I was curious if the tape was still available. I called the number, and a courteous live human being answered the phone immediately. She promptly transferred me to another extremely agreeable person. She engaged me in a helpful, pleasant conversation, explained the cassette is now a CD and mailed it to me. The CD is just as helpful as the fine professionals who helped me and lived up to Ziglar’s reputation.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Use Imagination to Evoke Expectations

"Yes, words do make a difference, so you, too, need to be a ‘word merchant.’ You must learn to use them in an effective picture-painting process in order to utilize the potential you have and reach your peak as a sales professional."
- Secrets of Closing the Sale, page 265

This is fun but a little tricky to master. The idea is to make the product memorable and special. You increase the impact of your presentation by adding words and suggestions that are unusual. You will get an increased emotional response and establish what the customer should expect from the product. An example from the book is the “Oooh and Aaah” Close.  A salesman is presenting a china pattern at a convention. He says to the audience, “This is what we call the ‘Oooh and Aaah’ pattern. We call it that because when the girl sees this one she either says ‘Oooh’ or ‘Aaah.’” The audience always responds with “Oooh” or “Aaah” after they see it. The china pattern in this true example went from being a unique and beautiful no seller to being a best-seller because it now had a story. Special words give your product an interesting story.

Of course, that example would not fit every situation but “word merchandising” is useful in different ways. In this example, a saleslady makes both the customer and the coat she is trying on exceptional with a few carefully chosen words, “Honey, this is quality, and on you it looks natural.” In another example, a menu from Hyatt Hotels creates an expectation of great food: “Spinach Supreme. A tumultuous arrangement of fresh spinach leaves mingled with enoki mushrooms, crisp chips of bacon, and ripe tomato, with our superb hot honey bacon dressing.”

Use imaginative words or images in a way that works for you. The objective is to create a little serendipity in the customer’s mind. Unique stories and use of words creates the expectation of a unique product or service. The expectation should be something that can be a reality for the customer. You probably already believe what you sell is special if you are a professional salesperson. All you need to do is make the customer feel the same way.

One of the things I noticed while reading this book is that although the examples of successful sales scenarios change, Ziglar uses consistent repetition and positive reinforcement of the key ideas. This is exactly the way he taught millions to succeed. Practice is doing something over and over again and getting better at it. It is not repeating the same mistakes hoping it works out better this time. Consistent positive reinforcement helps change those bad habits and mistakes that happen repeatedly. New ideas do not stick enough to replace the old ones on the first try. If you decide to use this book to improve your career, you will not get the full benefit with one read. Take Ziglar’s advice and read it several times while practicing. As he says you can apply these concepts to your situation, and I have found repetition useful not just in getting better at sales but also in getting better at all aspects of my life. Try it.

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Ingrid Urgolites

ABOUT Ingrid Urgolites

I work for Citigroup in operations. I have a varied background, and I enjoy service-oriented work. In addition to business, I have a keen interest in food and nutrition, and I have been vegetarian or vegan my whole life...
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