The Art of Asking | Paul Kenny, Ocean Learning | BoS USA 2011

In this the fourth of his Business of Software talks, Paul Kenny tackles the age old issue of closing in his talk, ‘The Art of Asking‘.

He shows how almost everything we have learned about closing deals comes from exposure to bad sales people and poor technique rather than great sales people and he explores the myths (often generated by salespeople themselves) that there is some kind of dark art at play that transforms a prospect into a customer.

Bio, Video & Transcript below


Paul Kenny is one of the UK’s top sales trainers, consultants and speakers. He has spoken at every Business of Software conference since it started. When you watch this, you will understand why. Paul has an extraordinary knack of helping software people embrace their inner sales person.



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Good morning. So, this is year four for me. And it’s always… It sounds cheesy to say you feel honoured or you feel grateful when you’re being asked to speak at conferences, but this particular conference, I do. And I’m going to explain more about why later. But if you don’t mind, what I’m going to do is, I’m going to start with an apology. I’m going to ignore Dharmesh’s advice from Monday, and I’ll start… In fact, I’m going to start with about three apologies.

My first apology is, there no pictures of Peldi in my presentation. [Laughter]

OK? I didn’t realize it was in the speaker contract that we all had to have a picture of Peldi, so there isn’t one. If you feel a sort of shortage of Peldi in your life, just pop down and have a look at him.[Laughter]

But there are no pictures in my presentation.Apology number two is, I also didn’t realize that this was a competition between speakers as to who’s got the cutest kids. So, I have no cute pictures of my kids in here.Mostly because they’re not actually that cute anymore. [Laughter]

I thought… Mark was talking to the Livestream and he was saying, “Hello, darling”, to the Livestream. I told my daughter I was going to be here talking live on the web and she went: “Yeah, like, whatever.” [Laughter]

I said, “It’s in America, darling.”

“Will Bruno Mars be there, Dad?”



So, my kids have kind of reached that stage. Just a warning to Jason and to Dharmesh and to Mark: make the most of it. It doesn’t really last that long. [Laughter] I didn’t have any pictures that could compete.

And apology number three is directly inspired by Jason’s talk. Because when I looked in the little booklet that you or I have, when I looked at my bio,—which, to be honest, I haven’t looked at that in four years, I think I scribbled something down and sent it off in a hurry in 2008—and it says: “One of the UK’s top sales trainers”, and it’s… I just suddenly realized, after watching Jason’s presentations, that I have absolutely no evidence to back that up whatsoever. [Laughter] And… So, I’m trying this honesty thing out, let me know how it goes. I’m starting to sweat just as I say it. [Laughter] I have nothing, really, that would satisfy the sort of Dharmesh disciples of data to back that argument up. Except that a few years ago I went on and I did a presentation, and there were some really scarily big trade sales companies that all sent their top guns and I think I more or less stayed with them on the feedback, and that was the evidence that I used. But in the spirit of honesty today I’m speaking to you as the UK’s leading trainer currently available in the Seaport area of Boston. [Laughter, cheering].

Do you know what? It’s kind of liberating, this honesty. My presentation today is all about asking, and so I’m going to ask you a few questions. Can I just ask: who’s thinking of coming back next year? Awesome! OK? I’m just going to push that a little further. Who’s going to come back next year come hell or high water? Awesome! Alright. OK.

One of the things in the… One of the points from the presentation yesterday—the product management presentation—was that there’s no point in having great code if nobody uses it. And I think there’s no point in having a great conference if nobody actually does stuff with the learning that they get. And a few days ago, weeks,—I can’t remember which,—I saw a tweet from a guy called Lou Franco who sort of said, “Actually, I put some of this stuff to use”, straight after the talk that we gave on dialogue. I ran into his colleague Bill at Atalasoft and he said, “Yeah, yeah, we put some of this (?) I thought, wherever you’re sitting, Bill… I don’t know where you… There you go. But would you mind just sharing the story?


Bill: So, last year, Paulie gave the talk on stories that resonate with your customers and we just happened to have a pretty important call during the middle of the conference exactly a year ago. And so, Lou and I were taking notes and we were talking about: “OK, let’s apply this. We have a good opportunity, and there’s this potential OEM customer.” So, just a quick introduction: my name is Bill Bither. I founded a company, Atalasoft, and we image enable applications, so basically, we sell imaging SDKs. And the customer that came to us is this company that—very well known in the industry, very large—and we wanted their business. So, the metric that you use was: how long does it take to basically engage or have a conversation before you actually talk and pitch your company? And I think you said that, on average, in your studies, like 30 seconds?

Paul Kenny: That’s about 40 seconds.

Bill: 40. OK. So, we went 25 minutes, asking questions, listening, and understanding, you know, what the problem was. And ultimately, we had the best sales call ever, evidenced by one thing: because this company, six months later, actually acquired my company. It was a successful exit.[Laughter]. So that’s… So I want to thank Paul for his very insightful advice that Lou and I put to great use, and thank you.

Paul Kenny: That’s my pleasure. So if you do this stuff—thank you very much, Bill—if you use this stuff and you use it quickly it really can pay off for you. So, my last question is: who’s got something from the presentation so far that is not something they do in their ordinary run of their business or something that they were already planning anyway? Who’s got an idea, something that they’re going to put… they can put into practice within a week of the… the seven working days of the conference? Hands in the air. OK. That’s most people. If you’re not sure, I’m going to ask you to work a bit harder. So, we’re just going to do a very quick exercise. I want you to write that thing down. I want you to get a piece of paper—I know paper might be an odd concept for some of you guys, but grab a piece of paper from your book, your Business of Software book, and if somebody is struggling to find paper, rip them out, pass them around, and make sure everybody in the room has got a piece of paper. I want you to write down one thing. It can be something technical, you can say, “I’m going to put three options up there instead of two”, it could be whatever, it can be something creative: “I’m going to run better brainstorms.” I want you to write it down and I also want you to write down either your Twitter handle or your email address on the bottom of it. I want you to write it down, I want your writing to be as clear as possible, and I want you to hand it to someone in the room that you don’t know. OK? You’ve got two minutes to do this exercise.

