Always Be Advancing

The opening scene of Glengarry Glen Ross is legendary. A young Alec Baldwin plays a character named Blake who is sent to straighten out a group of under-performing salespeople.

During his “motivational” speech, Blake admonishes the salespeople to remember A-B-C, always be closing and A-I-D-A, attention, interest, decide, and act.

As sales has softened, A-B-C has somehow been allowed to be turned upside down. Instead, the new mantra is N-B-C, never be closing. We know that following Blake’s instructions to “always be closing” produces a negative result on larger, complex sales. But NBC (never be closing) doesn’t do anything to produce a positive result on larger, complex sales either.

Not A-B-C, But A-B-A

In another post, I have written about Neil Rackham’s SPIN Selling. Rackham’s research found that effective salespeople didn’t close for commitments to buy on larger, complex deals. Instead, they closed for an advance; they closed for future commitments that moved the salesperson and their prospects closer to a deal.

The outcome of every sales call must include a commitment that, if obtained, moves you closer to a deal. You have to close for that commitment.

One of the keys to obtaining a commitment to advance towards a deal is to create enough value on each and every sales call to make the commitment natural and easy to commitment to. This means the client has to perceive that spending time with you is worthwhile. It also means you have to be able to describe the value that they will receive for making the future visit.

But the primary key to obtaining a commitment for a future activity is to ask for the commitment in the first place. As obvious as this point may read on your screen, the softness epidemic has resulted in a sales culture (if it can be called such) that refuses to use closing language, even when they are simply closing for a future appointment.

The inability (or unwillingness) to ask for commitments results in an inability to advance a deal. The result is sales pipelines that are full of opportunities that have been through one stage of the sales process without any commitment to taking a future action with the salesperson or their company. In most cases, the salesperson didn’t ask for a future commitment that would advance the sale.

Instead of closing for a commitment that would move them forward, the hapless salesperson left the sales call believing that they would call the client to schedule a future appointment later, or that they would send the promised information and that would advance the sale, or that the client would review something and get back with them after they had a chance to think about it or discuss it with their team.

Blake’s advice is still sound. It may not be Always Be Closing, but it is surely Always Be Advancing. And advancing still requires asking for and obtaining commitments!

Review your pipeline. Are their any deals sitting stalled in your pipeline because you left the sales call without a commitment that would advance the sale?

Ask for the Order

If what you sell is something that a client has to reorder over and over again, you are obligated as a salesperson to ask for their order on every sales call. It doesn’t matter how much they spend with your competitor, and it doesn’t matter how long they have had that relationship.

If you are sales, sell.

Your closing language doesn’t have to make you a hard, old school salesperson. You can start by saying something like: “I would very much like the opportunity to work with you and your company, and I am prepared do a great job for you. Is there anything I can help you with right now?”

For those of you still infected with the softness virus, inoculate yourself by working up to saying: “Can I have the opportunity to fill our next order?”

This is necessary, even if you are a trusted advisor.


Negative sales behaviors result in reducing the likelihood of a sale. On larger, more complex deals, asking for the commitment to buy over and over again is a negative behavior, especially when closing for the commitment is premature. To succeed in sales, you must be able to obtain commitments for something that moves you closer to deal.

It may not be A-B-C, always be closing. But it is surely A-B-A, always be advancing.


1. Does asking for and obtaining commitments to move forward have to be perceived as negative? Why?

2. Have you allowed A-B-C to become N-B-C?

3. Do you create enough value on each sales call to earn the right to ask for and to obtain a future appointment?

4. Are there stalled opportunities in your pipeline where you have left a sales encounter without obtaining a future commitment?

5. Are there stalled opportunities in your pipeline that you are waiting for a prospect to get back with you?

6. Are there stalled opportunities in your pipeline where the only commitment made was one in which you are to call the prospect in a few weeks?

Read my interview with Tom Peters (Part One and Part Two).

Read my featured guest post on the Top Ten Sales blogs.

Read my monthly post on Sales Bloggers Union.

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  • Todd Youngblood

    Anthony – Always good to remember that the pendulum can swing too far in either direction. Another tool many reps find to be useful is a “typical roadmap.” i.e., a document that outlines typical steps taken by those to do buy my products/services. It’s an easy habit for the rep & customer to routinely review progress. – Todd

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for the comment, Todd. I am not sure if the pendulum will swing back. I am not sure how the negative sales behaviors will ever regain their popularity–and the world is better off without them. But I am all for a little nudge back that direction.


  • Flyn

    I am not sure I completely agree with your third paragraph’s conclusion that “always be closing” is incorrect or that it has to produce some negative response.

    Some of this may be semantics, but I believe most of it is the misconception of what closing is and how it should be done.

    In this case you bring up the perfect example, SPIN Selling.

    In SPIN selling you are closing, but you’re doing it “properly.” It is so obvious that asking for the “order” over and over again in a larger sale is so senseless as to be an irrelevant discussion.

    However, in SPIN you are closing, all the time, but you are closing the prospect on what is important to the solution. If you cannot agree on what is important to the prospect, you’ll never get the sale.

    If you are using SPIN correctly you can influence what is important via education and your own clearer understanding of the prospect’s situation and needs which of course are a part of the SPIN model.

    Closing in the larger sale is not about asking for the order, but arriving at with the prospect at a conclusion of what the optimum solution for the situation is.

    The fact of the matter is you are closing all the way through the process starting with the problem questions. You are closing the prospect on what is a problem — that doesn’t mean you are giving the answer — but you’re getting the prospect to clarify and decide. In the impact questions you are closing the prospect on the importance of those problems and finally getting the prospect to agree on there relative value.

    You are always closing. You just aren’t asking for the order in the classical sense.

    I would never ask “Can I have the opportunity to fill your next order” I would ask “May I help you determine what the optimum solution to your situation is at which point I we’ll easily be able to tell if we can help you.”

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for the comments, Flyn.

      Rackham’s research pointed to the fact that closing is often premature on larger sales and resulted in fewer sales or advances.

      We’ll have to agree to disagree on whether or not you have to ask for the order in large sale. I believe this reluctance to do so is part of what I call the softness epidemic, and it indicates a problem with asking for and obtaining commitments.

      Asking to help determine the optimum solution is fine, but what do you do after you have helped them determine what the optimum solution is? Do you not ask for the commitment to move forward? (which is evidence of infection with the softness virus now at epidemic proportions) I am happy to arrive at a conclusion as to what the optimum solution with the client AND I am happy to ask for the commitment to move forward together once we have done so.

      As for asking for their next order, it may or may not be correct. But if they re-purchase something that you sell again and again, I believe it is wrong not to.