My Salespeople Can’t Close …


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Closing is an important skill for salespeople. I often hear sales executives complain that their people are not “good closers.” In my experience the best salespeople often get business without having to close, but that’s a subject for another blog. Let’s define closing as asking for an order and take a closer look at when closing is done.

Buyers have come to despise early trial closes. Salespeople asking: “Do you like the silver or black car better?” irritate me. Studies have shown that in small transactions trial closes are helpful, but they have a negative effect on buyers making larger purchases.

Closing early pressures buyers. Those who prefer buying vs. being sold find early closes manipulative. Before being able to make B2B purchases, decision makers should know:

• The needs of their department or organization
• How well a vendor’s offering addresses those needs
• The potential benefit/value of the offering
• How the vendor’s offering and pricing compares to competitors
• What resources are needed to implement the offering
• How budget can be allocated to the purchase
• The terms and conditions of doing business with the vendor

If you agree with this list, closing before these questions have been addressed is premature. Some sellers close early by choice. Others may be asked to if month, quarter, or year-end revenues are below forecast. The best result of such closing is that the seller gets the order, but has to discount to incent buyers to buy before they were ready. The worst outcome is that buyers feel pressured and opportunities are lost.

As with many things in life, timing is important. A large part of successful closing is knowing when buyers have what is needed to make buying decisions. Good closing skills used too soon are likely to yield poor results.

I welcome your thoughts and ask your provide feedback on:

• How do you know a buyer is ready to buy?
• What negative consequences have you seen from premature closing?

John Holland
In co-authoring CustomerCentric Selling® (McGraw-Hill, 2003) and cofounding the company of the same name in 2002, John Holland leveraged more than 20 years' experience in sales, sales management and consulting. Holland began his career in high-technology with IBM's General Systems Division.


  1. I forgot which sales trainer took umbrage to the term “close business,” but the lesson stuck with me: It’s not closing, but opening which is valuable in a business relationship.

    The distinction is more than just semantic. A traditional sales view holds “closing an opportunity” as an end point. If we question that view and then change the paradigm, it’s possible that we’ll lower the risk of bad outcomes. Opening a business relationship involves an expectation of an acceptable value exchange (i.e. I’ll take the outcomes your product provides in exchange for an acceptable amount of my money).

    The problem with “closing” is the term has warped into other tactics that sometimes don’t yield mutually valuable results: assumptive closes, trial closes, last-chance closes. I’ve worked in some organizations in which an I-win-you-lose closing outcome is acceptable, as long as the business is booked this quarter. I believe this short-sighted (and sometimes unethical) approach is antithetical to sound business strategy.

    If marketers and salespeople thought in terms of opening relationships instead of closing sales, the ensuing behaviors would portend better outcomes for all parties.


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