The ABCs of Closing

Last Updated Feb 27, 2007 8:48 AM EST

The motto for this blog is the old “ABC” adage: “Always Be Closing.” That’s great advice, but only if you understand that closing isn’t a technique to trick a customer into buying but the point in the conversation when you ask for a decision.

If you take “ABC” literally, chances are you'll hammer at the customer until you get a sale or are told to get lost. It's this kind of insensitive (and ineffective) behavior that makes pe...ople avoid sales reps. Similarly, you might be tempted to spend the sales conversation positioning for one of these four annoying (and ineffective) “trick” closes:

  • INEFFECTIVE: The assumptive close. Ask the customer to make a meaningless decision that assumes a decision has been made. Example: “Do you want that in the hunter green or the hunter orange?”
  • INEFFECTIVE: The flyfish close. Promise something valuable then take it away if a decision isn’t made now. Example: “We have a special offer – a 15 percent discount – but only if you decide to buy now.”
  • INEFFECTIVE: The puppy-dog close. Let the customer try the product for free in the hopes the customer will fall in love with it. Example: “We’ll give you the product free for your evaluation and only charge you if you don’t return it.
  • INEFFECTIVE: The reverse close. Ask a customer who’s saying “no” a question intended to elicit a “no” that actually means “yes.” Example: “Is there any reason that you wouldn’t do business with our company?”

If these sound familiar, it’s because they turn up all the time on the Home Shopping Network. (Rule of thumb: if a sales technique sounds like it belongs in an infomercial, it will generally only work on a not-very-bright couch-potato.)  Any buyer with an ounce of sophistication can see a trick close coming a mile away -- and is likely to think you're a fool for trying it.

A more effective way to interpret “ABC” is “Always Be [checking whether it’s time to] Close),” according to Linda Richardson, founder of the eponymous sales training firm. She recommends that, during the sales conversation, you constantly ask for feedback to confirm that what you have to offer matches what the customer needs.

EFFECTIVE: During the sales conversation, ask open-ended, non-leading questions that draw the customer into the conversation. Examples:

  • “How does that sound to you?”
  • “What do you think about that?”
  • “What timeframe would you need for delivery?”

As the conversation evolves, this constant checking gives you a sense of whether the customer is truly interested. If you’re getting all green lights, summarize the benefits of what you’re offering and ask for the next step. In other words, the "close" simply evolves from the conversation.

(Note: I made some changes on this post a day after the original posting because some readers thought I was recommending the trick closes.)