Key learning outcomes:

  • Acknowledge that even the most professional salespeople can find it difficult to close a deal.
  • Determine that a potential customer expects a salesperson to ask for the business.
  • Establish the importance of asking confirming or mini closing questions during a sales presentation.
  • Recognise that salespeople can learn more from their losses than their wins.


You might be surprised to learn that for many salespeople asking for the business is one of the hardest things to do. Too often we see someone who conducts a well-prepared and polished presentation, has sound product knowledge and the ability to build great rapport with the customer, only to see them stumble at the final hurdle. The ability to close the deal is a vital skill for any salesperson, especially given the growing competition among industries and markets. In this article we explore some of the most common reasons salespeople find it difficult to close a deal and then give you some strategies to overcome them.

They have a fear of rejection

Without doubt one of the most common reasons why a salesperson does not ask for the business is that they do not want to hear “no” for an answer. By their nature, salespeople tend to have very social and influential personalities. They generally want to be liked; they enjoy dealing with people and have the ability to build rapport quickly. They are the person at a party or function that can strike up conversation with just about anyone. This is one of the things that make them good at what they do; however, it is also one of the things that can hold them back.

The first step in overcoming this fear is for the salesperson to understand and acknowledge why they are reluctant to ask for the business. It is important to try and take the emotion out of it and get them to understand that unfortunately they will not win the business every time. It is important they understand that they will lose more business in the long run by not attempting to close the sale, and the potential customer is expecting them to ask for the business.[wlm_ismember]

A good question to ask this salesperson is “does it make it any easier when the person calls back or sends you an email some time after the appointment to tell you that you did not get the business?” Explain to the salesperson that if they are not going to get the business, it is better to know then and there and move on. The closing process allows for the uncovering of objections that the salesperson was previously unaware of. It is important to ensure that the salesperson understands that when someone says “no”, more often than not it is because we have not satisfied the customer’s need or solved their problem, and not because they were rejected personally.

They do not want to spoil a positive meeting

“We were getting on so well, so I did not want to spoil it by asking for the business.” The response to this salesperson is simple: if you were getting on so well, then why would asking for the business be a problem? Usually in this instance the salesperson lacks confidence or is not conducting a structured sales presentation. It is important to let this salesperson know that getting on well with a customer and winning the business are two different things. It would be important to role play this salesperson’s presentation to ensure that they are asking the right questions and working efficiently towards closing the sale. Our article “Sales Process” gives you a framework to work from and will ensure that your salesperson is on the right track.

They have not earned the right

Perhaps the salesperson was not as prepared as they should have been or they lost confidence during the presentation because their knowledge and expertise were lacking. If a salesperson tells you that they did not ask for the business because they were sure they would not win it anyway, this is a clear sign that you need to work on building their skills and confidence. Work through each section of the sales process to ensure that they are asking effective questions and they are confident in presenting the product or service that provides the best solution for the customer.

It is essential that salespeople don’t practise their skills on “real” customers. If they do, it will not only mean they miss more business, but also the salesperson’s confidence will continue to decline each time they fail to perform. Remember, salespeople do not handle rejection well; therefore, it is important to ensure you are sending them out into the field armed with the necessary tools and information to give them the best possible chance of succeeding.

They fail to confirm through the presentation

One of the biggest mistakes that salespeople make is they fail to ask confirming or mini closing questions during their presentation. By stopping and asking “does that sound like it will suit you”, “does that answer your question?” or “how do you feel about that?” you are giving the customer an opportunity to either confirm you are on the right track or to voice any objections they might have. If the salesperson does not do this and simply asks for the business at the end of the sales presentation, they have missed the opportunity to either reinforce why the product or service suits the customer’s needs or manage any issues they have. Once you have had a series of mini “yes’s” from the customer during the presentation, it is naturally easier for them to confirm with “yes” at the end of the presentation.

They do not know how to ask

For many salespeople, the reason they do not ask for the business is simply that they do not know what to say. It is essential that your sales team understand that asking for the business is a closing question, and this is the time to ask a closed question. Asking someone “do you have any questions?” is not a closing question. A closing question is something like the following: “based on everything we have discussed, do you feel comfortable moving forward with myself and company xyz?”, or “based on everything we have discussed, are you ready to proceed?” The customer has to reply with “yes”, “no”, “maybe” or “I am not sure”. The salesperson can then deal with each of these scenarios. If it is “yes”, move onto the next step, which might be completing paperwork, contracts or setting up another meeting. If the answer is “no”, the next step is to ask “why” to uncover the objection or objections. Salespeople might feel that getting a “not sure” is not good news. Actually it is positive, because if they do not overcome any objections, they will not get the business anyway. The salesperson needs to probe further with open-ended questions like “what are you not sure about?” Once again this enables them to uncover potential objections or to find out if they are considering one of your competitors. Our article “Handling Objections” gives you some more detailed strategies here.

How to improve closing skills in your business

Confidence and the ability to close are some of the most important skills a salesperson can have. Without them they are working on hope – they leave appointments hoping that the potential customer will choose them and the product or service. It is important to make sure that your sales team understands that knowledge is power, and by asking the question they have the power to determine and move on to the next step.

One of the best ways to improve sales skills is through role play. By practising the sales presentation in a simulated situation, you will find that your sales team’s skills and confidence will lift quickly. Our learning article, “Role play”, takes you through how to set up regular role plays with your team to ensure they polish up their sales skills.

It is also essential to foster an attitude of transparency in your team. Explain that everyone learns more from their losses than from their wins, and while no one likes to lose business, it is a valuable learning exercise. Every time a salesperson loses a sale, use it as a topic for role play to ensure that everyone learns and does better next time.

The last and most important thing to remember about closing is that if you do not ask the question, the answer will always be “no”.[/wlm_ismember]

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