“Always Be Closing”is an arduous waste, here is a better way

Why always be closing is a lousy strategy

If you are in business, you've heard this mantra. Probably, even if you are not in business, you have heard this mantra. It implies that every conversation with any prospect at any time should focus on closing the sale. Never was there a more mindless lack of strategy. 

The problem with always focusing on the close is that it completely ignores the humans involved in business decisions. Whether we, professionals, want to admit it or not people buy from people they trust. We don't trust someone who just called on the phone or whom we just met at an event. Connection doesn't work that way - you must establish yourself as credible, reliable, and trustworthy first. Then you can focus on the sale

The dreary life of an always closer

I spent some time recently with a group of entrepreneurs discussing sales, marketing, and how to make the sales process more manageable by improving the marketing conversation. 

One participant was desperate. He had been making cold calls for an insurance company, hundreds of calls a month over six months without a single sale.  

He was amazed that he had made these cold calls, and not one person had bought insurance. By dumb luck, it seems, he should have run into one interested buyer. 

The problem is that dumb luck is not a great strategy; it is almost more surprising that this strategy works 0.2% to 1% of the time.  

Think about it this way, in this information age, why would anybody buy from a cold call? The phone rings randomly in the middle of what I am doing, I answer it, and the person on the other end wants me to buy insurance. 

The chance that I, at that moment, want to talk about insurance is very slim. Moreover, even if I DO want to talk about insurance — would I really trust the random person who called me on the phone? 

If I were buying insurance, I would probably start with a Google search, and if I were looking for an insurance salesperson, I would go to LinkedIn first. 

With the world's information at my fingertips, I am not going to purchase as a result of a cold call from a random person on the phone who's sole focus is convincing me to buy. 

Nor am I going to buy from someone I just met at an event. 

The reason always closing works, at all, is that the probability that someone happens to be interested in what you are selling and open to talking about buying the thing you sell is positive. 

Dumb luck works occasionally. 

If you call enough people, eventually someone will buy. 

However, the strategy is an arduous waste.  Anything with a 0.2% to 1% success rate or a 99%+ failure rate is a lousy way to go. 

Ask a surgeon.

The alternative to the cold call is to build trust and relevance

When we discussed the insurance salesman's challenges, the knee-jerk reaction from everyone in the room was: 

  • Put in more effort

  • Make twice as many calls. 

  • Always be closing. 

Nobody thought to ask about the person on the other end of the phone. Nobody questioned whether he was talking to the right people. The presumption was, if they have the correct title, they must be the right person. 

That line of thinking ignores that the person on the other side of the phone is more than his or her title - he or she is a complete person, with the stress of work and their own needs and concerns. 

I pointed out to the group that this ignores the person, and their next question was: how do we fix the sales pitch? 

We don't.  

Instead, we stop focusing on the sales pitch. We stop always closing. We move the focus to identifying the right people to talk to, and engaging them in meaningful conversation about solutions. 

Instead of figuring out a better way to close the wrong people faster, a much more effective strategy is to reach out to the right people and show how you can solve a meaningful problem that they have.   

Stop closing and start engaging. 

Start engaging prospects by being interesting; here is how. 

Instead of closing everybody you meet, create a marketing strategy that reaches people who have the problem you solve. 

Begin a conversation with them, enroll them in your world and the problem you solve. 

The key to doing this is to talk to them about them, and the problem they have. Remember that the people you talk to aren't interested in you so talk about them

Start this by defining your brand essence, a four-step process: 

Step 1: Define your target customer

Get very specific about who your target customer is. What do they look like? Where do they come from? What is their backstory? And most importantly: what is missing in their life? 

These are the people you want to talk to. 

Step 2: What is keeping them incomplete?

Why can't they just become complete themselves? If you think of this in story terms, this is the villain - the evil stepmother or the self-doubt that keeps them from taking action to be complete. 

