Sales closing techniques are ineffective and losing you money

Sales closing techniques are ineffective and losing you money

There is nothing worse than sales books by “gurus” (don’t call yourself a guru) that peddle sales closing techniques help salespeople close more deals.

They don’t work, have never worked, and will never work.

If you have a book with a section on closing techniques, I would question the quality of the rest of the book. I’d trash the book right away.

You should ask for the business, most prospects need gentle nudge from time to time.

You shouldn’t, however, believe that an “Abe Lincoln Close” or something I just learned about called the “Porcupine Close” will ever work.

Question the validity of sales closing techniques with ridiculous animal names. You won’t regret it.

the porcupine close is not a valid sales closing technique
Sales closing techniques named after porcupines will never work.

There are no commonly accepted best practices for sales training

There is no commonly accepted best practice for what sales professionals should do. Because there is no best practice, bad sales advice is all over the place. Strategies that have been proven ineffective are rarely questioned.

GAAP (generally accepted accounting practices) exists for accounting. The rules of SEO and inbound are well known for marketers. There are accepted best practices.

Those professions also have accepted worst practices.

Marketers know that clickbait, spam, and purchasing lead lists will hurt their efforts. They know that good emails focus on creating value.

Because there is no sales best practice, garbage like the “Columbo Close” still exists in online sales training. I’ll spare you the details, but it involves the salesperson pretending not to ask for the business before they turn around and say “one more thing…”. Sales is not the Oscars. You’ll look like a fool if you try to put on a performance for your prospect.

Some of these concepts are as bad as “10-minute abs”. 10-minute abs don’t exist, and neither do curiously named sales closing techniques.

It’s reassuring to believe there’s one tool that will change your fortune. We want to believe that there is a simple way to change our fate without putting in the necessary work to improve our skills..

The 'Columbo Close' is not an effective sales closing technique.
The ‘Columbo Close’ is not an effective sales closing technique.

“Sales closing techniques” have been proven ineffective through research

SPIN Selling determined sales closing techniques are ineffective through researchIf you haven’t read SPIN Selling, you need to. SPIN Selling is the best sales book ever written.

The writer, Neil Rackham, is a researcher dedicated to understanding what works for salespeople. His team studied over 35,000 sales calls and analyzed the data to see which techniques worked.

Instead of inventing a method and trying to prove it’s effectiveness, his team did the opposite. They shadowed reps to determine which behaviors occurred the most on successful calls.

They looked into question types, and found that the SPIN selling sequence occurred frequently on successful calls. The SPIN questioning method is widely accepted as the best way to ask probing questions.

That questioning method is what made SPIN Selling famous, but there’s a section at the start of the book that’s often overlooked:

Chapter 2. Obtaining Commitment: Closing the Sale.

That chapter summarizes that sales closing techniques don’t work.

Neil Rackham sees “closing techniques as both ineffective and dangerous”, having seen “evidence that they lose much more business than they gain”.

His research concluded that most successful sales calls don’t have more than 1-2 closing attempts. The statistical likelihood of closing goes down the more you ask for the business.

Lots of sales floors train reps to close as much as possible even though it’s been proven an ineffective strategy.

When I first read that chapter it was discouraging. It didn’t make sense that there were so many sales closing techniques if none of them actually worked.

I had to forget all of the sales closing techniques I had read about. This part wasn’t easy, but it was the most important step of my development as a sales professional.

You have to be unemotional about the techniques you use in order to be the best. You won’t regret trusting the research.

Why do sales trainers insist on asking for the business as much as possible?

ABC is one of the worst sales closing techniques
Who would have thought that ABC, the most famous sales closing technique, would let reps down

Theory: Sales managers and trainers believe that their reps are gun shy. This is why they want them to ask for the business as much as possible.

Some reps that are afraid to ask for the business. Those salespeople might need to be encouraged to close more to get comfortable, but this is not a strategy for everyone.

Sales closing techniques are the last thing you say before a prospect says ‘yes’, so they’re perceived as working. It’s very unlikely that the specific phrasing you used to ask for the business is what made the yes happen.

Some sales trainers act like sales closing techniques are a ray gun that zaps the prospect into submission.

That concept is preposterous. It suggests that people buy completely because of the closing technique without consideration to value, or fit within their organization.

You might get some business using closing techniques, but it will cost you more than you win. To believe that one sentence of a minimum hour long relationship is the difference between yes or no is crazy. There is no way that one line is what got you the deal.

The evidence against repeatedly closing means you should have a good idea that the prospect will buy before you ask. When and how you ask for the business is much more important than how often you do it.

Does anyone enjoy “hard closing” and arguing with prospects?

This is how prospects look when you fire 3 sales closing techniques at them
This is how prospects look when you fire 3 sales closing techniques at them

Getting rid of sales closing techniques had an unexpected benefit for me: I became happier at work. It’s awesome to know that I can out-sell everyone without having to be rude and aggressive.