OK. Think hard. It’s only got to be something that you can deliver in the next week. It might just be a shift in the way you think about a problem, it might be a conversation you’ve been putting off with a customer, it might be some of those changes to your website that you know you should have got on with before you came here but you haven’t, it might be some measuring tools that you’re going to put in place, whatever. It’s entirely up to you. But I want you to find someone to hand it to and seven days from now, whoever’s given you a piece of paper, I want you to email them or message or whatever, and say, “How did you get on with that?” And then hopefully by then… And I’ll tell you what: anybody on Livestream… You can tweet your commitments if you want, but then you can check up with each other to see what you’ve got.

I’ll give you thirty seconds to finish and then we’re…OK…If I could have you back… OK. So, I said the talk was about asking. It’s actually about getting commitment from other people. So, you’ve just promised to remind somebody in seven days that you’ve got their promise. So, send them an email and give them the reminder. It’s what communities should do, right, is help each other out. So for those of you whom I haven’t met before, and I realize there must be sort of 25% new people in the room, I coach and train salespeople and sales managers. I’ve spend most of my career at the shop end. I work in office with people. I go out on the road with salespeople, I sit by them when they’re making sales calls. I get really geeky about the sales calls, because there are things that, if people do well, have a direct impact in exactly the same way that they do in… that Patrick and Dharmesh talked about in their presentations yesterday.

So, when I first came here, I just said, “Look, get out of the old way of thinking about sales. Get over yourself. You’re a founder, so therefore you’re a salesperson.” And that’s it. And you can deny it if you want, but that’s it. And it’s been… Just look at the people who are here: Jason shared his sales stories, the guys at Red Gate, employee No 2 or 3 was a sales guy, he’s here in the room; Dharmesh hires eighty salespeople. It’s an integral part of the way that you do your business. Even if you don’t have a sales team [and you do the sales,] and you’re the salesperson, it’s a part of it and I said, “Get over it. Just… Let’s get on with it.”

We then, last year, talked about dialogue and the importance of getting questions and Bill’s story probably summarizes that better than I can… I’m out of chronology here—but in 2009 in San Francisco we talked about the importance of stories. And not just sharing data but actually giving it context (which is spookily reminiscent of the couple of presentations yesterday) is giving the data context by finding the stories that are authentic for your customers. And so, today we’re going to talk about a thing that I’ve sort of been avoiding because it’s asking for commitment. In other words, it’s closing. It’s closing deals; it’s getting to that point where you say, “Do you want it? Do you want to work with us, or not?” And I’ve been sort of putting it off. I was telling myself it’s because it comes towards the end of the call and because it makes perfect sense on a chronological order. But really, I’ve been putting it off because I’m a bit scared of talking to you guys about closing, but… There’s no way of getting around it. So, that’s what we’ve done so far. And if you remember Frank from last year, what we’re really trying to say is that we want to create Frank-free organizations. Where the sales conversations that go on are authentic, they are not credential slide after credential slide and golf clubs at dawn, and all of that sort of stuff, it’s a conversation. It’s a real human interaction, an authentic conversation, that moves you towards working together.

So, we have to finish the cycle, if you like, by talking about closing, and there’s no way of getting around it, so we’re going to. I was thinking yesterday when I was listening to Laura’s talk and to Patrice McKenzie’s talk, and Dharmesh’s talk on Monday, and Jeff Lawson’s talk, and I remember thinking: “What would those guys say if I took my brand, shiny new SaaS-model business, and said: ‘This is what I’m going to do, but I don’t want a ‘Buy Now’ button on it’?” What would they say? They would say, “You’re an idiot.” You know… “Put a ‘Buy Now’ button. You need a ‘Buy Now’ button.”

When Derek was here last year he said his major break-through at CD Baby was working out how to put an action button onto the sites—or a way of bands putting the action button onto their sites. And if I said I didn’t want to, he’d go, “You’re an idiot”, and you’d put my sites up for things like businesses and software and say, “Look at this idiot, you know, he’s put all this work into his website and he hasn’t got a ‘Buy Now’ button.” So why, when we’re talking to customers, do we not have a ‘Buy Now’ button? Why do we feel it’s awkward to say, “Shall we go ahead? Does this sound like the right product for you? I’ve covered all your points.” But you know what? It’s one of the single biggest problems we come across with sales coaches. When I’m out with your staff on the road, it’s one of the single biggest problems. People talk and talk and talk and talk, and talk… And then they end up looking at each other over the desk, eyes red, you know, and they are going: “Maybe he’s not… I don’t know whether he wants to buy. I’m going to tell him something else, because that will help”, you know. [Laughter]

And so, we tell them some more, and then the guy yawns a bit because he’s been pinned to his chair for two hours by the laser-like concentration of the salesperson. And the salesperson goes: “Oh my God, he’s bored! I better tell him some more. I haven’t found the buy now button yet. I’m going to tell him some more.” It’s ridiculous to think that the principles that you would apply in one area of commerce don’t apply in the human interaction side of the business. You can’t create customers, or satisfied customers,—happy customers, as Dharmesh would say,—you can’t create happy customers until you create customers. And to create customers, you’ve got to ask them in one way, shape or form: online, face-to-face, email; I don’t care whatever marketing tool. You’ve got to get good at triggering an action from people.But we don’t like closing, do we? People don’t like closing. And there are a few people that I blame for this. Principal amongst the people that I blame for this… Oop, there’s my why slide, is this man. [Slide]. [Laughter]

Now, I’m not going to play the video for you because it’s on Youtube. And some of you who haven’t seen Garry Glen Ross or… It’s a brilliant film. You should just watch it because it’s a brilliant film noir. But if you haven’t seen it, just put Alec Baldwin ABC into Youtube and somebody will twitter it, no doubt, and you should watch it. I just want to make a point, right? This is a great piece of cinematic art. It is not a sale instruction video. OK? [Laughter]

Do you know how many times when I, you know… When you meet people at events and at parties, and things like that:

“What do you do for a living?”

