The 10 commitments of sales


Anthony Iannarino believes not only was Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of a sales manager in “Glengarry Glen Ross” brilliant, it was on target – sort of. The author, blogger and sales professor says “always be closing” is a mantra that makes sense when you look at it right.

SMM: You admit in your introduction to your new book, “The Lost Art of Closing” that the title of your first book, “The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need” implies that the world doesn’t need another sales book. Why does it?

Iannarino: If Zig Ziglar was alive today, he would not have written about closing the way he did when he wrote his book. (Editor’s note: Zigler’s “Secrets of Closing the Sale” was fist published in 1984.) The masters – Zig Ziglar, Tom Hopkins, Brian Tracy – they were teaching and being taught what was working at that time. But it’s now a different time. A lot of the tactical stuff that ended up in yellow “Dummies” books, where there is a list of closes that have names, will actually hurt you way more than they’ll help you now because so much has changed about the environment that we sell in. That’s why we need a new book.

SMM: You say in the book that you subscribe to the “always be closing” approach, just not in pursuit of the commitment to buy. Explain that.

Iannarino: Closing, over the course of time, has been considered one single thing – the final act when I ask you for the commitment to buy. That doesn’t match reality in complex B2B sales at all. I outline in my first book that you have a whole bunch of commitments you have to gain. You need to know how to get the commitment for time; how to get the commitment to collaborate; how to get the commitment to build consensus and bring other stakeholders in – even when it’s messy and when people are going to be resistant to the kind of change you are proposing. We need to have a different understanding of what closing is. It’s really about gaining the series of commitments that lead to that place where I can ask for the commitment to buy. “Always be closing” is still true, it just means always be closing for the right next commitment so you can actually help people create real change. Ultimately, if we get all of those pieces right, then the final ask is easy.

SMM: You feel that not only do salespeople continue to jump to that final close – the request for the sale – to quickly, but customers themselves attempt to jump over a lot of the steps as well.

Iannarino: It’s still at epidemic proportions on both sides of the sale. A lot of times you will have a prospect say, “That sounds great. I’d like to see a proposal and presentation.” We know that even if they like it, they can’t buy it because their IT department is going to say it won’t work or they have too many projects on the project board right now. If we don’t go through the right steps together and in the right order, the deal dies for us and it dies for them. We have to do a much better job of controlling the process. That’s just the complexity of B2B sales today.

SMM: The analogy I keep thinking about as you discuss the dilemma of clients requesting RFPs and wanting to jump to the end stage too quickly is one of those 1950s short films on dating  that warns young adults to take things slow.

Iannarino: In sales, fast is slow and slow is fast. If you want to go faster, you slow down and you make sure you bring everybody along with you. The thing about trying to jump to the end is you leave so many people behind in the process, they can’t agree to go forward with you. You end up undoing exactly what you’re trying to do when you go fast.

SMM: It’s your feeling that RFPs are a death knell for successful sales. Why is that?

Iannarino: The challenge with an RFP is that it’s a bad buying process, and a bad buying process beats a good salesperson. The reason it’s a bad buying process is it’s so arm’s length it doesn’t allow you to get close enough to develop the relationships that actually make real change occur. That process precludes the part where we actually get to have a conversation and find out, one, are we the right fit? Two, is this the right solution? And three, are our two companies going to be able to come together in a meaningful way and create something better in this situation? If you pretend that can be done with a set of responses that mostly require the sales organization to say yes to this thing we want and that thing we want, followed up by a one-hour dog and pony show, you don’t understand how things get done in business. Executives in decision-making roles should open their minds to saying, “I probably need to spend more time with sales organizations so I understand who I want to work with and so they understand how to help me. The RFP process discounts that process far too much.

SMM: So what’s the solution when someone asks you to complete an RFP? Do you say, “Let’s not go there yet”?

Iannarino: In sales, it’s always bad practice to tell someone no right out of the gate. I would say, “Yes, I’m happy to send you our pricing, but can I share another idea with you?” Then I get to say, “We can give you the best price, but it ultimately isn’t going to help you get the best outcome unless we sit down with  your team, make sure we understand how to bring them along with this, collaborate on a solution and make sure we dial it in. Can I ask you for a meeting where we can get at least a little bit of understanding before we give you the pricing, and would it make sense to bring in some of your team so we can make sure we’re a good fit in the first place?” Knowing how to serve them at each stage of their process is really what makes you a differentiated value creator. You’re the biggest part of the value prop. They’re buying your insight, your knowledge and your ability to help them move from where they are to a better future state. You only need two things to be a trusted advisor, do you know what they are? Trust and advice. If everything that you know I already know, you’re not my trusted advisor. That’s a tough thing for salespeople to understand, but the truth of the matter is that’s where all of the action is in sales today.

SMM: Regarding the challenge of getting prospects to explore their needs more thoroughly, you say they often don’t want to face the challenges they know they are facing. Your statement in the book is, “Don’t be surprised when your prospective client clams up or is more willing to discuss the problem at hand than what lies deeper.” Explain that.

Iannarino: People learn to live with a state that doesn’t serve them for a half dozen reasons. Change is painful. They don’t want to change because they’re afraid if it doesn’t work, they’re going to have wasted time and money, they’re going to be embarrassed and they could potentially have a detrimental event happen like being demoted or losing their job. A good sales conversation has collaboration and conflict. It’s not just collaboration. If you need to get new business results, there has to be some conflict and there has to be some willingness to address something that we don’t want to address and a decision to make some change around that. It’s not comfortable for a lot of people. You’ve got to get to the root cause, which means you have to have that conversation.

SMM: In your commitment to review phase, you advocate putting a draft proposal in front of the prospect and reworking it together. Why does it make sense to include the prospect in creating the final proposal?

Iannarino: I call it a preproposal. Before we propose, I want to propose what we’re going to propose. Then if there something that’s going to keep them from saying yes, we get it out on the table and we can start making adjustments before we give them what we consider to be that final solution. What if you’re giving them something they can only say no to? Let’s make sure it’s right before we say it’s done.

SMM: You’re a prolific blogger and podcaster. What podcasts do you listen to, whether they are sales related or not?

Iannarino: I like Tim Ferris. He’s intellectual and he tries to find a way to be exceptionally good at things with a minimum viable amount of effort, which is an interesting way to look at things. I have a friend Lewis House who does “School of Greatness,” and he brings on really great guests. I listen to Gary Vaynerchuk. I like Alec Baldwin’s “Here’s the Thing” because he has great guests.

SMM: Give me two or three sales-related movies you like.

Iannarino: You can’t not start with “Glengarry Glen Ross” because Alec Baldwin’s performance is exactly what it should be to describe a generation of salespeople. It is perfectly played. The thing about sales movies that get your attention is they are right in line with stereotypes. There has not been a movie that shows what salespeople really do, or you wouldn’t watch it. You wouldn’t be interested in somebody sitting down and having a consultative sales conversation in a way where they were really trying to help another person because there wouldn’t be that kind of over-the-top conflict that makes for great movies. If you want to describe why we continue to have this stereotype and the negative connotation of sales, it’s because of movies like “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “Boiler Room.”