Note that you may find this uncomfortable. A common concern that I hear is, "I don't want to tell people how they are incomplete." However, this isn't about telling people how they are incomplete; it is recognizing what is missing, showing that you understand. You will run into many people who don't relate, who aren't incomplete in this way- that is okay they aren't a prospect. You can still have a pleasant conversation with them about life and everything else, but they won't buy from you. 

That is okay. 

Steps one and two combined are the problem you solve; you help them become
complete by overcoming the obstacle that is standing in the way. 

Step 3: Define your solution

You offer a solution to their problem - clarity is essential here; they need the assurance of clarity to understand what you do. 

Step 4: Identify the transformation. 

Your prospects buy transformation. That is all they buy. They aren't interested in a product or service; they want to know what is in it for them. So understand here the transformation that you offer. How is their life improved by working with you? 

Communicate over time so that they see the value of working with you

Instead of always closing, start talking about how the problems you solve. Delve into that thing that is missing and start providing solutions. 

When you meet people, online or in real life, ask about the problems they face, and if they have the problem, you solve, you can talk about how you address that and similar challenges. You talk about problem and solutions, without always trying to close on the sale. 

We call this engagement; it is a process of getting to know each other. You are learning about their challenges; they are learning your solutions. You build trust and rapport. 

Rather than always closing, you have three goals when you meet people and engage them: 

  1. Identify whether or not they are a prospect; not everybody is, and that is okay. You don't want to talk to the five hundred people who are not your prospect.

  2. Build trust and relevance by helping them. If they are a prospect, you want to cement the relationship, show them that you have a solution. If they aren't your prospect, they could be a referral source - so perhaps you make introductions or do what you can to find the answer to the problem that they have.

  3. Get to the next meeting. Your goal isn't to sell until it is time to sell. Until that point, you only want to get to the next meeting. (Note: if you determined to "always be closing," make this your close. Get the next meeting. )

The challenge with this approach is that it requires you to balance the effort with the project value. 

Mckinsey partners, for example, will travel around the world visiting CEO's and having long drawn out conversations. Traveling and meeting is effective engagement, but it is expensive. That is fine for McKinsey because they are selling costly projects. 

If you are selling multimillion-dollar campaigns, you should be traveling as well. If you are selling something worth a bit less: use technology to help. 

  • Use content and inbound marketing to attract people. 

  • Engage through downloads, e-mail campaigns, videos, and training. 

  • Talk to interested people. 

The next meeting may be a virtual one: not everything interaction is live and in person. In fact, most people don't want to have many meetings. As I said at the beginning, most of us go to Google, LinkedIn, or look for trusted sources for information. Be there. 

Create automated outreach campaigns and develop ways to engage with prospects that provide them with useful, problem-solving information, that don't take any additional effort from you but do help them build confidence in what you do. 

Effective marketing/engagement slashes effort while skyrocketing results

Structuring your conversation around the problem you solve, engaging those who are interested and using modern technology to do both of these will change your world. 

It will cut your effort in half (or more) while upping your close rate to 10%, 20% even 30%.  You have fewer calls and the calls you do have yield much better results.

That is why marketing is so powerful – it isn't about improving the transactional conversation and finding a better way to close. Instead, it is about figuring out whom the right people to talk to are and showing them you have a solution. 

As one of our architect clients told us: "I used to think that my client was whoever was on the other end of the phone." 

He spent a lot of time on the phone. 

Now he spends a lot of time designing buildings. 

The insurance salesman example I referred to at the beginning of the call didn't change a thing. He honed his pitch; he refined his speech; he upped the effort. 

It has been a year. I hear he made one sale. 

Which would you prefer? 

Related Concepts

What does always be closing mean?

Always Be Closing often shortened to “ABC” is a phrase used to motivate sales people and describe a highly transactional sales strategy. The idea is that any time a sales person is having a conversation he or she should focus on pitching a product and completing a sale. 

What does closing mean in sales?

Closing means to complete the sale. This is the point where someone actually buys from you: the moment at the cash register where they pay, or when they sign the contract, or otherwise compete the transaction. It can also mean to achieve a desired outcome such as a signature on a contract or the next meeting. The term comes from real estate where the close is the last step in the real estate transaction.