One of Hollywood’s most famous depictions of the sales world is found in Glengarry Glen Ross. Alec Baldwin’s character, Blake, is the epitome of the high-powered, low-empathy, money-driven salesperson, and gets what he wants through fear, intimidation, and profanity-laced speeches.
After threatening and terrorizing a group of salesmen (no women allowed in this boiler room), Blake gets to his point – salespeople should “ABC”: Always Be Closing. According to Blake, regardless of the individual prospect and their needs, the rep’s ultimate task is to bring money in the door.
Though closing was a major focus for salespeople long before the release of this film, “Always Be Closing” was a catchy hook reps could hold onto. But is it the best sales advice for modern reps? Not necessarily.
This kind of selling may have worked in the 1980s, when David Mamet penned the play the movie is based on, but fast-forward to today and things are very different. While the close is an important event within the sales process, there are many events long before the deal is closed that also require time, attention, and effort.
Buyers today are inundated with information from every angle, and are skeptical of being sold to with empty claims that aren’t backed by relevant data. That’s why taking an “Always Be Closing” approach today would likely scare off your customers before you get a chance to close the deal.
To effectively sell, modern salespeople need to follow a totally different mantra: Always Be Helping.
What Is Always Be Helping?
Blake would never give up control of the sales process to a prospect. Yet that’s exactly what a top salesperson today needs to do. The “always be closing” school of thought ignores buyer needs entirely and places the salesperson at the center of the sales process, taking a brute-force approach to closing deals.
What’s a sales rep to do? Always be closing? Hardly.
Your job, of course, is still to sell. But abandon any strategies that involve force-feeding prospects a product they don’t want and don’t need. As Dale Carnegie famously said, people don’t want to be sold to – they want to feel as if they’re buying. Instead, as your prospect moves through the funnel, provide resources and guidance as they attempt to solve a complicated business problem. Always be helping.
Why Should You Always Be Helping?
Seller-centric focused selling doesn’t play anymore, in either B2B or B2C sales processes. The balance of power has been tipped away from the sales rep and toward the buyer. With the transparency and availability of information online, and the ability to tap into third-party reviews, buyers are far savvier than they used to be.
High-pressure selling has stopped working because it treats customers as interchangeable piles of money. But that’s not really true. Prospects’ situations and needs are as diverse as the people themselves, and while one buyer might be successful with your product, your offering may actually hurt another.
So while Always Be Helping is simply the right thing to do, it’s also just better for your business. Selling to poor-fit customers is a stopgap solution that will result in customer turnover, lost income in the form of clawback penalties, and in the most dramatic cases even shutter a business if churn gets too high. On a less concrete scale, Always Be Closing tactics also hurt the brand. As soon your company gains a reputation for having aggressive and selfish salespeople, it’ll be much harder to gain customers in the future – even ones you actually could have helped.
This outline lists the three things all sales reps must do in the age of ABH.
How to Always Be Helping: 5 Strategies
1. Determine if the prospect has a problem you can solve.
If the prospect has a problem completely out of sync with what your company offers or doesn’t need any help for the foreseeable future, get out! They don’t want to talk to you, they don’t need to talk to you, and chances are you don’t want to talk to them.
Because you can’t help everybody, and you shouldn’t be. Working bad leads is like throwing money down the toilet. Picking and choosing who to help is a significantly better use of your time.
If you pick correctly, you’ll have no problem making 110% of your quota every month. But spending an equal amount of effort or time on every prospect – no matter how qualified or unqualified they may be – is a surefire way to continually miss the mark. Not only is it a bad use of your time, trying to sell to prospects without business pain is a bad experience for the buyer.
2. Understand where your prospect is in the decision making process.
The kinds of conversations you engage in and questions you ask your prospects should vary significantly depending on what point they’re at in the buyer’s journey.
Awareness Stage: Your prospect knows they have a problem they want to solve, but hasn’t decided upon a solution or begun to do vendor research. Salespeople usually won’t get involved in the awareness stage, since marketers generally control lead nurturing at this point. If you do reach out to a prospect who’s in this stage, use an extremely light touch or pass them back to Marketing.
Consideration Stage: Your prospect is aware of their problem, and is committed to spending time and effort to come up with a potential solution. At this point, potential buyers will begin to sniff around the edges of a resolution, but won’t have defined how much of a material commitment they’re willing to make.
Decision Stage: Your prospect has thoroughly researched their problem and potential solutions. They might not have a specific vendor in mind yet, but if your company’s a big player, they’ve probably at least come across your resources. This is also the point where BANT (budget, authority, needs, and timeline) gets defined.
3. Engage with key decision makers early in the process.
Once you’ve determined the prospect has a problem you can solve, and you know your product is the best fit, it’s important to engage with everyone who needs to be involved in the decision making process for the purchase.
There’s nothing worse than building rapport with a new contact and getting them on board with your solution, than having their manager shut down the deal right before you were hoping to close. By engaging with all the appropriate decision makers, you can verify your solution is the right one, and you can better understand the perspectives of those involved in each step of the process, from purchase to adoption.
According to Harvard Business Review, the average B2B purchase involves six stakeholders, with the amount of time for deliberation increasing. That means if reps are going to close the deals they need to meet quota, they need to engage and win over necessary stakeholders long before they hope to close.
During the initial conversations of a sale, ask your contact who else needs to be involved in the purchasing decision, and if you can begin engaging with them to avoid surprises or roadblocks that could prevent the deal from closing.
4. Tailor your process to make it easy for the customer to buy.
Always Be Helping means giving up control of the buying process. It does not, however, mean that salespeople are obligated to let prospects drive the bus. Strike a balance between how your prospect wants the process to play out and using your expertise to guide them in the right direction.
Your value in the sales process is that you, unlike your prospect, have successfully sold this product many times before. They don’t know how to get internal buy-in or structure a process that will get them the solution they need.
But you do.
Work with your prospect to understand their decision making process and the perspectives of all relevant stakeholders, and then use that information to sell your product successfully.
5. Focus on educating.
As a salesperson, it’s not your job to push a product onto your prospects. Instead, you should focus on educating your prospects on the viable solutions to the problem you have previously identified.
By taking a consultative approach, you can focus on cultivating meaningful relationships with your buyers by building trust, having open, genuine conversations, stepping in to guide the direction of sales conversations as needed, and making sure your prospect feels heard throughout the process.
Once you have built a solid foundation of trust with your buyers, you are in a stronger position to educate them on the viable solutions to their problem (likely your product) in a meaningful way.
For many people, the process of buying is as important as the purchase itself. Prospects need to feel like they’re being heard and respected, and forcing a cookie-cutter sales process on them won’t work.
Ultimately, the Always Be Helping salesperson has to establish trust and confidence before they can close the deal. Modern salespeople help their prospects connect the disparate dots to form a coherent solution. The era of the intimidating, fear-inducing “always be closing” salesperson is officially over – and that’s a very good thing.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in July 2015 and has been updated for comprehensiveness and freshness.