Door to sky

10 Essentials: Closer vs. Opener

The second in series of ten posts in a series titled: 10 Essential B2B Sales Rep Attributes (and their 10 Essential Opposites).

Door to skyNo one will ever forget Blake’s admonition to the real estate salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross: “A-B-C. A-Always. B-Be. C-Closing.” Blake was the salesperson, brilliantly played by Alec Baldwin, sent to improve the sales results of a group of under-performing real estate salesmen. One of the reasons Baldwin’s character is so appealing on screen is that it so closely matched the sales behaviors of many salespeople in the past. This is what was taught and what was expected.

SPIN SellingIn 1988, Neil Rackham wrote a book called SPIN Selling. Rackham found a direct correlation between closing behaviors and sales. The more closing behaviors, the more sales . . . as long as the dollar amount and the risks were low. Rackham’s research showed the opposite to be true for larger sales: the higher the dollar amount of the sale, the more likely that closing behaviors would work against a sale.

Closer

Throughout the sales process, a salesperson has to ask for commitments. To succeed, a salesperson has to gain these commitments, including commitments to buy. Period. Too many salespeople now believe that closing behaviors are “old school,” or “too salesy.” I believe what these salespeople are trying to communicate is that they are uncomfortable with the sales behaviors of the past (and they should be). But what happens if you cannot gain commitments to buy? I’d like to tell you the answer is nothing, but in all likelihood what it leads to is a career change.

You can call it closing. You call it gaining commitment. Whatever you call it, it is a necessary and essential attribute of the salesperson.

Opener

There is far too much emphasis put on closing, and far to little placed on opening. In fact, as all of our markets have become saturated with competitors and the Internet has made all of the information about our products and services easily accessible, opening has become a greater challenge than closing. A great salesperson now must be able to open relationships with individuals and companies. They need to have the skill set that generates an interest and the ability to create value for the prospect at every stage of the sales process. These are “opener” skill sets.

Without appointments with new prospects, there is nothing to close. Opening relationships is a critical and essential attribute of the salesperson.

Conclusion

In my estimation, Rackham’s work is the most important work on sales effectiveness in the last 25 years. But it may be, in part, responsible for the lack of closing behaviors. Rackham never suggested there were no closing behaviors on the higher dollar sales, just that there were fewer. Rackham never recommended abandoning closing behaviors. The skill set that Blake from Glengarry Glen Ross insists upon should not be dismissed either. Maybe the way in which he recommends closing behaviors be used needs serious modifications, but in the end, closing is still necessary.

The real skill of sales professionals is to be able to create enough value at every interaction that asking for the commitment to move forward is natural and easily agreed to by the prospect.

Questions

  1. Are you asking for a commitment to move forward during every sales interaction?
  2. Does your sales process include the ability to generate enough interest and enough value for the prospect that the commitment to move forward is easily agreed to and natural?
  3. Are you asking for commitments before you have generated enough value to deserve the advance?
  4. Are you opening more prospect opportunities than are necessary for you and your company to succeed?
  5. Are you spend more time opening the opportunities in your sales funnel than you are working on closing the existing opportunities in your pipeline?

Comments

comments

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  • http://www.dontaskdontsell.com victor

    Great post. The harder skill to find is openers. I have had sales people good at one or the other and all ended up struggling. There needs to be a balance in order to be successful.

  • http://www.sellbetter.ca/blog/?p=900 Tibor Shanto

    Anthony I think you make a great point about openers and the importance of opening in general. While I have great respect for Neil Rackham’s work and the importance of SPIN, i do believe that in addition to what you say about closing the other potential downside to Rackham’s SPIN, it that it does completely overlook prospecting, and may be responsible for the almost naive notion that prospects are to be found everywhere, they just need to be sold. This as you highlight is far from true, too many sales people tell me that “just get me in front of the prospect and I can sell them”, not realizing that prospecting is part of selling; I have heard sales people say they don’t mind prospecting it just that it gets in the way of selling, go figure.

    I always tell managers that every time they ask their reps “what are you going to close this week?”, they should also enquire as to what they will “open”.

    It would be worth taking a read of Tony Johnston’s Cold Calling: Pain or Raw Business S&M? over at Biz Money Matters blog, for an interesting view on lead gen and prospecting.

    Thanks,
    Tibor

  • http://www.santhonyiannarino.com S. Anthony Iannarino

    Thanks for the comment, Tibor.

    What? Prospecting getting in the way of selling? That IS the first sale, the first commitment you have to gain as a salesperson.

    I agree with your advice to management: the opening metric is critical. Very few people lose sight of what they can close . . . they neglect what they could open.

    Here is the link to Tony’s article: http://blog.tonyjohnston.biz/?p=1695

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