Securing the Right Commitment

Continuing our journey and looking at a step-by-step guide at improving your sales results. We look in this article at how to gain the result that is right for you and your [soon to be] client.

Definition: close, verb, “To reach an agreement; come to terms.” noun, “The act of closing. A conclusion; finish. “bring (a task or activity) to an end; complete.

The close is a behaviour a salesperson uses which invites a commitment by the prospect, so that the prospect’s next statement accepts or rejects the commitment. In simple sales of products like a television, a close only has two possible outcomes: The customer buys or does not. But in selling accounting services, the close is not so straightforward. For one thing, you must sell an appointment before you can sell your services. So, you need several commitments from each prospect, each one increasing the depth of relationship, culminating finally in a sale.

Most of your meetings (or sales calls) do not result in a sale, but they will also not result in a rejection. I once took three years and dozens of meetings and calls on an oil refinery equipment manufacturer before getting their business. All those contacts before the last one did not result in a sale, but I considered most of them to be successful contacts. What was going on?

Suppose you sell a computer software package to help clients with inventory control. At the end of the meeting, the prospect says, “We need your inventory system, but I can’t make such a big decision alone. Can you come back next week and talk to my controller?” Obviously, this contact has achieved something, but it has not resulted in a sale. It has resulted in another meeting so we could say you have “closed” the meeting successfully.

Scenario: You closed a meeting in the office of Paula Prospect by asking if you could review her last three years’ corporation tax returns to see if you could save her some money. She replied, “I’m not sure. Maybe we could talk about this some other time. Could you call back in a few months?”

Q: Was this a successful sales contact?

Thought: “I might just be getting rid of you”. Just gaining an agreement to a future meeting isn’t a successful close.


There are four possible outcomes of each sales call/contact, in descending order of desirability:

1 Engagement — where the client makes a firm commitment to engage the accountant.

Closing the sale is when the prospect commits to purchase your services. You two have reached agreement, and he or she accepts your proposal and become a client. To be a sale, the prospect must unmistakably commit to engage you, usually by signing something such as an engagement letter or a letter discharging their current accountant. 

2 Advance — where an event takes place that moves the relationship toward a favourable decision.

You may “close” an appointment with a higher level of decision maker, an invitation to attend a seminar, a visit to your office, or other commitment short of an actual agreement to engage your firm. These are advances. They are actions that move the relationship forward.

3 Continuation — where the relationship continues but the prospect does not agree to any specific action to advance the relationship toward a favourable decision.

Continuations do not result in a favourable action, but the prospect has not said no either.

Example situation:

  • “Thanks for dropping by. Come see us again next time you are in the area”
  • “That was a good presentation. I know you could serve our needs if we should ever become dissatisfied with our current accountants. Let’s stay in touch”
  • “That’s very interesting. Would you put us on your newsletter mailing list? Maybe we could do something with you in the future.”

Continuations can mislead you. The prospect gives you compliments and positive signs that make you feel good. Sometimes these are just a polite way to get rid of you. The best way to measure success is by actions.

4 Rejects — where the prospect actively refuses a commitment.

The last category is Rejects. You get few of those. Occasionally a prospect makes it clear there is no way you will ever do business with them. More likely, the prospect indicates a Reject by not agreeing to a future meeting or denying your request to meet with a higher-level decision maker. The test of a Reject is that the prospect actively denies you your principal contact objective.

Key Point: A successful sales contact starts by knowing what objective you can realistically obtain from the contact. Set your contact objectives before the meeting. The best salespeople turn Continuations into Advances. Inexperienced salespeople often set meeting/contact goals such as “gather information about the company” or “improve our relationship.”

However, these activities do not directly contribute to getting an Advance. Every contact gives you an opportunity to gather information and build a relationship. If that were your only objective, you could say every contact was “successful,” but you would never get any clients either! Advances are actions which move the sale forward. No action, no Advance.

In planning your meeting, set objectives that include specific actions you want the prospect to take — objectives such as “get the prospect to visit our office,” “get a meeting with the boss,” or “meet with the Chief Financial Officer.”


The best way to get an appropriate commitment from the prospect is to:

  • Pay primary attention to diagnosis and demonstrating your capability
  • Ensure that you have covered all the prospect’s key concerns
  • Summarise your benefits
  • Suggest an appropriate commitment for the next step.