I’ve worked on the sales side of the business world for a long time, and been on almost every rung of the sales ladder in the process. Along the way, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. When I hear people repeating the idea that the right approach to take in sales is to “Always Be Closing,” I cringe. That’s a terrible sales philosophy, particularly when it comes to building a sustainable business.
Although similar concepts have been floating around forever, “The ABCs of Sales” that I’m referring to comes from the 1992 film adaptation of the play Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet. It was a scene added specifically for the movie, and it serves to raise the stakes for the already desperate real estate salesmen depicted in the story.
In the film, Alec Baldwin’s character drops into the office to tell the salesmen that the company is running a sales contest. “As you all know first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired. Get the picture? You laughing now?”
What follows is a string of harsh abuse, with Baldwin’s character doing everything he can to drive home the point. Closing is everything. “Because only one thing counts in this life: Get them to sign on the line which is dotted. … A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing. ALWAYS BE CLOSING.”
It’s a powerful, memorable scene, but it’s not meant to be a sales training video. It’s a reflection of the desperate, unhappy place these characters are in the story. To a lesser extent, it’s also a commentary on the high-pressure sales techniques that were popular in the 1970s and ’80s, when many kinds of sales weren’t as regulated and telemarketing was reaching a fever pitch.
That’s a point that tends to get lost on people who take the ABCs of Sales to heart. You still hear the phrases echoed without irony in places like used-car dealerships and multi-level marketing. Which is a shame, because it’s a terrible sales philosophy that really doesn’t work.
The biggest problem with the ABCs of Sales is that it’s completely focused on closing. It suggests that sales shouldn’t happen naturally, and that it’s not a fundamental part of business. Instead of sales being a form of partnership, it’s a contest with a winner. Instead of being one of many stages in that process, closing becomes something more like a WWE finishing move.
A sales strategy based on finishing moves is, at best, an unsustainable way to do business. It’s totally misguided. The implication is that sales is somehow a non-consensual, win-lose relationship. It sets up an antagonistic relationship in a situation where trust is everything.
If the ABCs of Sales is the wrong way to approach sales, what’s the alternative? How about an approach where both parties come out ahead? It’s called Alignment-Based Sales, and I’ll talk about it more in my next post.