5 ways to close big deals nowFebruary 4, 2013: 5:00 AM ET
How to overcome a climate of uncertainty and move from talk to contract.
By Verne Harnish, contributor
1. Help the deciders earn more
Ditch the mindset that you're pitching a company. You're selling to people who are motivated by self-interest, like anyone else. Get to know the folks with the power, and do some detective work to find out what their bonuses are based on. Make it clear how your products or services will help the key influencers "meet their numbers," and you'll find yourself with passionate supporters in your corner.
2. Quantify the cost of delay
Research shows that people will do more to avoid a loss than to score a win. Quit talking about the benefits you offer and instead explain exactly what your prospects will lose in time, reputation, money, and quality if they don't buy from you -- immediately. This material should be front and center in your proposal. If you don't have two pages' worth, you haven't dug deep enough.
3. Get them to put skin in the game
When you put together an elaborate pitch on your own dime, you're the only one who is invested in the deal. Prospects will be more likely to okay a giant contract if you can get them to collaborate with you, as a consultant, on an early phase first. Once they've put time and money into teaming up with you, they'll be primed to move much more quickly.
4. Submit three proposals
Don't try to compete with low-balling competitors. When bidding on business, send three proposals to a client, offering different levels of pricing and service in a way that shines a spotlight on your strength. If you're known for a speedy response time, you might give pricing for same-day, next-day, and five-day service. This will cause your prospects to wonder what corners your rivals are cutting. Are their prices cheaper because they're slower?
5. Hire an influencer
It may not be fair, but in many industries you need to have the right person on your team to win certain deals. Even if there's a formal bidding process, you'll need this well-connected individual to call in favors for you to get any consideration. Hire him as an adviser. It will cost you, but even if he makes just five key phone calls a year for you, he'll more than earn his keep.
--Verne Harnish is the CEO of Gazelles Inc., an executive education firm.
This story is from the February 4, 2013 issue of Fortune.