“I train salespeople.”

“Oh, Alec Baldwin. Always me closing! This watch… This watch was worth more than your car! Coffees for closers”, and all of that sort…

“Oh, really?”

you know…

“I haven’t heard that before. Marvelous.” [Laughter]

So, unfortunately, there are no positive stereotypes of people who just quietly get on, close deals, make customers happy, bring them into the fold. It doesn’t make good drama. So, there are no positive stereotypes. There are only negative stereotypes. And that affects the way people view it.

I want to introduce you to one of the greatest closers in the world. I told you my kids weren’t cute. I said to my son—who’s eight, I showed you a picture of him last year, I think—and I said to him, when I was on the phone, I said: “You know what? All the speakers, Thomas, are putting pictures of their kids up, and I want to tell them about you and football. Will you send me a picture?” So he sent me the picture that he doctored himself on GeekBooth. So I said I have no cute pictures. But the thing is, he thought it was funny. This is what… I had… This is what eight year olds do now. You have no chance, believe me. And…  [Laughter] I won’t show you the ones he sent me from FatBooth. But the problem with closing is that, when you’re Tom’s age, closing is natural. He comes to me—I work from home a lot of the time and he gets in from school at 3:30—and he comes up and he’s football-mad and he comes for me, and he says, “Dad, Dad, Dad!” And I’m trying to send an email, I’ve got clients in the US, I’m just starting to get busy with people over here.

“Dad, Dad, Dad!”

“Yeah, what it is, Tom?”

“Could we play football?”

And I go, “Yeah, I’m going to play football with you in a minute” And then, not a line of the email is being written before: “Dad, Dad, Dad!”


“It’s a minute. It’s gone by. Can we play football?”

I said, “No Tom, Daddy’s working. Later.”

And he comes back again. “Dad, dad!” And he will do this. And I go, “What’s the matter, Tom?” And he goes: “I’ve got to ask you ten times, at least, before you leave the computer.” Now, that is something that all kids… Are your kids the same, those of you with children, you have similar experiences, right? They have this in-built ability to get what they need, and I suppose from an evolutionary-psychology point of view, that makes perfect sense, because that’s how we got fed in the… when we were all living in the Serengeti a few hundred thousand years ago. But what we do is, because of the family unit and the social rules that we create, we actually teach kids, a bit like Josh was saying yesterday, we teach them not to be creative. We actually teach people to almost lose that sense of entitlement that makes them so endearing when they’re six, seven, and eight. They don’t understand why they’re not the center of the world and why they can’t ask you for stuff. But then, very soon, we start giving them rules, we start saying things like: “Those who ask, don’t get.” You know?

What kind of a lesson is that to give to the future entrepreneurs of the world, you know? Because that’s what entrepreneurs do: we ask all the time. We ask for venture capital, we ask people to work for us for nothing, we ask people to give us office space in their offices, we ask people to pay us upfront because we need the cash flow, we ask people to do all of these sorts of things. So, why are we telling people? But somewhere we all carry this script that asking is bad thing to do. And that’s why we feel awkward about it. We also have a deep, deep, fear of rejection. Every time you pick up the phone, you think: “Should I ask this client whether he wants to be part of our customer base? Oh, he might say ‘no’.” And then we’ve got a worry going on in the back of our mind, because deep down, rejection, again, I’m sure behavioural economics would explain this, but deep down, rejection means going hungry. In the biological sense. So, we have a deep, deep, deep fear of rejection. We think it’s a bad thing. And yet, the theme of this conference has been, has it not: “Screw it. Let’s try stuff. Let’s fail. Let’s fall over.” So, if we’re going to apply it in all the other areas of our business, we should get comfortable with applying it in the sales area of our business.

The other reason that people don’t close is that sometimes they don’t want to hear what the customer’s going to say. Because if I say, “No” to you, I’m going to tell you why your product sucks, in my opinion. And whether I’m right or wrong, it’s never that nice to hear. And what these things lead to, in my view… I apologize for the slide, I really do. [Laughter] If it makes you feel any better, it’s a picture of a powerlifter. You know, it’s… But what this leads to is what I charmingly call “sales constipation”, where, if you’ve ever had salespeople who’ve always got a pipeline just absolutely jammed full of prospects, “Yeah, yeah, next month—next month, I’m going to do you two hundred thousand dollars of revenue.” And you go, “Oh, that’s brilliant!” Then you get to next month: “Ah, yeah, but it’s a month afterwards and still waiting.” And: “It’s going to be two hundred and fifty thousand dollars of revenue.” And so, this kind of… These prospects came packed over time, because everybody’s scared of rejection, of losing, of failure, of having to admit that they haven’t closed any—enough deals. And that’s just not good enough.

That’s the sort of stuff that can kill companies, because that’s the sort of stuff that immediately impacts on cash flow. Though, it’s probably the first thing that will kill your company, way before profit does. So, I’ve changed the… This is the new title for my speech: “How to Ask For and Get Commitment from Customers, Investors or Stakeholders, and close more sales without coming across as a Glengarry Glen Ross, sales monster, and Frankly, a Bit of an Ar**. And also Losing all Credibility with the Customer and Burning All Chance of Ever Doing Business with Them Again and Feeling Like a Total Sh** and Forever Suffering the Pain of Rejection.” Does that sound OK as a title? Yes. [Chuckles] [Applause]

