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Leads are not like Referrals! Here are the 5 Steps to Closing Sales with Leads

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

If you are a small business owner who doesn’t have a sales background, you probably don’t know how to handle leads. Most small businesses actually don’t know how to work with leads, they know how to work with referrals.

When you work with referrals, you’re working with someone who comes to you nearly fully ready to do business with you. The barrier of trust is already mostly broken down and unless you do something to mess up your chances, you will likely get the business.

A lead, however, comes to you because of paid advertising. It is someone who was curious because they saw something that drew them in, and they decided to respond. But, they have their guard up! They are looking for the slightest evidence that you are not who you say you are. If that evidence pops up, you won’t have their trust yet, so you are likely to lose them.

There are also some frustrating aspects of working with leads. Leads are humans just like us. They can be unreliable, they can express interest one moment, and then, never respond again. They can be rude even after requesting you to reach out to them. It is a maddening situation, but if you have worked with leads you know what I mean.

The first thing I want you to do is to remind yourself that leads are not referrals. If you are going to do business with your lead, you will need to build trust and build value to the point that they want to do business with you.

You will get a hold of some of them, and take them through the process to build that trust. Others, you won't get a hold of, which means you’ll need to put them on a nurturing path with your company to give them an idea of who you are when the opportunity to do business with them pops up again. Read my post about the $1,000,000 sales day for more details on keeping attention and nurturing relationships. Others can still do something strange like be rude, or tell you to take them off your list. Instead of taking this personally, just say a little prayer of thanks that they have voluntarily left your life. You probably don’t want to do business with them anyway. Then, promptly forget about them and move on.

Today’s post is going to focus on the ones you get a hold of and have a chance with. Remember not to assume they are going to act the same way as a referral. They are much more skeptical, but if you follow the 5 steps I outline below, you will find great success.

Before you get to the 5 steps though, you will need to get a hold of people. Remember this first. People are increasingly less inclined to call or answer their phones. Especially the younger generations. Be willing to communicate by text, email, social media messages, and other non-phone approaches. Once you have their attention, you can move the conversation to the phone, but sometimes you can handle the whole deal via text, which may seem crazy to you, but there are some people who are simply more comfortable interacting that way. Once you have them, here are the steps to close the sale.

Remember, leads are not like referrals. You will need both to grow a successful business. This list of closing steps can be customized to your business, but the steps are the key. I helped a fundraiser last week with just this list and the steps were still the same. Hopefully this helps.

1. Build Rapport and Trust

People do business with people they know and trust, so it helps to find common beliefs. Try getting to know your leads as you would a friend.

Remember the information you hear, so you can refer to it when building value in your product. Don’t just plow in thinking you should get right to the selling. Take some time to connect with them.

2. Identify a need, a goal, or a pain point

Ask the lead what motivated them to call, or fill out a lead form in the first place. This will help you find out what problem your customer has that your product solves.

People buy benefits, not features (what a product does for them, not just what it can do).

When I sold Cutco, our product’s ergonomic handles were a feature, but it was a benefit that meant users would have less hand fatigue when using Cutco knives. It was a feature that the knives were sharp. It was a benefit that sharp knives make the work easier and safer than dull knives.

Make a list of your product or service’s benefits and tell your prospect about them. Why would they be interested in your product? Not why you are interested. Ask questions to fulfill needs.

Personalize your products. As you build rapport, remember what you learn is important to your customer, and if your product has that benefit, it might be a good time to bring it back up.

The customer should realize they have a problem your product solves because you won’t sell to someone who doesn’t see a need.

3. Present the product and Provide a Solution Using Emotion

Build value above all else. Do not assume that your prospect should know how cool your product is. Be willing to testify to its greatness. When your prospect values the money in their pocket more than your product, they won’t buy.

As soon as your customer values your product and its benefits more than the money they have in their pocket, a sale is made.

Get good at promotion. Promote the value of your product. You don’t have to become an infomercial talking head to be able to sincerely tell your prospect about the benefits of your product. But you do need to use convincing and influential language, and verbal inflection to express the value of your product.

People buy on emotion and defend with logic. Using the information you’ve acquired while building rapport will help you personalize and explain how your product solves the problem they expressed to you.

Use emotion-triggering words and salesmanship to express how great the product is. If you are monotone in explaining something that should be exciting, you will not capture the attention of your prospect.

The best way to show a product solves a problem is through true 3rd person stories of others who have had the same need and who have used your product to solve it.

Emotion comes from wanting the experience the product offers, which is sold through stories. “Facts tell, stories sell.”

4. “This is how it works:” Use the 4 P’s (Price, Plan, Package, and Paperwork)


Many people get nervous about the price, which is why it’s important to express confidence in the cost of your product. Confidence and personal belief are key. Explain why your product is priced the way it is by providing specific reasons. Don’t assume people understand the complexity and value of your product. Use Enthusi.a.s.m.

It can also be useful to use a price comparison for key features, but it’s often best to keep the conversation focused on emotion and benefits.

Make it Easy to Pay

Cover payment options, so your leads know how to pay. Make sure they know you offer flexible payment options and financing options, so it’s easy for them to give you money. Explain how and when specific items or services will be delivered with excitement, including how long delivery will take.


Give your leads an incentive to say, “Yes!”, today. Offer free or limited-time discounts around impending events. Be firm and honest, because if it’s something you always offer, then it’s not an impending event. For example: As an incentive for you to buy today, I’ll throw in…


Know how to finalize sales, whether it’s filling out a form and submitting it online, or simply a matter of handing over a credit card. Whatever your process is, be clear and ready.

5. The Close

Ask for the order with a smile because if you don’t, you’ll never know. Remember that silence can often be a powerful closing tool. Once you’ve made the ask, don’t talk until an answer is given.

Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, was asked his secret for business success, and this is what he said: “I believe there are 5 keys to business success. The first is to ask for the money. Second… Uh, I don’t remember the rest of them.”

My favorite closing style is called an alternate choice close. Ask, “Which one would you prefer?” or “Can we deliver/star/send it to you on Wednesday or Thursday next week?”

If at any point your lead says, “Can you… ?”, say, “I think we can. If we were able to do that, would you move forward?” It doesn’t really matter how you close, but it is important to ask prospects for an order or commitment. Most people in sales fail to realize just how important this one piece is. If you just force yourself to ask, it will significantly improve your closing percentage.

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