You’d be surprised at how often I hear, “My salespeople can’t close.”

I flinch when I hear sales executives tell me their salespeople can’t close, and that they want a training program about closing sales.

Save your money. It’s never about closing. Never. That’s the symptom. The problem is the neglect the salesperson showed to all the activities needed during earlier parts of the sales process. It’s like back pain. You can stretch and put heat on an aching back, but unless you treat the cause of the pain (the problem) – a pulled muscle or degenerating disc – you will still have back pain.

It begins with introductions. How did you meet your sales prospect? Were you introduced by a trusted source? Were you pre-sold? Or, did you meet the prospect at a trade show, through cold calling, or through a web or direct-mail inquiry? The close rate will vary dramatically based on how the client was originally sourced.

Referrals Are Leads That Close

If salespeople were introduced through a referral, the close rate will almost never be less than 50 percent, and typically it’s 70 percent or higher. Leads from other, less-direct sources have a 1 to 3 percent close rate. Traditionally, executives have not examined the source of leads as an important link to closing new business. Whether you are an individual business owner or part of a larger organization, examine how you source leads as the first step to increase your close rate.

Questioning Counts in Sales Success

Once the lead has been sourced, you can enhance the close rate of your sales by understanding what your client really needs. What clients think they need and what they really need are frequently very different. Clients are often too close to their business issues to step back and understand the true cause of their problem (which could even be themselves). Rather, they reach for the answer that’s the most visible – the symptom. Treating the symptom won’t solve the overall problem.

Many salespeople ask one or two questions and then assume that they have zeroed in on the client’s need and appropriate solution. This is rarely the case. These salespeople don’t take the time to really evaluate their situation and understand and define their significant problem or need. This is a sales strategy doomed to fail.

Thoughtful, provocative, and probing questioning has a huge impact on your close rate, as well as on the amount of your sales. When you do a great job of questioning and understanding the real problem, very often the scale of the project increases (more money), and the client gets a solution that will actually solve his problem and create demonstrable business results. Your client looks good, the company is successful, and you are poised for additional business.

Your Business Prospect Needs a Task

Never leave a meeting with a list of things for you to do and nothing for your prospective new client to do. Everyone needs an assignment. Without one, your client isn’t invested in the solution. You may ask him to provide you with materials to review, to conduct research, survey his internal team, or connect you with important internal resources. Whatever you decide is appropriate: Make sure your sales prospect has a task.

And, always, always, leave your meeting with another meeting scheduled. If your prospect is noncommittal, that should be a huge red flag that you have been too quick to jump to a proposed solution. You haven’t closed. Go back. It’s never about closing. It’s about a client-focused sales strategy.


  • If you hear “My salespeople can’t close,” it’s a symptom and not the cause of the problem.
  • Check out the pre-call plan. Make sure it’s written, detailed, identifies the problems of your potential new clients, and presents clear objectives.