So, that’s what I’m going to talk about. And what I’m going to share with you in the next twenty minutes or so is the stuff I’ve noticed: salespeople who are good at this, doing. The ones who—not just the ones who can do it in the short term, but the ones who can do it in the long term. So, the first time I came across closing, I was twenty-four years old, I went down to London, I had a job lined up for the autumn, but I landed in July and I needed cash for July and August. I needed a job for eight weeks. And I saw an ad in the paper, and it said, “We want closers, not posers.” OK? So, you can get a sense of the organizational values, just there… And we went along, and it was selling advertising space and crummy little bulletin for brokers in the city or something like that. It was a dreadful thing. And there were loads of them. And when you got on the phone, nobody wanted to talk to you, and it was just horrible. But the guy who ran it used to… He used to… All he ever talked about were closers, he never talked about openers. He never talked about relationships, he never talked about value, he never talked about anything. It was just close, close, close. And in his view, he would honestly say that closing is something that you do to people. You know? “So, there’s a customer. I’m going to do this closing to you. Yeah?” And to be great at closing, you need to be part Chuck Norris: kind of thick skin, tough, always coming back; maybe John McLain, that sort of character. You’ve got to have the morals of a stray dog. [Laughter] And the silky-smooth vocal skills of a [QVC] presenter to cover the fact. And if you’ve asked enough people enough times, then you would do well. Now, that’s a bit like the guy you met at college who used to go around the bar asking every girl out, you know. So, I’m sorry if that was any of you, but… [Laughter] It’s like the guy… On the basis that, you know, whatever the hell happens, you know, “I’m going to get a girl tonight.” But who did you always see on the bar on the road at the end of the night?

I think closing is something entirely different. I think it’s nothing more than asking, honestly and authentically, for a commitment from a customer. It’s moving the conversation forward. I think closing is what you do for a customer to make it easy for them to buy. Not something you do to customers. Oops… Sorry. I’ve jumped ahead. So, we’re talking about commitment, and its commitment to what? No sales… I can’t recall any sale of any value, of any serious value, where somebody’s just rung up and just says, “Hi, I want your product.” I know the SaaS guys will go: “Everyday for us, you know.” But, you know, when you’ve got to sell to those difficult clients, those complex clients, those new clients, that Dharmesh talked about on Monday, they just don’t.

When you get a sale, there’s always a story to the sell. And it starts with concept. It starts with how many… chat with somebody and saying, broadly, “Is this the kind of thing that you’re looking for?” Because getting that cleared up, getting a “yes” or a “no” on that, saves you and them a whole load of time. So, it’s something you’re doing for them, because if it’s a no, and it’s really, really, no, you know, absolutely not what we want, “Great, lovely to meet you.” Go find somebody who it is, broadly, conceptually, attractive to. Sometimes it’s commitment to action. It’s asking people to get through with their colleagues in a room for a WebEx demo, or it’s asking them to make a time to sit with you and go through a demo. Closing is just getting all the little things right as well.

And sometimes, yes, of course, it’s about asking for the purchase. But it’s not about tricks that you do to people to extract cash from them. It’s ways that you… It’s opportunities that you present to customers so that they can get value from you. And there’s a lot of reasons why you’ve got to get really good at this in your business and why you should call your salespeople on that if you hear that they’re just talking at people and not giving them—directing them towards the commitment.

The first reason that you should get really good at this is: have you ever been in a conversation where, when you’ve been buying stuff, where nobody closes, or nobody concludes the conversation? You know? And it just feels weird, doesn’t it? It just feels…

“So, yeah, we’ve been really interested in scoping out a new CRM product.”

“Oh really? Great! We’d be really interested in scoping out a new CRM product for you.”

“Great, so we’re both interested.”

“Yeah, we’re… Absolutely, we’re both interested. This is great!”

“We’re really interested. I’ll, um… go back to the office and send you a proposal with an email.”

Yeah. It feels awkward, it feels weird, and so my top tip if is, if you ever get a sense of that tension in a conversation, just ask. Now, occasionally, you’ll be wrong, and someone will go, “Ooh, we’ll… Yeah…” but most of the time you’ll be right. So, play the numbers game. Just ask. If you feel the tension in there, it just feels a bit awkward, just ask. Just ask. Waiting is desperately paralyzing. I’ll tell you about a client of mine. They’re a consulting company, a software consulting company in London, and they’ve got three clients. They’ve needed to get a fourth and a fifth and a sixth in order to get where they needed to be in their business plan, and they had this one guy, who was a huge project, and he could be the fourth, fifth, and sixth all by himself. The project was potentially that big. But I noticed something really strange happen in the business. Once they’d done the initial scoping of the project and they’d done the demos and they’d got their development team to go meet with the project team and they’d done the sort of ritual courtship mating thing that goes on: “Can we all work together?” And they kind of got to there, and then they’ve gone off to review the budget, review the contracts, all of this sort of stuff. And then the client went quiet on them. And not just quiet. I mean, really quiet. Like dead quiet. Right? The client wasn’t tweeting anything, and the client wasn’t… In the early days, the client had been tweeting, really excited about looking at this new product. Deadly. Absolutely deadly. They weren’t getting phone calls returned for… Because they were struggling to get phone calls returned, and it all just went absolutely dead. So, what did they spend the time doing? They spent the time, all of them, obsessing about why it had gone dead. And they all kind of went, “Have we heard anything yet?” The first thing people said when they got up in the morning: “Have we heard anything yet?” “Oh, no, no, we haven’t heard anything yet.” So, everyone would sit down and have a meeting about why they haven’t heard anything. Yeah. Even though they hadn’t heard anything the day before, and it was probably the same reasons. And then they’d have a strategy meeting about what they could probably do to do this. And I swear to God, they were talking about, you know, “Let’s increase our social media activity and blip on their radar.” And I’m thinking: “Increase your social media activity and blip on their radar? Oh, come on, guys.” And they spent a whole week talking about this stuff. Most importantly, not doing anything else. You know?