This might sound dramatic (sarcasm incoming), but prospects don’t like when you use elaborate text to manipulate them. They enjoy having a real conversation with someone who appears to have a pulse, and that’s what you should strive to give them.

It’s not always a burden for prospects to listen to sales calls. Many people enjoy learning about a tool that could help improve their business. Remember this during your calls, and try to be fun to work with.

If they enjoy purchasing from you, they might want to do it again in the future. You will run into less buyers remorse because you didn’t try to manipulate the prospect.

Developing a conversational mentality

Conversation is better than any sales closing techniqueKnowing the right time to close comes from being able to have a conversational mentality, not a closing mentality. This sounds counter-intuitive, but a conversational mentality means not changing your demeanor throughout the call.

So many reps get to the end of a call and throw their rapport out the window by becoming hostile and aggressive. They become someone prospects don’t like speaking to.

The best salespeople don’t change their tone, mentality, or demeanor. They understand that sales calls don’t change based on the stage you’re in.

Always remain conversational, especially at the close. That’s the most important time of the call to be able to converse with the client and mutually figure out a way to move forward.

The sales closing mentality

So what should you do?

If you’ve read my other articles you’re going to notice a common theme: you need to be a real person that has genuine conversations to be successful.

It’s harder and will take longer. There is no quick-fix or magic lamp for being good at sales. You have to Develop the right mentality  and train your skills over a period of time to get good. Sales closing strategies are no different.

‘Sales closing techniques’ as I’ve defined don’t work, but you still have options at the end of a call.

There is a sales closing sequence that works.

It’s an open process, and can be utilized by anyone selling any product. It is a structure of how you should have a conversation, and mainly common sense.

Instead of learning an unorthodox questioning sequence, focus on having an open conversation with your prospect. Talk to them about their likes and dislikes of your product. You don’t have to completely avoid talking about the weaker areas of your solution. No product is perfect. If you’re honest about that you’ll build more trust.

Once you’ve had that conversation, become solution focused: work with them to make sure that the product they choose is able to solve their problems. There will rarely be a buyer that doesn’t have a problem – companies don’t usually buy things because they’re ‘cool’.

The sales closing strategy that works

I’ve ragged on sales closing techniques for about 2000 words already, so there’s no point in stopping now. Let’s give this process a name… why not: “The have a pulse and be a real human being close”.

I think it captures the essence of what we’re going for. We want to be polite, informative, ask thoughtful questions, and earn the business.

Step one: Explain the customer onboarding process

This should be pretty straightforward.

The best way to lead up to a close is to let the prospect know what happens when someone agrees to buy your product. You’re subtly letting them know you would like them to sign up, but are kind enough to let them know exactly what happens if they do.

You’re also preempting some important objections by going through this process. Let them know timelines, technical requirements, how training/support works, and what you do to ensure your solution is deployed successfully. 

It’s important to let the prospect know your company cares about their success.

Let them know you won’t abandon them once you get their money. Crazy how people want to know that right?!?!

Step two: Explain your pricing structure

pricing should always be explained when closing salesMany salespeople don’t explain why their product costs what it does, which is baffling to me.

They spend hours going into painstaking detail about the features, but don’t let the customer know the rationale behind the cost of the solution.

This phenomenon becomes worse when the product is high-end. If you have a solution that’s more expensive than your competitors, tell the prospect!! 

You’re a fool if you don’t think your prospect will do their research on this. A simple Google search will reveal who is on the high end of pricing, and who is on the low-end. Prepare your prospect for what they’re going to find out.

There’s a psychological theory called framing that you should use when explaining pricing to prospects. Framing is a type of cognitive bias. Cognitive bias says that people make decisions differently depending on how a situation is presented to them. You should use cognitive bias to your advantage in sales whenever you can.

If you let the prospect evaluate other solutions on their own, they might look at them through the lens of price and think your product is “too expensive”. You can avoid this by framing your pricing through the lens you want them to.

When you introduce pricing, tell them you’re the most expensive because this type of solution needs to be “high quality”. If they want reliability, support, and a product that fulfills all of their needs, they have to go high-end with yours.

If you frame pricing like that, the prospect won’t see competitors as “less expensive”. They will see them as “cheap”.

Always tell your prospects the ins and outs of your pricing. They are going to find them out anyways, so it might as well come from you. You will earn points for your honesty.

Step three: Explain how signing up works

Similar to pricing structure, salespeople rarely explain to their prospects what signing up looks like.

I’ve seen reps ask for credit cards completely out of the blue hoping that the prospect goes along with it. Their reactions are predictably hilarious. This type of behavior makes people uncomfortable (shocker).

People like buying when they are comfortable and informed.

Tell them what forms of payments you accept, what they will be signing, what they should read into more detail about (clauses, cancellations etc.), and what the steps to that process are. Break it down in simple terms.

