If you have even a little skin in the sales game, you have been taught to close, close, close. ABC... Always Be Closing. There are entire training regimens covering every minute detail of how to close, how often to close, different sales closes, and on and on. The consensus seems to have always been that:
- Closing strategy strongly contributes to success
- You should close often
- You should use as many different closes as possible
With the help of some research I read from the sales experts at Huthwaite International, I challenge the consensus. As it turns out from some of Huthwaite's studies, traditional "close often" sales techniques are either ineffective or, in fact, have a NEGATIVE impact when:
- The sale is large. Sales closing still works well for low-value, transactional sales. However, for larger sales, closing often seems to hinder the sale.
- The buyer is sophisticated. For instance, in the case of a professional buyer.
- There is a continuing post-sale relationship with the customer. Often "pushy" salespeople make the buyers ask themselves, "Do I really want to work with this person for the next X months implementing X solution?"
Let me run through three of the fantastic studies that Huthwaite posited in support of these conclusions. Huthwaite spent countless hours attending sales calls with various salespeople in many industries, all in pursuit of tangible conclusions on the topic of sales closing techniques and their effectiveness.
Company Type: Large office-equipment corporation
Situation: Huthwaite intended to prove out the hypothesis that the sales techniques of CLOSING MORE resulted in more sales. The results were unexpected, and furthermore revealed exactly the opposite.
Study Sample: 190 sales calls total; from these, Huthwaite took the 30 where sellers closed most often and compared them to the 30 calls where sellers closed least often.
Results: Only 11 of the high-close calls resulted in a sale, and 21 of the low-close calls converted.
Company Type: High-technology company
Situation: In pursuit of more cold hard facts on closing, Huthwaite had the opportunity to work with a high-tech company to analyze the effects of training closing techniques.
Study Sample: 86 sales calls total with 47 sellers, before and after training closing techniques.
Results: When sellers were trained to close often, their success rate declined by 14%.
Company Type: Photo store
Situation: This was a perfect opportunity for Huthwaite to examine the effect of sale size, in conjunction with frequency of closing, on sales success. They examined the sales practices of employees, and the best part was that the photo chain had a practice of rotating it's salespeople. One day a seller would be selling low-cost goods (film, tapes, etc.) and the next they would be selling high priced cameras and equipment. This made for an ideal study with good controls.
Study Sample: 359 transactions observed total. The results are presented BEFORE and AFTER training on closing, and in the areas of LOW-VALUE and HIGH-VALUE goods.
Results: Regardless of the sale size, closing often speeds up the process. While closing techniques may increase chances of success in lower-valued goods, they can reduce the chances of making a sale with higher-priced goods. This makes perfect sense because a person can make a snap decision on a $3 roll of film, but doesn't want to be "pushed" on a $500 transaction.
Analysis: No one is claiming you shouldn't close at all. Then, we'd all be sitting around waiting for customers to throw money at us. In fact, if you're selling a $20 juicer at a mall kiosk, you SHOULD close more often. However, it is evident from Huthwaite's further research that obtaining commitment in the larger sale becomes not a function of how often and how many closing techniques are used, but more dependent on the earlier investigation stages. (A topic for another blog.)
Thanks to Huthwaite for all of the great work they do studying the finer points of selling.