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HOW TO SELL ANYTHING

Smarter Way to Sell

It's time to retire the "Always Be Closing" slogan. Here's a better alternative.

Evian--Baby & Me

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What is selling? If you're like most business people, the word suggests a panoply of activities: prospecting, contacting, pitching, persuading, convincing, and (although you might not say the word aloud) manipulating people into buying what you have to offer.

In other words, selling consists of things that you do to customers. Furthermore, to get the job done, you must be all gung ho--ready to plow through objections, move your agenda forward, close the deal quickly. In other words, "Always Be Closing."

What's crazy about this "ABC" way of thinking is that it creates antagonism--because customers don't want you to sell to them that way. Even if they want to buy what you're selling, the second you start with the manipulation (or anything close to it), would-be customers shut right down.

Given that customer resistance to traditional sales methods is so well documented, why do so many people continue to define selling in terms of things that you must do to your customers to make a sale?

I believe that this absurd definition of selling is the result of business culture--specifically, a preference for taking action now, rather than the opposite approach of letting circumstances gradually unfold.

Patience vs. Chutzpah

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for taking action when it's necessary to develop an opportunity. However, sometimes "taking action now" is like a foolish farmer pulling on seedlings in the hopes that he can make them grow faster.

In selling, the character trait of patience is at least as important as, and probably more important than, chutzpah. Customers are more likely to buy from people who have the ability to listen and to empathize than from people who are obsessed with closing a deal.

That's always been the case, but it's even more true today. For example, even the classic "take action now" sales activity of cold calling has become generally ineffective unless the call is placed after a "trigger event," such as a customer's accessing your website.

Similarly, the most effective "sales processes" no longer consist of the steps that the seller must take to make the sale. Instead, the best sales processes track the smaller decisions that customers must make before they make the final decision to buy.

How to React

In other words, selling is not (and should not be) a series of actions that you do to customers. Instead, effective selling consists of a series of reactions--things that you do for your customers according to their requirements and needs.

For example, if a customer accesses your website, it makes sense to contact that customer to see if you can answer any questions that the customer might have. It's an offer to do something "for," rather than "to," the customer.

The same is true while a customer is working through the internal politics of deciding budget priorities. You'll probably just irritate people if you start calling decision makers and stakeholders, trying to drum up financial support for your offering. You're more likely to make the sale if you take a more passive approach, figuring out what the customer needs to make a decision while adding perspective and expertise as necessary.

Selling should be about providing a service rather than ramming something down the customer's throat.

This is not to say that you can sit back and wait for customers to buy. Action is often required, but that action must be respectful of the customer's natural buying process.

So forget all that "Always Be Closing" nonsense and the hyperaggressive sales tactics that it encourages. Instead, try a slogan that your customers and prospective customers will truly appreciate: Always Be Helping.

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Last updated: Sep 6, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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