Find the Middle Ground Between “Always Be Closing” and “Never Be Closing”

Learn how examining the problems and solutions of every project leads to a successful close.

Time to read: 3 minutes

Anthony Iannarino
Speaker, Sales Leader, and Author
Business-to-business (B2B) selling has always been difficult. But now, it’s even more difficult. Buyers are armed with more information than ever before. There is an increasingly large number of people involved in a decision to buy anything — making it more difficult for companies to change. This makes for a more complicated selling process, especially when it comes to closing.

The origins of the "always be closing" mentality.

If you look back at selling throughout history, not that long ago it was a very different kind of endeavor. Think back about 100 years ago: People had an icebox on a back porch and someone would come by and drop ice in it. When refrigerators came along, an entire market needed to be made. The people who sold refrigerators in the business- to-consumer (B2C) world had to be a bit forceful in trying to convince someone to buy a refrigerator. Buyers would think, “My whole family lived their entire life without having a refrigerator. Why do I need that?”

The business model for B2C and B2B involved hiring more aggressive and hungry sales reps that could actually get people to buy something. This was called "selling someone.” You didn't sell them an outcome, you actually sold them.

Over time, the power has shifted in both B2B and B2C sales. Buyers have all of that information and more access to alternatives. You can’t be self-oriented and pushy anymore. Those behaviors might have served sales organizations well in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, maybe even the ’80s. Now, they will absolutely destroy your ability to sell.

The key to successful B2B selling and closing is becoming a bit softer while also being more direct and much more consultative. However, the aggressiveness hasn’t disappeared — it’s transformed. Sales reps must be aggressive in how they create value for a customer rather than what’s best for the rep (and their numbers).

But let’s face it. We’re in sales — we still have to close deals. What's happened to closing is that we've gone from "always be closing" to "never be closing." However, the pendulum is swinging back the other way because “never be closing” is just as bad an idea as “always be closing.”

Match the right opportunities with the right people.

In order to get the right people and the right partners in the right spot, there are three things you need to keep in mind. One is the go-to-market architecture (the mix of routes to market you use). The second is the sales planning process to then allocate people to those routes. The third is to do the skills assessment to make sure that those folks are equipped to win the deals when they have the opportunity.

A great example of getting the right skills in the right people at the right time is an insurance call center client we had. We identified a 3.4x difference between the lowest- and highest-performing sales reps. We then dug into what was driving that performance — things like call cancellation handling. We used that information to build sales capability and hiring plans. That resulted in a 30% increase in sales against baseline in the pilot locations where we applied it.

The shift to "never be closing."

“Never be closing” was a major response to the Alec Baldwin-type character in the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross.” In recent years, salespeople have been told, "Just wait until the client tells you they want to take the next step." That's horrible advice because the buyer has no idea what comes next. Unless they are using a request for proposal (RFP), it’s unlikely that they even have a process they can identify.

Wanting to continually progress forward with a client is actually one part of “always be closing” that is spot on. Except it goes to such an extreme of sales reps first, customers second. It has all the tie-downs, tricks, and tactics to pressure a buyer to say yes with a hard sell.

The new meaning of "always be closing."

This is where we need to find the middle ground. I venture to say we’re entering a new era of “always be closing,” but it’s not what you think. According to recent CEB research, more than six people are involved in a B2B buying decision. So a sales rep’s mission in closing is to bring together the consensus of many, many different parties. An effective salesperson must also consult on each of their individual project’s problems, and the solutions they need. What you need IT to deliver will be very different from marketing or operations. They are all going to have a part to play and need their voices heard.

Now "always be closing" is good advice, but it doesn’t mean closing for the final commitment to buy. It's closing for all of the commitments that lead up to that final commitment, which it turns out is really the easiest one to gain.

The key to successful B2B selling and closing is becoming a bit softer while also being more direct and much more consultative.”

Anthony Iannarino | Speaker, Sales Leader, and Author

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