by Mark Petruzzi, co-author of “Selling the Cloud: A Playbook for Success in Cloud Software and Enterprise Sales“
In many industries, being defined as a “closer” is the highest accolade a sales professional can be given. The term encapsulates the skills and traits necessary to become a top-level performer. Closers are the most highly recruited and sought after – the true elite.
And yet, in Cloud Software/SaaS, there is never a “close.” There is a start, but the only close I know of is when your client leaves and you close down the account.
SaaS is marketed at professional buyers, who no matter how good the selling, will buy when and only when it is appropriate for them to buy. There is no impulse or pressure buying occurring at GE, Pfizer, or Microsoft. At the same time, it is a myth that they buy solely on rational criteria. Issues like the character and integrity of the salesperson are critical.
Lessons from a Never, Ever Closer
Jim Campbell is a prominent real estate developer in Tucson, Arizona. From the 1980s until the early 2000s, Jim was the president and co-founder of The Application Group, the first PeopleSoft consulting partner. He is the kind of special leader from whom people naturally learn, beginning the day they meet him.
The first time I met Jim, it was for my final interview for AG, my first choice to begin my consulting selling career. I remember thinking, “This is where I close the deal.”
But as I walked into his office, I noticed small white notes everywhere, and they all had the phrase, “Never, Ever Close,” written on them. I had already been told that my interview with Jim would be complex and challenging. On top of that, this was my closing sales meeting. And here were notes telling me I was exactly wrong.
Was this a psychological gambit to throw me off-guard? Did he actually mean it? How could I leverage my newly minted Marketing/Sales MBA in this discussion when everything I had learned in school screamed “no!” to these words?
I quickly learned why Jim worked so hard to remind himself and his team of this belief. Jim, an engineer by training, not a salesperson, has never sold in a conventional sales process way. Though he was in a marketplace that constantly focused on sales processes and closing methodologies, he found success via a different route – by being himself.
Jim values his business relationships deeply; each one of them is based on an unrelenting level of trust and respect. He cares about every one of his clients and business partners. He is a consummate builder of relationships founded on principles of trust.
Become Trusted and Respected, Sell More
How did Jim get that way? He is the kind of person who loves life, has deep spiritual beliefs, and has the philosopher’s knack for reflection and insight about relationships.
Jim’s inclination and intimate concern for his client’s well-being translate naturally into trust-based relationships. His whole demeanor and personality are such that his clients genuinely desire to see his business grow. It is very easy for them to give Jim the business whenever they can. Jim has discovered that when you bring this kind of belief system to a sales process, you don’t have to close to win.
How Do You Win Without Ever Closing?
The process of closing burns up a great deal of “Trust Capital.” Trust capital is what you generate throughout the sales cycle that will allow you to win. The one with the most trust equity created by decision day wins the deal.
Some small part of trust capital is based on external factors, many of which you do not directly control. In most cases, you can only affect the perception of items, such as product quality, your firm’s reputation, and the risk associated with your product or service.
However, trust capital is also significantly affected by every act, comment, and message (or lack thereof) delivered throughout a prospect relationship. It is also based on your own personal attributes, which you have the responsibility to manage.
Moreover, like a solid product design, it matters a great deal what characteristics you begin with and how you develop these traits throughout your lifetime. Integrity and other personal virtues that we often consider too “soft” to be meaningful are, in fact, tremendously powerful influences. They help you become more successful or mitigate against your success.
These intrinsic personal capabilities (IPC’s) are what allowed Jim to become one of the most renowned business developers in the application software and consulting marketplace. Jim knows that the way he is perceived affects his success ratio. He also knows that the level of consideration and respect he gives his clients translates into more business for him as a sales professional.
The No-Close Win
Really successful selling in SaaS is not about having the best sales methodology or always saying the right thing at the right time. It is about continuously and steadfastly building your own IPC’s.
Jim believes that by pressuring a prospect into a close, trust is lost. He instead finalizes a sale by ensuring that every question that could be asked by the prospect is answered and every step of the decision process is fulfilled. He does so naturally, out of an outgrowth of his IPCs, because he is focused on total client satisfaction. By conducting his affairs in that way, he doesn’t have to “close” in the way we traditionally think of that term. Instead, the close occurs naturally.
Jim has learned that he never, ever has to close. You don’t have to, either.
Mark Petruzzi has worked in the enterprise and cloud software ecosystem for 25 years. He has worked as a serial entrepreneur, founding, growing, and successfully exiting boutique consulting firms in the Salesforce, Oracle, and Peoplesoft ecosystems. More recently, Mark has focused on innovative sales transformation as a board and leadership advisor for Genpact, BCI, 4L Data Intelligence, and more. He is co-author of “Selling the Cloud: A Playbook for Success in Cloud Software and Enterprise Sales“.