Picture this. You are standing in a very large circular room with doors all around you. Every door is closed. Every door looks exactly the same. You’ve knocked on all of these doors until your knuckles are red and raw and sore. And yet every door remains tightly closed.
In order to succeed, you have to get through some of these doors. Everything hinges on opening a door. And then opening another door. (Yes, the “hinges on” is an intended pun.)
This metaphor represents the prospecting phase of selling. Everyone would agree that staying in business requires opening new accounts and opening new relationships in existing accounts. Many would agree that this visual image is what it feels like to get started in a new sales job or to be working on new business development.
So if opening the door is so vitally important, then why is there so much emphasis in selling on closing? At the beginning, the door is closed. It’s not often easy to open it and to keep it open, and yet there are endless articles, books, and training programs that ignore the open and go straight for the close. And then everyone wonders why it’s so hard to close the sale.
The problem is that we optimistically see the doors as being already open when they are not. We assume and hope that everyone wants/needs/values what we have to sell. We skip the steps needed to open the door and walk through it and keep it propped open. Then we’re indignant and surprised when the door gets slammed in our face, and we’re left wondering what happened.
Think about the ABC model of selling that teaches people to “Always Be Closing.” Take a look at any book on selling and its prescribed formulas and techniques for getting to the close. Consider the number of closing techniques available – one recent blog post I saw listed and described 69 of them. And, of course, think of what sellers are incentivized and paid to do. There is a lot of attention on closing because that is the end goal of selling.
But I think most of these approaches put the cart before the horse. You cannot close what is already closed. You have to open more sales before you can close more sales. To resell and upsell customers, you have to keep the door open. To create value, build long-term relationships, and get referrals, you have to keep the lines of communication open.
The emphasis in selling should be on opening, not on closing. When you are successful in opening relationships, you will have a much higher rate of closing sales.
Here are the places where open/close get blurred and open usually gets overlooked or rushed.
- Asking questions. Open-ended questions open conversations and get people talking. Close-ended questions curtail the dialogue and end conversations. We’ve all heard this before, but few people spend the time and make the effort to truly reform their questioning techniques. Try this experiment if you don’t believe me. Record your conversations during a weekend day.
- Pitching product. Starting with a product pitch, a special offer, or any other close-oriented focus closes far more conversations than it opens. Asking the buyer to leap over awareness, interest and desire and straight into action simply doesn’t work for most of us. Slow down just enough to open a relationship and speak to the needs of the individual rather than plowing straight into a pitch that causes the anti-seller force field to go up on high alert.
- Repeat customers. Becoming a transactional order taker may be expedient, but at what cost? You may think the customer appreciates your no-nonsense efficiency. Even if they do, you’re risking a lot when you take customers for granted and miss out on opportunities to discover and meet additional needs and to open up new ways to maximize the account. If you’re closed off to customers, they’ll become closed off to you, too.
- Taking the order. This, technically, is the close of the sale. But your sales process should be continual with one close leading straight into another open. All too often, I see sales reps getting the order and moving on to the next appointment or task. They don’t ask for the next appointment, talk about the next order or long-term plans, or stay in touch during an interim period when the customer will be buying again. This is poor service and poor strategy. Keep the door propped open instead of closing it on your way out.
- Manager ride-alongs. The majority of calls including a manager focus on getting the close rather than opening a new relationship to deepen the partnership between two companies. Managers are sometimes called mercenaries because they get called in when the negotiation or close gets difficult. Your best customers and prospects should meet the big dog before the going gets tough.
- Body language. You’re in a hurry. You’re tense. You’re on high alert going into this sales call. If you’re like most people, these emotional states will result in body language that signals closed off rather than open and receptive. You have your hands in your pockets or your arms crossed rather than presenting an open stance with wide gestures. Your face may signal intensity or concentration rather than seeming inviting and relaxed. You may choose a defensive position across the desk or folded into yourself rather than coming alongside your buyer and opening up. These signals matter. People mirror what they see, so go in with an open attitude and be sure it shows in the way you physically present yourself, too.
Think about opening at all times. For those times when you feel trapped in that circular room full of closed doors, the only way to proceed is to open doors. Barging through them may not work as well as getting them open just a crack so you can have the opportunity to create awareness, interest and desire for your product and for working with you. You can do this without decelerating the sales process. In fact, you might find that slowing down to open leads to a revolving door with ongoing opening and closing.
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