It usually sounds something like this:

“First, I send over our standard agreement. It’s for 1 year of our service, and the expectation is that you’ll stick with us for the full year to see results. We don’t allow cancellation in the first year because if you cancel too soon it doesn’t give us a chance to prove our value.

We will process your payment once the agreement is completed, and we accept cheque or credit card.

After that, we can book you into a training session. We know you’re going to be eager to get started, so we book this session as soon as possible. Once again, your training is where we customize SuperProductTM to fit your exact specifications and ensure success.

We pay extreme attention to detail with clients to ensure that they get everything they want out of SuperProductTM. Our success is completely dependent on our clients success, and we hope that you’ll renew for an additional year once you see the results.”

Take notice of the 3 most important points in that paragraph:

Point A: “We don’t allow cancellation in the first year because if you leave too soon it doesn’t give us a chance to prove our value”.

Salespeople avoid talking about  cancellation policies because they think it will kill their deals.

Dishonesty and omitting information is the real deal killer. The prospect will find out. If they don’t, then you successfully cheated someone. That’s not the way to do business. It will eventually catch up to you and your company.

Explain why the cancellation policy exists. Your prospect is a human being; they will understand a simple business decision.

Spin the cancellation policy in your favor by letting them know that it’s to ensure you can deliver results. The prospect will appreciate your honesty, and they won’t freak out in their first few weeks if results take a little while.

You’re preempting two potential objections by explaining the cancellation policy: issues with the cancellation policy, and a slow start to the product.

You’re not going to lose any deals by being honest about cancellation policies if you spin it the right way. If you hide it and a prospect finds out later, you will lose deals. It will also hurt your reputation which is even worse.

Point B: “Once the agreement is completed, we process and accept payment”.

Let the prospect know that you expect money if they want to sign up. Why pretend like selling them is not what you’re trying to do?

They know you’re a salesperson, don’t hide it.

The prospect will be prepared for your ask for the business if you’re forthcoming about what you expect. This process is all about preparing them to do business with you.

An old sales cliche says that people buy from who they trust. It’s cliche, but that’s because it’s true. Make them trust you by being brutally honest.

Point C: “Our success is completely dependent on our clients success, and we hope that you’ll renew for an additional year once you see the results.”

Be straightforward about what you expect to happen once you’ve done business together. If you only talk about signing the prospect up, why would they think you won’t abandon them when you have their money?

You haven’t given them any reason to believe that you will stick around or that you genuinely care about their success. Give them one!!

Let the prospect know that their success is beneficial to you as well.

It’s important that you don’t come off like you’re getting ahead of yourself and already trying to book a renewal. Let them know that buying is the first step, but the process doesn’t end there – you’re going to look out for their success even after they’ve purchased.

Bonus: Talk to them about how you build sales through referral business. Letting them know that you do a lot of signups through referral lets the prospect know that customers are getting success with your product. Depending on your relationship, this is a great segue to get a referral down the road when your product produces results.

(Now back to the sales closing process)

Step four: ask for the business, politely

This is the part of the sales closing process where the majority of my hate and scorn lies.

If you’ve read the whole article, you know my sales closing strategy is to be completely honest and forthcoming. We’ve told the prospect everything. They know how to do business with us. We paid attention to their potential concerns, preempted them, and are going to ask if they want to get on board.

This is not the time to fuck it up with a verbose manipulation named after a former President, actor, animal, or other type of extraterrestrial being.

Just ask them if they want to work with you and if they have any concerns. That’s it.

You’ve already done all of the work required to get some prospects to sign up with you. Closing is the easiest part if you’ve been thorough in your sales closing process. We’ve preempted the common concerns, and they know what to expect.

There are two ways I like to ask. They are both unspectacular, but effective:

“So how do you feel about everything I’ve showed you?”

“So how do you feel about our solution? Do you have any concerns at this point?”

It’s a simple gut check.

This is a tactful way to do what any sales closing technique aspires to do. It forces the prospect to tell you what they think, and if they have any objections.

The key difference is it does it in a way that is conversational, not confrontational.

We’ve built rapport throughout the process, there is no reason to throw it out the window. Ask for the business casually as if you’ve asked a million times before.

One of two things will happen at this point: they’ll either say everything sounds good, or they will express concern.

If everything sounds good, reiterate the signup process and send them an agreement. They have no objections, and you just won a deal.

If they have a concern, handle the objection. Don’t be combative or aggressive when you do it. Just respectfully explain why you think that their concern is small, and ask them how they feel about things now.

I won’t go into full detail about objection handling at the close, as that’s another article entirely.

You’ll end up handling less objections if you go through the sales closing process as outlined. Navigate the end of your sales meetings being honest, and conversational – your bank account and your prospects will thank you.

Avoid sales closing techniques and your business deals will be as friendly as this one
Avoid sales closing techniques and your business deals will be as friendly as this one
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