It’s absolutely paralysing. Because this is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. And it should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind because it’s important, but they weren’t doing anything else. The coders weren’t coding, the sales guy wasn’t calling anybody else because he had all these hopes pinned to this one massive deal. And in the end, I had to bully the CEO, almost, to call him. I just said, “I actually can’t help you unless you call this guy now, because there’s nothing more I can say. I’ve made myself become redundant if you won’t call now and do a CEO-to-CEO chat.” And he rang the CEO, and the guy said, “Oh God, you know, we’ve been waiting to come back to you, but our American partners on this are a little bit nervous. We’ve had to smooth this out. We didn’t want to make a big deal about it. We’ve gone a bit quiet, but it’s all all right now.”

And they spent a week obsessing when they could have been doing a whole host of things, and he could have made that call a week earlier, he could have got an update, because they had already invested in building the relationships. So don’t let yourself become…what’s the term that happened to Han Solo? Carbonite. Yeah, it’s frozen in carbonite. I knew I’d get an answer from this audience.[Laughter]

So next up, the reason you should close is because, or you should get good at it, is because of a thing called dissonance. And this goes back exactly to what Rory Sutherland was talking about yesterday and the value of having a third choice and giving people choices. When you ask a customer… How many of you here do really boring software that adds just incremental benefit to anything that’s already in the market? Would have been a brave man or a woman to put their hand up, yeah? So everybody here is about breakthrough stuff, everybody here is about rethinking the market about doing things entirely different, right? So for most of your customers that is a huge leap out of their comfort zone. Because actually what they are going to have to go out and do is to go and explain to their bosses and their financiers why they’re investing all this money in something that is maybe new and is entirely different that will require different systems that will require different support that requires different relationships, they’ve got all of that to do. And even if they do agree with you on a logical level on everything, even if they do a tick box and they tick all the boxes, there comes a point of dissonance which is the tension that they feel between “I really want to go and buy this product over here, but I feel safe with this product over here.” Even though I’ve moaned about if like a fury for two years, it’s the devil that I know. At that point if you leave a client at that point without giving them a clear opportunity not to buy, what happens is, they start, almost invariably to convince themselves that they’re OK as they are. They start feathering their comfort zone nest if you like. And the reason you’ve got to is because when you ask them you force a decision in their mind. You force the decision they’ve got to imagine using you.

So, if you get people all the way there but don’t have a strategy for closing the deal, you’re either going to send them right back to the comfort zone, or you’re teeing them up beautifully for one of your competitors, when they come in, because you’ve already done the conceptual stuff and the scoping and all that sort of stuff. So, be wary. The reason you’ve got to close is because there’s way more to learn from a qualified no than an unqualified yes.

All the effort that HubSpot put in, to working out why their customers keep buying from them… it’s a huge effort, huge time, smart people, millions of dollars all go into making sure we understand that. And yet, there’s an easy way to learn really useful stuff about your product. Which is to ask people. And when people say “No”, don’t treat that as a problem. “You failed!” in the words of the movie that I just showed you. Great. Now let’s work out why. Let’s work out what’s wrong; let’s work out what’s irritating them about the product. Let’s…Now, you may not always be able to fix it, but lots of clients who just say yes and think you’re marvelous are great in the short term, but you learn nothing from them. So you’ve got to ask. The more nos the better. I would rather know that somebody wasn’t and why, then have them sitting there in the pipeline creating confusion and chaos.

You should close because little commitments lead to big commitments. How many of you—it’s the date that leads to the wedding—how many of you have gotten really big important customers that you’ve won over the years by starting to do one tiny piece of work for them but nobody else, work? Yeah, so we’re, now, a third or a half of the room.

Someone had this one problem that they couldn’t fix, and you were in there and you closed that, and then they trust you a bit more. So then closing them on the next thing is a bit easier and the trust, it grows like that, so you should be good at closing for this reason.

You should be good at closing because when you ask somebody, when you get to the point that you ask somebody for a deal, you’ve got to be able to look them in the eye and be authentic. You’ve got to be able to be look them in the eye and know that you can deliver this for them. So, when you say, “OK, do you think, perhaps, maybe you’d like to work with us at some time in the future—not now obviously, maybe sometime later.” You know.What does that say to the customers about your technical solution? Because as Rory explained yesterday, there are no rational decisions made in business; there are instinctive, lizard-brain decisions. And when the customers say in front of you they might have been a technical spec that says everything’s OK, but when they’re sitting in front of you and your, to use—it’s a local term, in Yorkshire—you’re wibbling, you know, you just kind of talk and say nothing. When you’re doing that, they’re actually thinking: “What’s he nervous about? Why is she backing up at this stage?” And at the back of their mind, the lizard brain is going “Oooh” and that’s when you get the dreaded “I tell you what guys, we’ll put it under review again, and we’ll speak to you in a month.” So you got to…When you close really well, when you put it and you can look them in the eye and when you sound like you’re expecting a yes, then you will show the client —not just tell the client—that you believe you can deliver a solution for them. It’s part of the sell.

It’s a very human part of the sell that talks straight to the lizard brain.

OK. So, in my view, there are only two mistakes people ever make. They ask the wrong way at the wrong time, and that’s the one we, most of us, worry about: being pushy. Being that pushy, so… and everybody’s experienced the pushy salesperson. The other big mistake is failing to ask in the right way at the right time. And do you know what? In all the years I’ve spent on sales teams and in cars driving around with salespeople, I can tell you that a lot more business is lost because of the second one than the first one. A lot more business is lost because we didn’t ask when we should have done than if we, maybe, pushed it a little bit too far. Occasionally it happens. Occasionally somebody’s hyper sensitive and they say, “You’re pushing me!”—or whatever. You can back off from that. But if you walk out of an office without having asked, you can’t back off from that. So, if in doubt, ask.

