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My Salespeople Cannot Close!

“Only top closers need apply”. This was the opening to a job advert I saw some time ago; what could it mean? Something to do with doors, perhaps? But, of course, no, it was referring to a skill that in the selling profession is prized most highly; that of being able to close the sale.

Oftentimes CEO’s have confided to me that the real selling competency their salespeople lack is that they cannot close. This bears inspection. When I have carried out a diagnosis it turns out that the issue is not that their salespeople cannot close, far from it; the real reason is that they either cannot or will not qualify properly because the criteria they are using are focussed upon leading with product. Indeed, they are mostly trying to close the unclosable.

But the pressure goes on, especially if the salesperson, sales manager and CEO are behind their respective targets. Better get out there and close those opportunities that have been languishing in the pipeline and forecast; close that sale!

At this point, it is worth walking in the moccasins of the buyer; how would you feel if, when you are thinking about buying, or recommending a purchase for, something your organisation was considering, you were put under pressure, to be closed? Quite...the likelihood is that you would push back, the probability is that you would say, no and, by the way, go away; not a good way to proceed for either sellers or buyers.

When we buy, we like not only to feel in control but to be in control. When we sell, we want solely to engage with people who are not only going to buy but buy from us and, the more time we spend with potential buyers the more urgent it becomes that they do indeed buy and buy from us. When they do not, the pressure goes on with the resultant negative effects just mentioned.

So, what is to do? Picture this. You are sitting on the senior leadership team and the team is grappling with a significant issue to which they are unable to see the solution. They may have some ideas but nothing fixed. No true understanding of the issue, the causes for the issue, the specification for any solution to the issue and no budget.

Building upon what I have written before, my first question is from the potential sellers’ perspectives: how many salespeople and their management would spend time on any situation where there was no: budget, authority, need or timescale?

My second question is from the potential buyers’ perspectives: what would have to happen for a purchase order to be issued to a supplier? What are all the conversations, and process steps that would have to be completed before they were all ready to sanction the purchase, indeed to volunteer to buy? ie: for the salesperson to be able, not to close the sale, but to receive the order?

My third question is: what, then, should be the criteria by which situations, potential opportunities, should be properly qualified? Building upon what I have written before, how would it be if the criteria mapped all the buyers’ conversations and process steps and permitted the level and depth of engagement to vary according to the output from each of them along the way, ie: that qualification was an on-going and continuous exercise in which both seller and buyer were comfortable? And that closing was action undertaken by the buyer volunteering to buy when ready rather than an activity by the seller to try to force the buyer to buy because the seller needs a sale?

In other words, how would it be if the sales process was really about facilitating conversations that produced data valuable to both parties and that could be validated in writing (hard and/or soft copy) with customer-verifiable-evidence that can then be used to continuously qualify the opportunity?

If this holds water, then there are many capabilities and competencies required. A key one of these is being able to create, rather than communicate, value by asking good questions to facilitate those conversations. Indeed, the proverbial “fly-on-the-wall” would observe engaged peer-to-peer discussions amongst people recognised as equals. The competency then becomes one of stimulating buying as compared to closing a sale; differentiating by the way in which buying and selling is undertaken.

Sound fanciful? If possible, though, how energising would that be?


If you are curious about this, register your interest by contacting me, John Busby, to discuss at:; + 44 7968 066 165

Copyright© 2016 John Busby

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