Death of the Hard Sell: Stop Closing and Start Empowering

The sales “closer” has an almost mythical reputation in the annals of business. Movies like Tin Men, Boiler Room, Door to Door and Wall Street show how the most successful at the craft of selling are also the most devious. A review of Elmer Gantry, produced in 1960, stated, “Elmer is a traveling Salesman, a con man, drunkard and a bum, but this guy could sell a ticket to the slaughterhouse to a suckling pig, make that a season’s pass, he was that good.” And anyone who has seen Glengarry Glen Ross remembers the famous Alec Baldwin scene where he tells the character played by Jack Lemmon, “Put that coffee down. Coffee’s for closers only.”

Sam Mallikarjunan, who works at HubSpot and writes for ThinkGrowth.org, wrote a really good article about this subject titled The Closer Is Dead. Long Live The Listener. There is a lot of good advice to be found in Sam’s article, but I can give you the gist in one quote: “The sales rep that doesn’t try to ‘control the process’ but instead functions as the objective trusted adviser to the prospect’s process is the sales rep that wins deals.”

While the hard-sell approach works in the movies, and perhaps in a bygone era, the days of the high-pressure closer are numbered. As HubSpot’s analysis shows, all the things we used to associate with being a great sales rep — such as being a convincing “closer” — actually hurt your chances of hitting quota long term. If you actually did what hard-selling proponents urge, your reps and company will make less money and have a much harder time holding onto customers.

As I said in my December 6 post, your focus should be on the buying process. Universal access to information and the amount of competition in almost every industry have empowered buyers much more than in the past. The fact is that most people like to buy, but very few of us like to be sold. So why not change your paradigm from “selling people stuff” to “helping people buy”? This might sound like a subtle distinction, but I assure you, it is not.

To make this clearer, here are some words that define how the new and effective sales rep approaches the B2B sales function:

  • Assist
  • Coach
  • Educate
  • Enable
  • Guide
  • Help
  • Listen
  • Nurture
  • Suggest
  • Teach

By contrast, here are some words that describe the mindset of the ineffective B2B sales rep – the high-pressure closer:

  • Close          High Pressure Sales
  • Command
  • Drive
  • Effort
  • Force
  • Pressure
  • Push
  • Talk
  • Tell

How Marketing can Support the New Sales Model

A key question for the marketing types who are reading this post is: What can we do to support a sales model that is based on guidance, coaching and education, and less on mastering high-pressure sales techniques? Here are five suggestions:

  1. Give prospects what they want – not what you think they need. Potential buyers do a lot of their research online and if you don’t supply the right information (product specs, reviews, use cases, pricing, etc.) at the right place in their buying journey, they will move on to your competitors’ websites. Holding back is usually counterproductive.
  2. Give sales reps what they want. When sales reps tell you that they want more or less of X, Y or Z, try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Their commission checks and even continuing employment, depends on making sales – they take this quite seriously.
  3. Make sure your messaging is crystal clear. Sales reps that represent companies with poor messaging face a tough burden. If the prospect doesn’t quickly (instantly) grasp that you are at least a potential solution, they won’t stick around to figure out what you do and how it benefits them. We see too many elevator pitches and brand statements that are totally ambiguous – don’t let this be true about yours.
  4. Establish a firm set of expectations with your sales counterparts. To do this, create a service-level agreement (SLA) that outlines exactly who is going to do what at every stage of the process.
  5. Revisit your lead-to-revenue (L2R) model. Don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions about how your company has been marketing and selling. While consistency is important, watch out for “we’ve always done it this way” syndrome. Read my 2015 article on this subject titled, Does Your B2B Sales Model Need an Overhaul or a Tune-up?

The “helping prospects buy” culture is not only easier on all concerned, it is also a better mindset to generate revenue and repeat customers. Make it a key part of your 2017 planning process.

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Christopher Ryan

Christopher Ryan has 25 years of marketing, technology, and senior management experience. As both a marketing executive and services provider, Chris has created and executed numerous programs that build market awareness, drive lead generation and increase revenue.
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