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Money Always be closing: A new take on a worn-out sales strategy

Always be closing or 'ABC' is a familiar phrase to salespeople, made iconic by Alec Baldwin in the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross (adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1984 play by David Mamet). It's since become the go-to line for two camps: those who firmly believe in its power to drive action, and those who feel that it take sales back to the dark ages.

I share the concerns of the latter group, especially as it relates to buyers. The traditional ABC approach of asking for the order early and often is a good idea, but often terrible in practice. Prospects see through the technique and some studies suggest that it's unproductive – if not counterproductive – to making a sale.

There are aspects of the ABC thinking, however, that can work for sellers and buyers alike. What if we tweaked it slightly, where closing didn't mean closing the whole deal, but closing the particular stages of the sale?

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Even short sales have defined stages: engaging, discovery, gaining commitment and executing. I remember working with an inside sales team where the average sale was one call, which typically lasted 7 to 12 minutes. Each successful call could be broken down into the four stages; the proactive salesperson 'closed' each phase with agreement from the buyer before moving onto the next. The more the buyers were involved in the process, the more willing they were willing to move forward in the sale.

In effect you have a series of closes, each allowing the salesperson and the buyer to move forward to the final close. This makes the notion of 'ABC' both positive and productive. It allows the salesperson to tackle the sale in small, planned chunks. By focusing on specific tasks, with clear objectives, it makes planning easier and allows him or her to adjust and create contingencies along the way. It prevents sellers from rushing headlong through the sale only to have to retrace their steps and resell parts of the sale which were not closed off the first time around.

The other benefit of a step-by-step close is tighter alignment between buyer and seller. Salespeople have a tendency to get ahead of buyers; having gone through the process, they're familiar with key milestones well before buyers who are experiencing the process for the first time. The seller sees the opportunity to propose while the buyer is still defining requirements. When buyers hear a proposal before they're ready, they may feel like they're being rushed, which could push the sale off the rails. This is more likely to happen in cases where the buyer has not bought the product in question before, or buying a higher ticket item for the first time. When critical points are mutually closed off, buyers feel more in control, sellers don't rush and the process, as a result, is more collaborative.

The act of closing off bits of the sale incrementally also encourages a better exchange of information and allows you to build a foundation for the final close. Think of it as locks in a canal or water way. Close of one lock at a time, raise the level, until you completely move to a higher one. Close of each part of your sale the same way.

While objections may still surface, they'll be more manageable. It's much easier to deal with small objections along the way than everything thrown in at the end.

So go ahead: Try ABC – plan each step, execute it, close it off, then move to the next and do it again.

Tibor Shanto is a principal at Renbor Sales Solutions Inc. He can be reached at tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca. His column appears once a month on the Report on Small Business website.

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