A couple years ago, I wrote a piece exhorting salespeople to stop focusing on closing the sale. "You will end up closing more sales if you focus on the fit instead," I wrote.
The reactions to that article (and to this theme in general) ranged from, "Oh yeah, tell that to my boss!" to "This stuff is amazing. It’s uncanny how true it is!"
Permit me to revisit this idea and add some perspective that should help both sides of the discussion.
First, some history. Since the beginning of recorded time, the salesperson’s job description had three parts. The first two were communicating information and building relationships. The third was facilitating transactions. Thus, "closing the sale" was born.
The difference between "closing" and "advancing" the sale seems minor. Yet, it’s anything but. For starters, sometimes advancing the sale means walking away from the sale. Other times, it might require waiting and listening.
Why the traditional notion of closing is counterproductive
Salespeople with a traditional sales mindset have a "close mentality." This might seem like a good thing, but it’s not. A close mentality is counterproductive for three reasons:
It creates an artificial sense of optimism and control over the actual close-ability of a sale that may not be closeable at all, at least right now, or that may not even be real in the first place. This results in salespeople chasing bad business.
It creates "decision-maker myopia," causing salespeople to attempt to close the sale with contacts who may have no power whatsoever to do so.
In an insidious way, it creates "sales tension." Even without using tired old closing techniques, a closing mentality translates into transactional language or into a subconscious – or in some cases very conscious – focus on the "deal." As a result, traditional salespeople send a certain, "transactional energy" that customers sense, and it causes them to put their guard up against being sold. This defensiveness reduces information flow from the customer to a trickle. It also quite negatively affects the salesperson’s professionalism and credibility.
Advancing the sale requires finesse
Salespeople who operate with what I call a business resource mindset focus on advancing the sales campaign. By constantly assessing the customer urgency, the fit, and the winnability – i.e. the reality of the sale – they end up closing more sales than "closers" do because they minimize tension, understand the true close-ability of the sale, and know who closeable contacts are.
These same business resource salespeople are remarkably clear-eyed about what is and isn’t good business and they act relentlessly on that knowledge. They know when to walk from an "opportunity," they know when to go into "wait and listen mode," and they know when – and how – to "go for the close."
The focus-on-advancing-the-sale mentality demands great skill, discipline, and finesse. It has nothing in common with that passive, and often artificial, "low-pressure sales" approach, which requires no skill at all.
Shift your thinking and adjust your words
Business resource salespeople are as passionate and hard-charging as their traditional (dare we say, "aggressive") counterparts. It’s just that their passion isn’t directed toward myopically "closing the deal." It’s directed toward advancing – indeed accelerating – the sales campaign in a realistic way.
How to do this? Start by doing everything you can to shift your thinking away from closing the sale to advancing the sales campaign. Then adjust your language a bit. Limit your use of the word "decision" in your discussions with customers and let them hear the word "fit" a bit more often.