Closing vs Consulting

Traditional sales training used to include a focus on teaching sales people a number of different closing techniques. You have all heard of closing techniques with names like:

  1. The “George Washington Close”
  2. The “Alternative Close”
  3. The “Standing Room Only close”

Yes, I believe that these types of closing techniques may statistically improve your sales rate when you are retailing fruit and vegetables or simple low cost widgets. Many training programmes go further than this, suggesting that you should adopt an “ABC” (Always Be Closing) mentality.

What is implied by ABC to me is that you are expected to be so far out of step with your customer that you are you have no idea when they will be ready to place their order, and so you attempt to secure it at every possible opportunity in case you miss the golden moment!

My problem with all closing techniques in a consultative sales environment is the erroneous assumption that the sale will be won or lost on what you do at the very end of the sales process.

Sure you could blow it at this point, but if the customer has already made up their mind not to buy, some devilishly brilliant close (that will momentarily make the customer lose their reasoning) will cause the customer to give you to the order, is unlikely. The exception to this may be the, “I have got a gun to your Mothers head” close.

Unfortunately, people who would disagree with me on this have immediate feedback and perfect logic to support their belief. “I used this closing technique and I got the order” so therefore closing techniques work. Or “my closing technique was weak and I lost the sale at the last minute, therefore I need to close harder/better/more often”. Their ‘close’ is the most immediate event prior to receiving (or not) the order and so it easy to assume there is a direct correlation between the close and the success of the sale.

The reality is that what you do during the sales development, such as discovering and prioritising compelling issues, building value and creating a return on investment proposition with the customer has far more determination on the successful outcome of the sale than any last ditch efforts at the end of the sale.

A consultative sale is a step by step process. Receiving the order at the end of the process should not be a hurdle that you and the client suddenly have to jump over.
While I have never thought closing techniques were important I used to think that yes, you needed to ask for the order. I believed how and what words you used to ask for the order were not important. Anyway, one day I decided to analyse how I asked for the order and surprisingly I discovered I was never asking for the order. Instead I found at the end of the sales process I was typically making a confident recommendation to the customer to purchase the solution I proposed, and in placing their order they were directly responding to this direction. I also discovered that this approach is very common with other sales people in consultative selling situations.

My thinking on this is that the client has engaged with us in the process because we add value (specific environment and product expertise) to the sales process and therefore our recommendation to them, when it comes to decision time is highly valued and influential. Research in retail selling has shown that customers put off purchasing decisions when faced with the uncertainty that choices present.

And I think the same factors makes customers more comfortable to place orders when sales people confidently direct them to do so. Of course this would be a very silly approach if you hadn’t already worked with them to analyse their requirements and evaluate possible solutions.

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