So, I’m just going to share with you, briefly then, the not-so-secret secrets of closes. These is… I’m tipping my hat now to two or three hundred salespeople that had to suffer me sitting on the road next to them, and analyzing their calls and giving them feedback on their sale and talking to the customers and getting feedback on them and all of that sort of stuff. But the people who get deals and… The weird thing is, you can take five salespeople of roughly equal ability, and if you’ve got the metrics, you can work this stuff out. Because if you get five salespeople with roughly equal ability, and you give them the same bonus scheme and you give them the same sales tools to use and you set them out on the road with roughly similar territories to cover, you’ll find that one of them, maybe two, just always does better than the others. And the answer is almost always because they do some of these things. The first thing is, they prime the pump. And what I mean by this is they make sure they do all the other stuff that we’ve talked about in the last three years really, really well.

Do you know what? When you have made a great intro to a client, when you’ve asked them loads of questions, when you’ve done your twenty-five-minute scoping, when you have shared great stories with them that are relevant to them, closing is easy. It’s pushy and difficult when the salespeople are under pressure when they’ve got their artificial sort of barrier over the artificial finish line, the monthly sales target, or whatever —and are desperate to get over their threshold and they get into that sort of…and you hear these desperate statements, you know, “I really need this”, I’ve head people say, or: “Can you do me a bit of a favor on this, can you bring it forward?” All of those things that are inauthentic and smack of frankism to be… for want of a better term. But when people sell well the closing opportunities just pop up all the time.

Number two: ask like you mean it. One of the things I just totally love about the Internet, and I know it’s obvious to you, guys but it’s just… I wanted a picture of a serious-looking baby, and there was a website called Just… [Laughter]

I don’t think I’ve put the acknowledgement on the slide but I’m acknowledging them now. It’s awesome. And if ever you need a picture of a serious baby that is the place to go. So ask like you mean it. The confidence, the way that people ask for the reasons we’ve already discussed really matter. Frequency and variety matter. People sound pushy when they’ve got one way of asking. And the reason Mohammad Ali was up here… When I was a kid, and boxing was on the TV, when I was six or seven years—it was toward the end of Mohammad Ali’s career—and I used to sit and watch him with my dad. He was my absolute hero at the time. And all I’ve… I used to say to him, “Why are there no great British boxers, Dad?” And he said, “There will be some one day.” And the first guy who ever got close to a world title fight…Now, if you’re a Brit you’ll get this, but if you’re… Has anyone ever heard of Frank Bruno? All right. Everyone with their hand up. Are you British? Yes? OK.

Frank is a British guy. Lovely bloke, huge or deep voice, and Frank… He had actually made it to where he had a world title shot with Mike Tyson when Tyson was on the top of his game. And the thing is, Frank had knocked everybody out on the way to that title. And we’ve at the Brits we fell in love with him. And we really wanted him, even though we knew it wasn’t going to happen. We really wanted him to do a number on Tyson. But Frank’s problem was, he had this big right hand, you know. He could… If he hit you, it was pretty much game over. He was one of the most powerful punchers. That was also his problem: that was all that he had. And he actually landed a punch on Tyson in Las Vegas that had Tyson reeling. And if only big Frank had thought to hit him again, you know, things could have been… [Laughter]…really good. [Chuckles] Whereas Ali was famous for saying, “It’s not about the knockout. You sting.” He always says, “I sting like a bee.” It’s…Ali was famous because he had this massive array of shots and he could land different shots from all over the place. And I think closing is a like that: if you’ve got one way of closing and you’re saving up for the end, everybody can see it coming. And it feels inauthentic and if you’re that inauthentic you give your customer loads of opportunity to pick up your… to make up reasons why they shouldn’t buy. Lots of little checks along the way: “Does this make sense to you? Are you… Have we explained it well? Does it sound like it will fit with your existing system? Would your salespeople be able to access this while they’re on the road?” You know, all of those kinds of questions. So, get them thinking lots of little things along the way. It means that by the time you get to the end, you’ve clarified the decision for the customer. So you can see why I am saying closing is something that you do for people, not to people.

Expect, yes. When you ask, that’s a confidence thing. But be ready for a “No”. When somebody says no, you put your questioning hat on, and you look—you hear: “Great, let’s learn some stuff about our product.” Sometimes, just doing that turns clients around. Just doing that… Really? No? OK? “Do you mind me asking why? What’s stopping you at this time?” And by the time you’ve had this great, long conversation sometimes the problem’s gone away. I’ve seen that happen in many occasions, because it was a perception of the problem rather than an actual problem. Or you’ll learn something about your product, or you’ll learn… You get an idea of future development. So be ready for a no. It’s no big deal. How about that video playing that Josh had yesterday? He said “No”! And then have a dance. OK? So take advantage of every no. The top sales people I meet never, ever, ever just accept a no as a no. They take advantage of it. They take advantage of it and they learn it. They learn from it. And when you ask somebody for a commitment of any kind, whether it’s a commitment to concept, commitment to a meeting, commitment to purchase, shut up.

Now, I know it’s really obvious to say, but all my words… When the adrenaline’s kicking and you’re thinking you can seal the deal and you’re thinking, “Oooh I can get everybody working on this, and it’s this exciting”, and you’re psyched by it, those are temptations to go. So, “Do you think we’re ready to sign off on this project?” And you look the client in the eye and they sit back and they go: “Because we’re really ready and we can do this and we can do that” and you launch into all this kind of wibble.

All of which, the moment you do that, the customer’s perception and confidence in the product drops.

And the main reason, if you ask somebody that you should just shut up, I don’t know… It’s polite? “I’ve just asked you. Do you want to spend twenty thousand dollars with me? I’ll give you a moment to think about that.” The first sale I’ve ever made, because you never forget your first sale, was to a guy who sold computers, it was on PC Magazine in London, PC Week Magazine and it was Ron [Medlin] of [Meldin] Micros and it was a 200GBP advert in the classified of PC Week. And Ron was a really quiet guy. And he kind of talked like this, [speaking faintly and slow] and every decision was slow. And I was a graduate, I was a week or so into my proper job, not that dreadful one I was telling you about, my proper job, and I said: “So Ron, we’ve got this circulation, we go to this many data processing managers and we do this we do that… Is it the right market for you?” And he went silent. Three times I went to talk. I went ‘Uh’ and three times the supervisor who was me put her hand over my mouth. [Laughter] To stop me talking. And after an age he went: “Yeah. We’ll give it a try.” [Laughter] You know…And so if you ask, shut up.

