Recently I was on the receiving end of the sales technique known as “closing the sale”. This is where a seller elicits several “yes” responses from you and then keeps narrowing the conversation to the point where you say “yes” to whatever they are selling.
Ironically, they were trying to sell a program of coaching around business development, marketing and – yes! – selling. At the start of the conversation I was very open to their program and what they had to offer. By the end I was fuming!
You might say this conversation was simply an example of a poor salesperson. But what else is “closing the sale” than an attempt to shift a potential buyer from “maybe” to “yes”? This is of course a quite legitimate shift to make – but one that needs to be made by the buyer and not the seller!
But more interestingly, is what the technique of “closing the sale” says about the seller’s attitude to their product and to their clients. All or only some of these may be true side by side:
- a deep ambivalence on the seller’s part about the value of what they are selling. They believe that the value is not apparent, or perhaps not really there at all. Closing down the conversational space reduces the buyer’s scrutiny of the product.
- overriding anxiety about issues internal to their business: meeting sales targets, or keeping busy, or pleasing a supervisor, or simply paying the bills. These things are not the buyer’s business. They could be very real for the seller, and the seller could potentially share them simply as a human being – but not by smuggling them in to the buyer/seller conversation!
- the seller views the potential buyer as not fully capable. The seller often sees their role in the sales conversation of “assisting” the buyer to make the key shift to “yes”. In other words the seller believes the buyer is not capable of making this shift unaided, not able to make a clear decision for themself – an incredibly insulting belief.
- the seller views the potential buyer as an object. The seller really has no interest at all in the buyer as a real person, and simply wants the buyer to comply with the seller’s agenda.
Of course “closing the sale” works fine when you are just selling widgets, or a one-off experience – like a fairground sideshow for example. You take the buyer’s money, they get the goods, and you never have to see each other again. The value of what is sold is only momentary anyway, and who cares if the transaction is interpersonally messy?
“closing the sale” is closing off the path to real connection, and thus shutting down an opportunity
But I am selling an intimate service. Although accounting is not generally seen as intimate, in practice it involves the client disclosing things that sometimes they don’t even tell their spouse, and on occasion have never told anyone.
As with lawyers, doctors, and the sacred professions*, my service works best when the client feels safe to be entirely authentic. This safety is generated partly by me being appropriately open and boundaried in the interaction myself, and partly by according the client the respect that they are fully capable, that their process of living is fully legitimate as it is, and that their decisions are entirely right for them in the moment.
Of course I don’t always measure up in practice to this standard I set for myself – I, like everyone, am on the path of growth. But it is my intention to move towards appropriateness and respect with clients at all times. It would be impossible for me to commence working with a client on anything less than that basis.
“Closing the sale” is the antithesis of what works in my business. Were I to pursue it I would feel obliged to continue my distant, disrespectful or inappropriate stance with my client, because that is what they signed up for. Or I would need to put a lot of effort into cleaning up the mess left by ‘closing the sale’ – apologizing, and establishing a new basis to proceed. Either path involves an enormous amount of energy which needn’t be spent if one simply doesn’t use the “closing the sale” technique.
What DOES work is simply having a chat. In that conversation it becomes clear what is the quality of connection between me and the potential client. And then if the connection supports it, we sort out what we can go forward with, and how to do that.
In contrast, “closing the sale” is closing off the path to real connection, and thus shutting down an opportunity for me to help empower others around money and thus to contribute to my community’s social capital.
* The Sacred Professions are “… professions in which the value delivered is something
intangible. Musicians, artists, prostitutes, healers, counselors, and teachers…” Charles Eisenstein, Sacred Economics, p203