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Closing the Sale, and Other Myths


Stop trying to close the sale. You’re getting in the way of your own success. Truth is, you can’t close the sale. You will never close a sale.

The truth doesn’t have to hurt. Coming to terms with not being a “closer” might be the best thing you can do to improve your bottom line. Take the focus off the sale, and shift it back to your customer, for the outcomes of reduced stress, better relationships, and increased sales.

You can’t close the sale

“Traditional sales culture prompts managers to ask their salespeople: ‘Did you close the sale?’ This high-pressure, stressful approach to sales management does nothing to coach team members, and effectively does the opposite: poor sales results and high staff turnover,” says Dr. Michael Hewitt-Gleeson.

Hewitt-Gleeson is a cognitive scientist, business coach, and best-selling author of Wombat Selling and NewSell, among others, and the founder/owner of School of Thinking, in Melbourne, Australia.

The first in the world to earn a PhD in Lateral Thinking, Hewitt-Gleeson believes so strongly that sales people can’t close a sale, that he issued a reward of $100,000 to anyone who could prove otherwise. Now decades old, the cash has never been claimed.

The role of the salesperson is to provide customers with the opportunity to close the sale. That’s right, the customer closes the sale. The clichéd “what will it take to get you behind the wheel of this car today?” is essentially, a salesperson’s ask for you to buy that car – and, wait for it – close the sale. The customer’s decision to make the purchase is an electro-chemical event in their brain that allows for that final act of closing the sale, explains Hewitt-Gleeson.

Interview: Dr. Michael Hewitt-Gleeson

Smart, Savvy + Associates (SSA) went down under to talk to the man behind WOMBAT Selling, Dr. Michael Hewitt-Gleeson (MHG), to find out why sales people will never close the sale. Here’s what we learned:

SSA: The idea that a customer closes the sale makes sense, given it’s their final “yes” or “no” that completes the transaction. So why are salespeople still chasing the sale?

MHG: The problem isn’t with the salespeople, it stems from sales management. Managers can’t imagine a different approach, so nothing changes, and they continue to pressure their employees to sell. It creates a high-stress environment, with the sales staff knowing every time they hang up the phone, they’ll be asked again, “did you close the sale?” The pressure is on to sell, sell, sell, until the newest recruits admit defeat and leave their jobs.


SSA: So much of sales has moved to the online space now—has this changed the thinking behind salespeople vs. customers closing the sale?

MHG: Digital sales platforms are only a medium—what continues to matter, is the message. Is it nice, or nasty? Whether online or in real life, people need to think more about sales in terms of their customers’ point of view.


SSA: Does digital require different strategy for sales, given the loss of personal connection?

MHG: The strategy remains the same—you need to get the potential customer’s attention, to have the opportunity to open the sale. The online space presents a greater challenge in getting that attention, and then holding that attention, given the ease of scrolling or clicking right past. But the digital platforms also empower your customers to do more word of mouth selling than ever before. Customers can (and do) tell their online friends about their experience with your company, and the product or service purchased.


Old Sell vs New Sell

In Hewitt-Gleeson speak, Old Sell is the term for the traditional American sales model, the push-push-push style of sales techniques that are stressful for both seller and customer. He’s coined the New Sell label to describe the Japanese model of selling, which focuses on the sales process: taking one step at a time toward the customer’s decision to close the sale.

Old Sell – focused on the outcome of the closed sale

New Sell – focused on the customer, and the sales process

The New Sell strategy changes up the thinking of sales in general, including the skills and personality traits of a successful salesperson. Viewing the sale through the customer’s perspective requires some excellent EQ to build relationships, be an active listener, and be a partner in defining and solving customer problems (which require your product or service).

As customers, we steel ourselves for the persistent sales pitch when we answer the phone, enter a store, or call a service provider about a new offering. Next pitch driven hard at you, stop and ask yourself how it makes you feel. Is it a tired spiel about a product you don’t need? Is it a desperate plea to help someone make their monthly quota? Is it argumentative, with a rehearsed retort for every refusal to engage in the sales process?

How may I serve you today?

Or, have you stumbled upon an enlightened sales professional, who understands you’ve walked through their door with a purpose, and opens that sale by asking how they can help you today? And then, simply listens.

The enlightened sales pro understands that any contact with the customer is a good thing. Hewitt-Gleeson refers to customer contact as a “check,” as in the forward-thinking sales manager inquiring, “Did you check the customer?”

Phone calls, emails, face-to-face, a shared tweet are all checks—like any relationship, they keep us connected. Successful checks stay focused on that encounter, allowing for listening, understanding, and the opportunity to move toward “checkmate,” when the customer decides to close the sale. No contact is called an “uncheck”—this is not where a salesperson wants to be. Unchecked relationships don’t progress, and over time, can get away from us.

Check. Check. Check.

Technology has enabled salespeople to check their customers with incomparable ease to a travelling salesman, spinning the odometer from town to town, day after day. Social media, emails, texting, skype and other digital platforms can not only get you in front of your customer more often, but supports your customer to find you more customers. Check!

In his book, WOMBAT Selling, Hewitt-Gleeson isn’t talking about sales of marsupials indigenous to his Australian home. “WOMBAT” is an acronym for Word of Mouth Buy and Tell. Once upon a time, we might have mentioned to a friend that the new “Product X” we bought last week was an excellent value. Now, we Instagram our purchase, share links with friends, write online reviews, and post recommendations on social channels.

The trust of word-of-mouth referrals

When we think of our own purchases, who do we trust? A salesperson we’ve only just met, or our neighbour’s sister’s yoga instructor, who loves the “Product X” she bought last week? With our sales experiences in Old Sell, most of us are wary of the salesperson, who is pushing to make the sale. A strong word-of-mouth recommendation plus New Sell sales strategies remove much of the perceived risk and stress of a pending purchase of significant expense.

Sound like we all need more WOMBATs in our lives? Check. And with your refined sales skills and knowledge, checkmate.


Peter.jpgPeter Reek is the Founder and President of Smart, Savvy + Associates. We find high-calibre marketing, communications, creative and sales professionals with proven track records and in-demand skills for companies who need them, across the Pacific Northwest and in Toronto. We also provide leadership and training development programs for workplace programs, corporate retreats and individual growth opportunities. Contact Peter to discuss your organization's training needs.

Peter Reek

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