Closing the Book on Closing

Let’s pull out all the stops on this.

Aggressive, constant closing is just about the worst thing most salespeople can do. Closing kills more sales than it gets, and ruins future sales by squelching relationships. If you still have those old “50 Closing Strategies” books gathering dust, get rid of them. If you still believe in ABC—Always Be Closing—I want to convince you once and for all to stop it.

And sales managers, please read on: because at every quarter’s end, when you exhort the troops to bring the numbers in, all you’re doing is telling them to close. And you are constructing a circular firing squad when you do it.

I’ve had a few things to say about this in the past, not just about closing  but about the paradox of selling,  and about why so much in sales these days works to defeat trust, hence defeat sales.  As Yogi Berra said, you could look it up.

Don’t Take My Word that Closing is Bad: Take Konrath and Rackham’s

Jill Konrath  is a highly-respected author,  sales consultant, and blogger.  She’s even less ambiguous than I am: “I will never, ever train people on closing techniques if they sell to the corporate marketplace.

In Neil Rackham’s perennial best-seller SPIN Selling  , he describes results of research on closing for both low-priced and high-priced goods.

• For low-priced goods, training sellers in closing techniques resulted in slightly shorter sale times, and a slightly increased rate of sale (76% vs. 72%). Meaning—a slight improvement by increasing closing techniques.

• For higher-priced goods, training sellers in closing techniques also resulted in shorter sales transaction times—but it also resulted in less sales—33% vs. 42% before being trained in closing.  

In other words: closing may increase efficiency and slightly improve your results if you’re selling copy paper, and low cost add-on products (“you want fries with that” is actually a good use of closing: take note, McD’s countermen).

But if you’re selling any kind of professional services, or most anything over a few hundred dollars–the better you get at closing, the less you sell!  Oh well, at least you get shot down faster!

Rackham’s data was from a few decades ago.  Do you think closing techniques have gotten more effective, or less effective, in today’s times?  Yup, that’s right.

The Real Culprits: Sales Management and the Training Industry

Salespersons have their own battles to fight. But their job is made immeasurably harder by those who design the sales environments.

Ask yourself, which business strategy works better: one that is executed consistently over a long time period, or one that is given a new endpoint every few months? It’s the same with relationships—business or personal.

In personal relationships, we talk about people who are commitment-phobic, or about players—those looking only for one-night stands. In effect, those are what the quarterly insistence on cleaning up the numbers makes your salespeople.

Following is a quote from a sales training newsletter I received a week ago:

Charles, with only three days to go until the end of the month (and end of the first quarter), it is time to push hard to exceed budgets.

This month we focused on planning and preparation, but it is now tome [sic] for all your hard work to pay off. As it is time to close, we have put up a small selection of articles on our homepage to help you.

Members can log in and search for thousands more articles and resources, including over 40 more articles all on sales closing.

Presumably somebody buys this stuff. But let’s be clear about what it is: the intellectual version of crack. It urges you to give up on long-term plans and relationships, and subordinate them to the siren call of the “here-now.” Worse, it is entirely self-centered—urging the seller to bend the client, and particularly the client’s wallet, to the will of the seller.

Here’s how Neil Rackham puts it: “When salespeople are under pressure to produce short-term results and are being told to get the business this month by whatever means necessary, they pressure customers and this creates suspicion and mistrust.” 

Exactly. So if you’re a sales manager in a business that isn’t small-dollar and ancillary, and if you’re pushing your people to step up the closing at quarter’s end, then you are creating suspicion and mistrust. Which ruins sales in the medium and long term.

Who cuts off their nose to spite their face that way? Besides crack addicts, I mean?

Never mind. Just stop closing. In its place, substitute constant striving to improve results and relationships for your clients. If that feels too vague, then use Jill Konrath’s suggestion: focus on the Next Logical Step.

You’ll sell more. And sleep better too.