Closing is not the most important skill in sales.
That should send off alarm bells and banish me from the business forever. Why would I say that, and how can I possibly back it up?
Sales is an ancient profession and without the movement of goods and services the economy would come to a screeching halt. Every day we hear ominous warnings about the possibility of plunging back into a recession. A recent Harvard Business Review article entitled "CEOs need to get serious about sales" reinforces its importance and the need for top management to pay close attention to the business of selling.
We have come a long way from the tactics of the proverbial "used car salesman" but there's still some disdain and cynicism. Why don't we see sales as the link between economic success and failure? We've been trained to look at salespeople with a jaundiced eye, and to some degree we have a subconscious image of the snake-oil pitch. To counter it, companies issue business cards with every position under the sun to define roles as anything but "salesman" or "saleswoman." I bet you can't find a business card with these titles in North America.
The sales skills, knowledge and professional training required varies widely among industries. Selling retail, real estate, software or Gulfstream private jets require different tactics. But at the end of the day, we all need to close the deal. I still hear and see senior executives and sales managers focus on finding closers.
The ones who cling to this belief are convinced sales is simply a set of techniques and a numbers game. In other words, if you ask for an order enough times and you keep knocking on doors, you'll eventually sell something.
People buy from others they like and trust. And unless customers have a a real need or a perceived need, they won't buy. Salespeople need to make sure potential clients are not just kicking the tires. Customers today are a lot more sophisticated and knowledgeable, and they have access to more information and data than ever.
Badgering and using nothing but "closing techniques" inevitably puts customers on notice that you only have your interests in mind – not theirs. As soon as they come to that conclusion, they'll head for the hills and you will have lost potential sales.
Practitioners of the art of sales are continuously learning. So if closing is not the most important skill, then what is? Qualifying. By far. The top achievers and consistent award winners focus on these five points:
- Building a rapport with customer and prospects.
- Understanding their needs.
- Understanding their selection criteria.
- Understanding the decision making process and timelines.
- Presenting solid and compelling facts that satisfy the above.
It's all about qualifying customer needs. If you've done it well and you have truly listened, a hard close is not necessary – closing is the next logical step. Successful salespeople are always closing because it's just another way to gain a series of commitments to actions until the final decision.
Next time, try qualifying through a series of open-ended and closed-loop questions to understand a customer's needs, and build your presentation around what you learn. You'll improve your odds immensely and build strong and long-lasting relationships, as well as recurring revenue streams.
Lou Natale, managing director of NBV Group, has extensive experience in strategic positioning, sales management and marketing. He has worked with Fortune 500 companies in Canada and internationally. NBV Group uses management strategies and solutions to increase business performance and bottom-line results. It delivers advice and expert analysis. Mr. Natale can be reached at email@example.com.