OK. So, that’s as simple as it gets, guys. That’s what great salespeople do. But they don’t just great closes do. But they don’t just do it, they do it every day. It’s little things that they do every day consistently that make a difference. So, I’ve got about ten minutes left, I’m going to take some questions, in just a moment… But if you don’t mind, I’m not going to talk to you for the next two or three minutes, I’m going to talk to the Livestream audience, so catch up on some emails or something like that… I want to… Something hit me. I had kind of a blinding flash of—not inspiration, just something became clear last night when we were at the speaker’s dinner and it’s great that there are eight hundred thousand people coming in on Livestream, on top of this conference. I’m looking at the tweets: it’s really encouraging. But we went to the speaker’s dinner last night and there was no table plan. If we planned it, we would have probably planned it a bit differently, but what happened was the lightning talk guys and I kind of arrived first, and so we ended up sitting at one end of the table, and then Peldi and Jason and Dharmesh and Neil were kind of sitting at the other end of the table. And I remember thinking at the time: “Ooh, maybe I should just stand up and say, ‘Come on guys, we ought to mix it up, you know, so that it looks a bit like the speakers on one end and visitors at the other’”, But I didn’t say anything because people were in the middle of conversations and it was going… And about halfway through the night, I realized that actually it just didn’t matter.

And it didn’t matter because the conversations on this side of the table were no different from the conversations on this side of the table. And the passion for the business on this side of the table was no different from the passion for the business from this side of the table. And of course they all mixed eventually; but, you know, it was exactly, if you didn’t know this conference, you wouldn’t have known who was the speaker and who was the delegate. So, this is my message to everybody who’s on the Livestream: you need to get your arses down here, because the most inspiring people are sitting in the audience. The speakers help, I hope, but they… I mean it’s great that you can watch it Livestream, it’s great that you can take part in this, but by watching it Livestream you’re missing out on at least 50%—and I suspect some more—of it. So this is a close: get your arses down here next year. OK?

So, thank you very much for listening to me, I appreciate your indulgence once again… [Applause]

And I ought to say I’m happy to take questions not just on this topic but on any of the topics that we’ve done in the past few years, because they all link. It’s all right. Mark.

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Paul Kenny: OK. Great question. So the question is: “Can you give us some examples of closing lines that we can maybe hold”, that you can turn to your own advantage or use? OK.

I can tell you a quick story if nobody’s… Well, you all listened to Jeff Lawson, so I know you’re not easily offended. And so, I’ll tell you a story and this will help stick it into your mind. When I learned to sell, I was told that closing a deal is not that different to getting a date. And it’s just—if you’ve only got one way of getting a date, you know, “Do you want to go out with me? Do you want to go out with me? Do you want to go out with me?” Eventually, that’s stalking, right? [Laughter]

So actually what you need to do is you need to be able to ask in different ways, and I’ll tell you what: I will put the detail on a Slideshare straight right after this so that you can have some written examples because I don’t think I’ll have time. But she taught us, what Jane, our boss, taught us was that there are lots of different ways to close.  One is just to ask directly. When you’re really sure that you’ve done everything you can, there is nothing better than: “Have I’ve explained it, everything? Have I given you the detail you need? Great, when will we start working together? And it’s kind of,—it’s direct but it’s gentle. “We’re really excited about working with you. Do you think we can make this happen?” So, that’s called “the direct”.

There are indirect closes, which is where you recognize that the purchase is actually only one decision in a whole chain of things. And you close people down on the little things. So: “Who do we need to talk about the invoicing? How do we get this synced with your current IT manager? How will we get the training for this organized? You know, all of that sort of stuff. So that’s a great… It’s called indirect closing. So you close in all the little things.

You can be hugely assumptive with your closes. If you’ve got somebody who you know wants the product but you remember that slide with the arrows, the diverging arrows when they’re just so… You can do what we call an assumptive close, which is you just start talking as if they bought the deal. “So when our guys come in to do the setup with your guys, shall we say next Tuesday? Because if they don’t want to, they will go: ”Oh, oh that’s a bit soon!” But often they’ll go, “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Next Tuesday.” It only works if you know you’ve done a great job on the selling, by the way. If you haven’t done a great job with the selling, it’s just cocky and a bit rubbish. But… So, you can do that. Giving people alternatives is a bit of a cheesy thing: “Do you want package A, package B?” But I’ll tell you what we learned yesterday. Actually giving people alternatives is a good thing to go for. Because it gives the client a choice. It gives the client control back. It’s not just you pushing them into something. And you—one of the lovely closes that you’ve got to be really on your game to do is to respond to the buying signals. And a buying signal is just one that: you know the client starts to get interested when they start to ask you questions. When they start to say things like: “How soon could you start working on this?” “How soon can your guys come into the business?” “What kind of training would we need?” You know, when they start asking questions like that, then the lowly, sneaky, below the radar, but perfectly legitimate close is to just ask a question back. “When would you like us in?” “How soon do you need the training?” And my boss used to say you can use this to get a date because if you’re in a nightclub and you get a buying signal, “Are you dancing?” “Are you asking?” That’s a question with a question. And she would say the assumptive close: get your coat, you’ve pulled.

[Laughter] The indirect close: “How do you like your porridge cooked in the morning?”

[Laughter] The alternative close: “Your place or mine?” [Laughter] I’m going to let you guys work out the direct close for yourself. But it’s one of those funny things you know… She had a sales team of twelve 21-year-old guys. And I’ve never forgot that sales training session. That’s…[Laughter] I hope no one’s offended, but… That will give you a start. I will happily post some example on SlideShare to follow the conference.

