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Why the Key to Effective Selling Isn't the Close

Sales isn't about the close. It's about connecting first and figuring out the details afterwards.
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pop the question:

In case you forgot, I wanted to remind you of the significance of Jan. 9. It's the anniversary of when I proposed to my now wife. If you've ever asked—or been asked—to get married, there's a pretty good chance that you remember the circumstances. I do, quite clearly, although I confess that from a pure creativity standpoint, I blew this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I didn't hire an airplane to pull a “Linda, will you marry me?" banner across the sky. I didn't take her back to the spot where we first met. I didn't find a street magician who would hide the engagement ring in a magic cup. What I did do was panic.

I picked up the ring at the jewelry store, put it in my pocket and, although I had no intention of asking her that night, it just came out. I leaned over during dinner at a local restaurant—right in between the salad and the main course—and the next thing I knew, I was popping the question.

It was boring. It was awkward. It was completely without flash or romance. I seem to remember getting a free dessert out of it, but other than that, it was a missed opportunity. But, and this is a critical “but," she said “yes" anyway.

Not that I was surprised. We had been headed in that direction for months. This was simply the logical conclusion to all that had come before. It took me a long time to realize, but selling a professional service is not that different. 

When I first began working for myself in 2000, I knew nothing about selling. My professional experience up until that point was in marketing. I figured I had better learn “how to sell." I read a bunch of books, I took a few classes, and I practiced. I practiced asking for the sale. I practiced handling objections. I practiced emphasizing benefits, not features.

Did it work? Maybe. Sometimes.

But it was always uncomfortable, and it never felt authentic. And, I eventually realized, it didn't matter that much anyway. People who liked me, trusted me and wanted what I was offering were eager to move ahead. We just needed to agree on the specifics. It wasn't about closing, it was about connecting. And connecting takes time.

If you're in the business of selling low-risk, small-ticket items to people who you'll never see again, then yes, I suppose selling technique matters. But you're not in that business. You sell a professional service—one that feels risky to engage, is hard to sample, and requires a fair amount of investment. The people who buy from you and me need to believe in us, something that happens slowly and begins long before we ask for the sale.

When it came to asking Linda to marry me, the truth is, if she weren't interested, there's nothing I could have said or done during the proposal itself that would have changed her mind. That's because the key to effective selling isn't in the close. It's in everything you do to develop that trust, connection and reputation for weeks, months or years leading up to it.

And while it may be true that only by saying the magic words, “Will you marry me?" does an engagement ever occur, by the time the question is asked, the decision has already been made.

Michael Katz is a marketing communications consultant and founder of Blue Penguin Development. He works exclusively with small professional service firms and independents.

Thursday, February 1, 2024
Sales & Marketing
Digital Edition