What you’re doing is aligning someone’s vision with yours, which is the heart of the sale. If the visions aren’t quite a match, you can still link your approach in some way to the client’s primary concern. The car salesperson might acknowledge that a particular car is just a bit outside the customer’s price range, but that’s because it has the upgraded tires, which will last longer and get her better gas mileage, saving her money in the long run. As a therapist, you might say that while learning skills is important in relieving the symptoms of anxiety, you’ve found in your experience that understanding and reshaping certain underlying personality dynamics is most helpful in reducing anxiety overall. In this way, you’re educating the client about your approach.
6. Get yeses down the line. A good car salesperson is looking for agreement to each element of his pitch and is alert to any negative responses. If a customer says he thinks the expensive tires are an unnecessary extra expense, the salesperson needs to highlight the advantages, perhaps showing in dollars and cents exactly how much can be saved over three years. Or he may need to offer to swap out the tires for less expensive ones. If the client shakes her head while you’re talking about understanding personality dynamics, or says she’s gone through all that stuff before in therapy, you need to stop and address her concerns.
If you don’t address the shaking head or the flat, tentative “that sounds okay” response from clients early on—if you don’t clarify and address any sign of ambivalence or concern—when you ask at the end whether they want to set up another appointment, they’ll tell you they need to think about it, or check their work schedule and get back to you. If you get this response at the end, you’ll have little or no time to mop up. Catching the negatives as they come up allows you to close with all yeses.
7. Summarize and close the deal. You can start this step by saying, “I feel like we’re on the same page. Do you?” If you don’t get a solid “yes”—or if you hear a hesitant “yeah, I think so”—then back up. On the other hand, if you do get a firm, positive response, you can lay out the next step. Here, the car salesperson would talk about financing or delivery times. But you can talk about a six-session commitment, copays, homework assignments, or what you’d like to focus on in the next session.
8. Follow up. Some clients are shopping around and actually do need time to think before they commit to anything. Don’t pressure them in session by saying something like “Just to let you know, I have openings now, but probably won’t by next week.” Most clients will hear that as manipulation, which it is. Instead, give them your business card and tell them to call if they have any other questions. Then, be sure to follow up. Just as the car salesman will undoubtedly leave you a voicemail within a day or two, thanking you for coming in and seeing if you have any questions, you can do the same.
Ultimately, if you suspect that potential clients are left with any reservations and you didn’t have a chance to mop up, you can say something like “I realize that I was giving you a lot of information that may have been a bit overwhelming. I’d be happy to talk to you further about this.” Or you could say, “It sounded like you had reservations about having your husband come in. Maybe it would be helpful if we could briefly discuss ways you could present the idea to him.” What you’re doing here is avoiding cutoffs by making it easy for clients to circle back. The message here is that your door is open.
Like other aspects of therapy, success at closing the deal with new clients is a matter of both practice and finding ways to get comfortable with integrating the steps I’ve outlined into your own personal style. If you’ve been sold by this brief guided tour of the art of salesmanship, you’re ready to see how it’ll impact your practice. If not—perhaps because you still find the idea of therapists learning from salespeople a bit discordant—my hunch is that I lost you somewhere along the journey through these eight steps. I’ll be sure to give you a call to follow up.
Robert Taibbi is the author of more than 300 articles and five books, including Boot Camp Therapy: Action-Oriented Approaches to Anxiety, Anger, and Depression. He has a private practice in Charlottesville, Virginia. Contact: bobtaibbi.com.
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