At the Inc. 500|5000 Conference in October, I had breakfast with some entrepreneurs who were talking about their problems recruiting salespeople. "There are plenty of salespeople out there, but really good closers are hard to find," one of them said. "I mean, you have to be able to ask for the sale. If you can't handle that, you'll never be a good salesperson."
I couldn't disagree more. There's a lot more to selling than closing, and all good salespeople aren't closers. Some of the best I've known have been great at everything but closing--weeding out prospects, romancing them, making them feel warm and fuzzy. When I was CEO of CitiStorage, we created a system to help out salespeople who had trouble asking for the sale. When they thought it was time to close, they would bring the prospect to me, and I would finish for them. Salespeople in our industry brought in, on average, 15,000 units of new business per year. At CitiStorage, the number was 100,000.
Of course, this kind of system won't work unless your salespeople think of themselves as a team, rather than as individuals out for themselves--which brings us back to the shortage of closers. The problem is not that there are too few closers. The problem is that most companies need to hire closers and only closers, because of their compensation systems--because they pay salespeople on commission, and there's no room for nonclosers in such a system. After all, if they can't close, they won't get paid.
I believe that a well-managed team of people with complementary talents will always outperform a collection of hotshots out for themselves. You see it in sports, and you see it in business. That's why I instituted a salary-plus-bonus system. Not only did it allow us to harness the different talents of our salespeople, but it also removed the greatest obstacle to teamwork. Because bonuses were based half on the company's success and half on each individual's contributions in various areas--not just closing--salespeople worked closely together, covering for one another when necessary and helping one another out in difficult situations.
So here's a thought for those of you who are having trouble finding closers: Maybe you're better off without them.