Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Why Your Sales Team Can’t Close

By Joanne S. Black

You’d be surprised how often I hear, “My salespeople can’t close.”
It’s never about closing. Never. That’s just the symptom. The problem is that salespeople neglect to follow through with important activities during earlier stages of the sales process. Trying to teach reps how to close without addressing the broken links in a prospecting system will not yield sustainable results. It’s like back pain. You can stretch and put heat on an aching back, but unless you treat the pulled muscle or degenerating disc that’s causing the pain, your back will continue to hurt.

Likewise, if you want your team to reach and exceed their quotas, you can’t just teach them about “closing.” You must invest time in teaching them how to build customer relationships, have valuable conversations with clients, and prospect through referrals—and then reinforce that learning by demonstrating it for them.

Conversations That Convert
Guess who IT firms are now hiring for sales and consulting positions? People with hospitality and restaurant backgrounds. Why? Because they know how to talk to people. They know how to engage people in conversation, be polite yet firm, smile, and let negativity roll off their backs. These skills make them star employees. Yes, they also have the technical expertise, but their people skills are what enable them to prospect well, develop relationships, and close business.

CEOs and sales leaders across industries tell me their people routinely email and send text messages to clients, and then complain that they can’t reach their contacts. After all, they’ve followed up several times via email. Yet, when sales leaders tell these struggling reps to pick up the phone and have real conversations with prospects, they don’t do it. They’re far more comfortable hiding behind technology. This way, they don’t really have to think. Marketing gives them templates, and away they go—to bury their heads in their computers and accomplish nothing. They haven’t been trained and coached on business acumen. They know how to give demos and deliver their standard (boring) pitches. But they don’t know how to uncover clients’ pain points or have discussions about ROI.

From Questioning to Closing
Thoughtful and provocative questioning delivers a huge impact on close rates—and sales revenues. When salespeople ask probing questions to understand what their clients’ really need, not just what the clients think they need, often the scale of the projects increases—creating win/wins for everyone. Your company gets bigger deals. Clients get solutions that actually solve their problems, create demonstrable business results, and make them look good. And you are poised for additional business, both from your satisfied customers as well as their referrals.

Referrals: Your Competitive Advantage
By prospecting through referrals, you bypass most of the hurdles that keep salespeople from closing. Prospects already know you are trustworthy and that you get results. And they actually want to talk to you, not your competition. When salespeople receive referral introductions, they convert prospects into clients more than 50 percent of the time (usually 70 to 90 percent). Leads from other, less-direct sources have a 1- to 3-percent close rate. You do the math.

Bottom line: If your salespeople “can’t close,” it’s a symptom (not the cause) of your team’s problem. Selling is never about closing.

About the Author
Joanne Black is America’s top referral sales expert. With decades of experience across multiple industries and companies of all sizes, Joanne Black’s simple message about using referral selling as the primary driver of sales is one that resonates with sales and marketing audiences around the globe. Visit for more articles, tips, and free resources. You can also find Joanne on Twitter @ReferralSales.

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