Thank you. Great question. Anybody else? I’m sorry… Oh, I can see there are two of them.

You’re going to have to shout if you’ve got a question, because I can’t always see the hands, all stand up.

Audience: Can you speak to companies that have mostly web meeting closing versus person to person? It sounds like you’ve had a lot of person-to-person type experience. But do you have any opinions and thoughts on how that might be different?

Paul Kenny: Absolutely. It’s not different. It’s really not different. It’s the same stuff. Sometimes you apply all the same rules you apply for web meetings: you have to slow your talk down a little, you have to indicate who’s talking and all those things that you do in web meetings. But if you go to the Creekblog, Dan did some great blogs about this and actually we did some work exactly on…He wrote three great blogs on sales based on some work we did. And of course they’re in New York most of the clients spread out across the world. So most of their meetings are web demos. And so… everything I’ve said applies. Thank you.

Audience: Hi, it seems like for those of us with a SaaS landing page, it can only be a direct close I guess… Like “Buy Now”, “Register Now”. Is there any… Do you have any clever tips—because I’m relying on you to be clever—[Paul laughs] for using some of these other closes? Or, you know, is there a good alternative?

Paul Kenny: Well I don’t know. In terms of doing it online, I’m not… I just don’t think I’m the person qualified to ask that. I think that you should speak to Patrick or you should speak to Dharmesh or—you know those are the guys who are masters of this. Most of the stuff I do is when there’s human interaction. But having said that, the “Buy Now” button is a direct close. The packages that they put up there are alternative closes. I sometimes look at a website and think they’ve been designed for people… The assumption is that, because someone’s visited the website, they really understand technology etc. I see a lot of people scrabble around for things. I sometimes think “Buy Now” buttons should be bigger. I actually still think that there is a, depending on where you’re… If you are a Shopify customer, you’re in retail or whatever, I think there has to be instant call through to that. Because some people just want to talk to a human being all the data I remember seeing says that, you know, a chunk of people will probably always want to talk to people. So, I’m not sure I can really answer your question except to say that for everybody who buys from you in a SaaS market, go back to my original presentation in 2008 and I say, “SaaS is absolutely fantastic at getting the people who know what they need.” But the moment that you get people who don’t really know what they need yet, because they haven’t got the information, you need some kind of human interaction, and that’s where most of this stuff kicks in. So, it’s probably not as clever as you need, I’m afraid. Sorry.

Audience: [inaudible]

Paul Kenny: Yes. Do you know what? I spoke at a conference, a sales conference, last year. And as well as doing this I do have my Myers Briggs qualification and I had to study all this introvert-extrovert thing. What you must always remember is that introversion and extroversion are preferences. And when Jung describes those terms, which we sort of appropriated in a modern way, what he was saying was that’s where you feel comfortable. He wasn’t saying it’s a box you must live in. And what it means is, if you’re an introvert it will take more of your energy to be extrovert. I just loved it when Dharmesh says, “I’m going to finish this presentation and I’m going to have a lie down.” And that’s because he put all his effort in being very extrovert but it takes the energy. So being introvert should never be an excuse. Now, having said all of that, sometimes two of the best sales people I’ve ever hired personally were introverts. And what made them great salespeople was because many of the clients that they were dealing with were also fairly introverted. And so they didn’t feel the need to feel every gap in the conversation with words, you know, to fill it. They didn’t see a gap as a weakness. They also really thought about what they were going to say, because that’s another sign of an introvert: introverts think before the speak and extroverts speak in order to work out what they think. You know…It’s just where the processing takes place, internally, right, externally. So, if you’ve got a very complex sale and a very sensitive customer, the introvert nature is often better because they have thought through what they want to say and they’ve weighed up the potential impact of it before it before it gets out of their mouth. And so, they have to apologise less than extroverts, usually. So, my answer is an unequivocal: yes, they can be every bit as good. Thank you. Great question.

Audience: Thanks, Paul. Do you… Can you talk about, maybe you don’t, but are there differences in the training and the clients and techniques, etc., that you work with based on maybe the dollar amount of the sale?

Paul Kenny: Yes.

Audience: So, like, you know, a thousand-dollar sale vs. ten-thousand-dollar vs. a hundred-thousand-dollar, you know, do you… I’m just wondering if you could talk about that.

Paul Kenny: There’s a company called Hoothwaites who do a lot of research into sales. Some of it’s good, some of it, in my view, misses the mark. But they did a… If you if you’ve gone into the or I’m not sure, but they’re the guys who did spin selling as a technique. And they did some research that suggested that increasing the closing—the frequency of closing—when you’ve got a low dollar value product increases your chances by a small amount of getting the—increases sales by a small amount. But actually, the bigger the dollar amount, it’s actually better to almost have fewer major closures and lots of those little agreement statements so that you make sure that everything’s lined up. Because closing too early in those can… I wouldn’t say derail the deal, but it makes people feel a bit uncomfortable; it makes them question the relationship, and I would go to the… They have a PDF and it comes up on the first page on closing. It’s kind of interesting. I don’t know the research methodology they used, but it’s kind of interesting. I think it gives us a bit of an insight into…I think some of the research… Just because in sales it’s very, very hard to measure the effectiveness of what people are doing. So, for instance, they say, in their research, “We were measuring getting a commitment to selling as a close.” Well, does that mean I say, “Do you want to go ahead and do business with me? Do you want to buy a day’s training from me?” Well, that’s asking for a commitment. But so is: “Do you think, maybe, our closing seminar hits the right mark for your guys?” Now, if you say yes to that, you’re not committed, but you’re one step closer to being committed. Now, I don’t know what they count as a close or not, and that’s why I think all research in sales, all I’ve ever seen, you’ve got to spend a lot… It’s useful, but you’ve got to spend a lot of time looking at the why and wherefore behind it. OK?

Thank you. Is that us Mark? Are we done? Thank you very much, everybody. I’ll follow up with you, probably. OK. [Applause]

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