The Closing Myth (Sales Pressure Traps)

I often ask senior executives what they think the biggest weakness is within their sales team. A common answer is that their sales people need to get better at closing. But here is the thing I've learned from three decades in the trenches...

The perceived problem is rarely the real problem – inability to close is usually a symptom of deeper issues.

In both complex enterprise selling and simple or transactional selling (with one decision-maker) there is a universal truth that must be embraced if we are to improve results –opening is far more important than closing.

Opening is the most important phase of the sale because the way we initiate the relationship determines the likelihood of success. The two critical issues in opening are 1) selecting the correct role to engage within the customer organisation, and 2) creating a conversation that provides value (through insights) for them.

1) Opening the corporate relationship with the right person

A common mistake in selling is to engage with the people who most easily agree to take a call or meet face-to-face. Inbound leads often come from recommenders and information gatherers who act for others. These people are keen to obtain information but can quickly become blockers who seek to deny us access to the real decision making power-base. We must carefully select the right entry point into every opportunity and by definition this decision-driver will often be difficult to reach.

If you are already engaged at the wrong level and struggling to elevate your conversations in an account, these questions that can earn the right to go higher.

  • “What is the business outcome this initiative has to deliver at a business case level?”
  • “What are the biggest risks in this project and what is your strategy to manage those risks?”

These questions also set the right agenda when engaging a real decision-maker because leaders care about delivering results and managing risk. The business case and change management issues always figure high in their thinking. But how do you open a conversation when you are proactively reaching out to a senior customer executive? 

2) Setting the right agenda on value through insight

No senior leader worth engaging is interested in us, our company or our products, services and ‘solutions’. They instead care about their own results, stakeholders and career. Although we are wired to talk about ourselves, what we do and how we do it; we must instead lead with why a conversation should matter to the other person.

We can create conversations of insight and value by truly understanding our best customers and the disruptive market trends that are relevant to our new potential clients. Selling strategically also means engaging early and the most senior level possible, setting an agenda that creates a positive bias toward us while engineering the requirements and their process in a way that makes it difficult for the competition.

The best sellers are sponsored down into the buyer’s organisation by the leader to then develop inside knowledge and support where closing becomes a natural next step of partnership rather than a white knuckle adventure filled with misplaced hope and reliance on luck.

Here is a 2 minute interview I did with John Smibert on closing.

The 3 prerequisites for closing

Asking for the customer’s business must be earned and only attempted after the buyer has signalled they are ready to take that next step. The seller should never attempt to close until these three areas are covered, or to use a baseball metaphor, don't run for home plate until these three bases have been covered:

  1. Establish trust and rapport (by being authentic and transparent).
  2. Agree compelling business value (as defined by them).
  3. Understand their timing and priorities (and their process for evaluation, selection and procurement if in complex enterprise environments).

Many sales people make the mistake of pressuring their potential client when the buyer isn't in a position to commit to the purchase. Managers often push their sales people to offer discounts on one hand and threats of a price increase on the other if the buyer fails the meet the seller’s deadline. I’ve seen sales managers instruct sales people to go and sit in the customer’s lobby for days until the purchase order is secured... desperation is the worst way to attempt a close. 

The bottom line in closing

Difficulty in closing is almost always a symptom of not managing the sale properly. Closing must be earned and objections are usually evidence of the fact that the seller has made mistakes by pushing before trust and value has been established and without the necessary understanding of the customer’s timing, priorities and processes.

All managers need to know that they cannot ‘manage by results’ and must instead focus on driving activities and actions while coaching strategy and skills. Ask the right questions of your sales people right at the beginning of the quarter and help them identify and execute the right actions that create progression of the sale. Firing-up the blow-torch with just days to go for hitting sales targets, after neglecting the inputs that create success, is a sure-fire way to damage relationships, undermine credibility and drive-down price and margin.

Special note of thanks to Jonathan Farrington for allowing me to base this blog post on a magazine article I wrote for Top Sales Magazine, published in March 2016. FREE subscription to Top Sales here.


If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by: Hugo A. Quintero G. Follow Venus Fly Trap - "King Henry"

Jaw-Dropping Marketing That You Won't Believe

Have you ever wondered if we will look back at this period in time and shake our heads in disbelief... how did we allow technology to make us dumber and create societal disengagement. If you had a career in sales... how did I allow the product to be the message?

Every bad idea seemed good at the time

 Do we now live in the age of digital narcissism? Are we witnessing the destruction of good manners and etiquette? Is written language being butchered by social media shorthand? Is the facade of 'social following' masking the absence of human connection? Is the avalanche of content across our screens driving digital distraction and destroying our ability to ponder and learn?

This short clip from Mad Men is more documentary that entertainment... and the advertisements below it are from the same era. They will make your jaw drop with laughter or anger... yet they are all 100% real. The appalling thing is that these types of ads are still happening today in many third world countries! 

How anyone can look themselves in the mirror while they sell a product that kills their customers is beyond me. Advertising reflects the values of society and wow we have changed. I never knew that my dad wore his business shirt and tie to bed so my mother knew who deserved breakfast in bed the next morning!

But at least wives had Pep to get them ready for the evening after a day of house work... I think I am digging a hole I may never escape from...

And for the children in the home who were not satisfied with second-hand cigarette smoke, there was always cocaine gum to stop the whining and get them off to sleep...

Or maybe beer flavoured breast milk to help them sleep through the night... not to mention the nutritional benefits of hops and malt. Who would have ever known that beer is an appetizing and stimulating tonic?

And to get them going in the morning, nothing works better than a massive sugar hit... adding caffein is all the better.

No-one in marketing or sales should push anything they don't believe in. Here is a brilliant example of how marketing and sales can make products attractive to consumers. It highlights how the talent of those who know how to influence can be used for good.

Make sure you believe in what your product, service or solution does for your clients. Be a force for good in world and be clear about the positive difference you make for all stakeholders. Then transfer emotion rather than information.

Click here to see why the power of belief is truly amazing

Join the conversation here. How do you make sure your sales and marketing efforts are completely ethical and that they will remain so after the passage of time?

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: