Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

SOME YEARS AGO in Hong Kong, a salesman selling me an insurance policy decided it was time to ask me for a commitment to buy. He attempted one of the “classic” closing techniques. “Look,” he said. “I know you have one or two doubts about whether this policy is right for you. What I am going to do is to draw a line down through the middle of this piece of paper. We will list all of the reasons you shouldn’t buy on the left hand side and all the reasons you think this would be a good idea on the right. Whichever list is longer will help you decide whether to commit or not.”

Well, we went through a series of questions and, sure enough, the list on the right-hand side was considerable longer than that on the left. Did I buy? Certainly not. It was quite clear to me that the exercise was completely self-serving. The questions asked would elicit responses from me indicating reasons not to buy and the salesmen would then change what I said to put it on the other side. For example, I thought the policy was expensive and I gave this as a reason not to buy. The salesman then replied, “Yes sir, but I think you would agree this policy represents very good value for money in the long run and this would be a good reason to buy.”

I am not stupid and neither are most of the clients who put up with salespeople attempting this type of close. It does nothing to convince me that I should buy. It makes me wonder why the salesperson has to resort to such a technique when basic selling skills would have done the job for more effectively.

A short time after the foregoing experience, I met another insurance salesman who spent considerably less time talking about his products and trying to “close” me into a sale. Rather, he concentrated his selling techniques on finding out what my needs and requirements were. He tackled the issue of budget face on and helped me appreciate that a small investment now would pay significant dividends later on. Only when he was quite sure he knew exactly what I needed (because I had told him in answer to his questions) did he commence to tell me about his company’s plans. A short time later, I signed the policy form knowing I was making the right decision.

Closing is the phase of selling that many salesmen dread. Often, the client reveals he is not ready to buy and the salesman is left wondering how he can turn the rejection into a sale. Regrettably, closing techniques rarely work. I am not against the use of closing techniques at the right time, especially if they are used to overcome procrastination. However, when they are used to force, cajole, trick or embarrass a client into making decision he does not want to make (because he remains unconvinced that the purchase fulfills his needs and requirements), they are a waste of time.

I was talking to my friend’s wife who was approached by a pest control company. Having recently bought their house and hearing stories about termites, wood-rot, cockroach and rat infestations, she believed that she could find out more about the risks by speaking with an expert. She told me the following day that she was convinced her house was sound without any of the pests mentioned above. What she hoped to achieve was to find out what warning or telltale signs she should be on the lookout for. Now admittedly, she was looking to take advantage of the salesperson’s expertise but as she pointed out, a professionally conducted meeting by this salesperson would almost certainly mean that she would be on the phone in the future should any pests enter the house.

The salesman represented a reputable company. On arrival, he conducted a cursory inspection of the property before launching into his standard sales pitch. After about 10 minutes he produced a contact and asked my friend’s wife to sign suggesting (without actually saying) that the house was infested with termites and inaction now would lead to costly repairs in the future. She was unwilling to make a commitment and suggested the salesperson return when her husband was home.

My friend told me that termites were a matter of grave concern; so much so that he had the house inspected before purchase. The closing technique used by the salesman was clearly designed to trick the customer into making a decision.

The key to effectively closing a sale is to ensure that everything has been done to identify a client’s problems and needs. Matching needs with appropriate products or services is likely to secure the client’s agreement to buy. If not, asking the client for lesser commitment will demonstrate a salesperson’s interest in helping the client make the right decision rather than forcing a product on to him.

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.