Does Closing Kill Sales?

Jill Konrath has a great little podcast titled Closing Can Kill Sales, at  

Right there, you may be tempted to say, ‘oh come on, that’s old hat.  Nobody does that anymore; it’s totally schlocky and manipulative and in (B2B, consulting, telecom—pick your choice) no one does that anymore.’

Well, just last week I came across a sophisticated B2B software/communications company, and guess what they wanted to know: how to close more sales.

They may not be thinking old-school “assumptive closes, constant closing,” or “you want more fries with that?”  But they are still focused, as a critical operational goal, on how to “close more sales.”  Plus ça change…

Jill is refreshingly direct.  Pure Midwest, corn-fed charm, you betcha; and she’s the real deal in person.  She came up the classic way, selling Xerox copiers.  She cut her teeth on the “ABC” rule—Always Be Closing.  But, like Huck Finn, she always felt badly about not being able to do it.

About closing, she is direct: “I hate it.  It always felt like a violation of the way people normally behave.  It’s about manipulative strategies to get people to say yes, and I just hated it.”

She sold a lot of copiers, though.  “One thing Xerox did teach us was to ask a lot of questions, and I was good at that.  I was really trying to find out the business case, and I didn’t know if it was there or not.  So I kept asking so I could find out, for myself.”

What does Jill say to people about closing?  “I say to them, never close; never be closing.  But always advance the sales process.  They need to know the next step, whatever it is, that’s true.  And eventually, you’ll hear a magic word—they start to say ‘we.’ Then, after a while, it’s ‘how do we buy this?”

There are others—Phil McGee is one, I hope we hear from him—who I think might say that’s exactly what ‘closing’ is supposed to mean—not manipulation, just relentlessly exploring questions. 

But Jill is no dummy either, and she’s quite insistent about ‘never close.’  Why the passion?

I think it’s because the word ‘closing’ is encrusted with nearly a century of subtext of control and manipulation.  It is too baked in for the niceties of alternate definitions to have an effect.

Take my B2B software example.  They don’t want old-school scripted trick lines; they think they’re too sophisticated for that.  But they’re kidding themselves.  Just as much as an old door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman, they’re looking for a way to get a customer to do what they want them to do—namely buy their product.  They just want it done in a hip, 2009, Sales 2.0, CRM, modern kind of way.

Control and manipulation by any other name is still the same.

The real meaning of Jill’s dictum is deeper, I think.  It means, stop, stop stop trying to force your will on others.  Allow yourself to believe that if you really treat customers well and help them to make the best decision, you’ll get your fair share of that opportunity—and way, way more than that in the opportunities that follow.

For most of us, closing does kill sales.  Paradoxically the best way to sell is to Stop Trying to Sell, and Stop Trying to Close.  Just help your customer.