Does Closing Kill Sales?
Jill Konrath has a great little podcast titled Closing Can Kill Sales, at salesopedia.com.
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.
All of the rules of selling are being transformed by the explosion of information now available on the web – and the explosion of opinion now available in social networking. Almost no one gets this transformation of everything from the cold call, to the relationship, to pain selling – and yes, even the close. It’s especially true of those folks who "teach" selling. It’s good to see that Jill and Charles are a couple of the few exceptions out there.
As a well trained former Xeroxer I completely agree with Jill although I don’t kid myself that while making a presentation I’m not looking to close a sale. Why else would I be there? I also know that the person I’m speaking with is aware of that as well. Like Jill I know that some of my closes are for information which will eventually lead to a better relkationship.
I believe I’ve always tried to think in terms of how best I can solve the clients problem, rather than "make a sale". I too am uncomfortable about the manipulation techniques of many sales methods, and I think clients are as well and also see straight through them. In a commodity market where price is the key determinant then closing probably has its place and is part of the sales "dance", but for complex sales one needs to be a lot smarter and treat the client with the respect they deserve.
The only exposure to a "respectful" sales method I’ve had is from Jeff Thull, which I found very helpful in clarifying what I’d felt about the process and giving me more confidence in working with potential clients. I recommend his book (Mastering the Complex Sale) and strongly suggest going on one of his training courses. I think there are others who teach in the same vein but don’t have any direct experience of them.
Eddie, I am a Jeff Thull fan too. He and I have been to each others’ classes, and we are both of the view that a true collaboration in a long-term perspective is the right way to think of "selling." I endorse your endorsement of him.