Allan Langer: “You don’t need a closing technique if your main intention is to help the customer”

You don’t need a closing technique if your main intention is to help the customer. The mindset of helping a customer, figuring out a way to solve their problem without ever thinking about how to close them, will actually make you sell a heck of a lot more. And you’ll feel better doing it as well. […]

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You don’t need a closing technique if your main intention is to help the customer. The mindset of helping a customer, figuring out a way to solve their problem without ever thinking about how to close them, will actually make you sell a heck of a lot more. And you’ll feel better doing it as well.

As a part of my series about how to be great at closing sales without seeming pushy, obnoxious, or salesy, I had the pleasure of interviewing Allan Langer.

Allan Langer is an award-winning author, sought-after speaker and sales trainer, and his company, The 7 Secrets Center for Sales and Marketing Excellence, has continued to thrive during the Covid19 crisis. He has been in sales and marketing for over 25 years, and his book, The 7 Secrets to Selling More by Selling Less, was a bronze-medal winner in the prestigious TopSales competition and is an Amazon best-seller.

Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?

Well, after being in the sales industry for over two decades, mostly in the B to C arena with in-home selling, I started realizing that the majority of the “sales trainings” that are taught by companies don’t work. Or at the very least, don’t produce the kind of results that companies and individuals can attain.

I knew this because I abandoned those teachings and started concentrating on helping customers rather than the hard “close.” I started developing techniques and strategies that made me the salesperson that people actually enjoyed meeting with, rather than the salesperson that people dreaded meeting.

This resulted in me being the number-one rep at a nationally-known home-improvement window and door company for many years, eventually helping and training reps to “ditch the pitch” and focus on specific things with regard to the customer, that had nothing to do with trying to sell them anything.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

One story that stands out is when I went on a ride-along with a new rep, basically tagged along to watch him in front of a customer. This particular prospect was a couple that were in desperate need of new windows and were very engaged and interested — in the beginning.

Then the rep started with his “pitch,” plowing through it without ever listening to the customer, although he did ask questions. Problem was, he asked the questions like a robot, never really caring about the answers. He was a gregarious fellow, so he was not putting them off completely, but he was not making them feel comfortable either.

Then came the price presentation, and this is where he did what so many other reps are taught to do, and why salespeople have such a bad reputation. After their initial push-back due to their discomfort, he again did not listen to them, and went right to objection-handling 101.

“I can understand why you feel that way, Mr. Smith…”

“But what is it exactly that you need to think about?”

“What would make you not want to move forward today?”

And on and on. It was painful to watch, and even more painful to actually experience. The customer’s faces were getting flush, and they were shifting around in their seats, and he simply did not care. He became the sales robot everyone hates. At the end, the husband shot up from his chair and declared that he wasn’t buying anything today, and then asked if we would kindly leave.

And here’s the thing…I drove by that house almost THREE YEARS later, and they still had their awful windows, which made me think. Imagine being that salesperson who so scarred and affected a potential customer, that they would rather live with tier current terrible windows, than go through the experience of having another salesperson visit them in their home.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’m kicking around book number two right now, but it will be a ways off. Right now, I’m just concentrating on my business and getting the word out that I can help companies increase their sales, even now, with the proper marketing and sales training.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

One of my favorite authors is Professor Robert Cialdini, author of Influence and Persuasion, a brilliant researcher who taught me that the human brain and human behavior is predictable, and follows many certain patterns. These principals of persuasion and influence are the foundation of what I teach and practice.

I have a whole chapter in my book about some of these concepts, such as reciprocation, authority, scarcity, and others. These concepts are not only ethical and are based on how human behavior has evolved, but incredibly important in helping salespeople become better at selling.

For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?

I’ve been in sales for over two decades and was the number-one sales rep at the companies I worked for, included a huge, nationally known window and door company. I spent many years researching principles of influence and persuasion as well as the myriad of terrible sales teachings and trainings that are available, basically training reps how to NOT be a good salesperson. I spent many years with a closing percentage of over 60%, and my book has become a best-seller in the field of sales and sales training.

Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

What I’ve been telling my kids and family is that “this will end. It sucks right now, but there WILL be an end to all of this.”

And at the end of the day, we will all be stronger, wiser, and better than when it all began.

Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know, nearly any business a person will enter, will involve some form of sales. At the same time, most people have never received any formal education about how to be effective at selling. Why do you think our education system teaches nearly every other arcane subject, but sales, one of the most useful and versatile topics, is totally ignored?

I think you’d have to ask our educational leaders that question, and don’t get me started on the American education system either, that’s a whole different interview!

But basically, our entire education system needs an overhaul. Sales is not the only vital topic that is not taught. What about financial basics? Or parenting skills? Or the stock market? It’s crazy none of these basic life skills are not part of the curriculum.

This discussion, entitled, “How To Be Great At Sales Without Seeming Salesey”, is making an assumption that seeming salesy or pushy is something to be avoided. Do you agree with this assumption? Whether yes, or no, can you articulate why you feel the way you do?

Yes, I wholeheartedly agree. The opening chapter of my book discusses an informal survey that I conducted to 231 random strangers walking into the coffee shop I frequented. I asked every one of them the same question — “do you like meeting with or talking to a salesperson?”

All 231 answered, “No.”

And that was the genesis of my book, the foundation — no one likes talking with a salesperson, ever. And then the next obvious question is, why?

And the answer to that is that salespeople (or at least the perception of salespeople) often never listen, are pushy, only care about the sale, etc. That is why the profession, albeit critical and necessary, is usually ranked as the one with the most disdain associated with it.

The seven stages of a sales cycle are usually broken down to versions of Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, Handling objections, Closing, and Follow-up. Which stage do you feel that you are best at? What is your unique approach, your “secret sauce”, to that particular skill? Can you explain or give a story?

The seven stages of a sales cycle are baloney. The only stages you need to understand are getting your customers to like you and trust you. Of course there is prospecting, then preparation, but you can’t approach any of these like a computer, like every customer is the same. Your “Presentation,” if you even give one, is different from one prospect to the other. And “Handling Objections” has been the biggest reason why people hate salespeople to begin with, because we create the objections that the customers give us, then try to “handle them” as if the customer just made them up.

How about instead of figuring out how to “handle an objection,” why not figure out why you got the objection in the first place? Maybe you didn’t listen to the customer? Maybe you missed obvious body language? Maybe all you cared about was the sale and not the customer?

As soon as you can figure out how to stop using a sales pitch, you will become a much better salesperson.

Lead generation, or prospecting, is one of the basic steps of the sales cycle. Obviously every industry will be different, but can you share some of the fundamental strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

Obviously, this is completely dependent on what you are selling, as prospecting for a massage therapist is completely different than prospecting for a copy-machine salesperson. However, that being said, your best two avenues to garner good, qualified leads, are through referrals and visibility. As well as hard work.

I always received many strong, solid leads from existing customers as referrals, and most without even asking for them. You see, if you take care of your customer, make it NEVER about yourself, referrals will simply come to you, unsolicited, simply because of how you made the customer feel.

And second, if you put yourself out there, make yourself visible in any way you can — networking, social media, emails lists, attending meetings, etc., you WILL get leads.

In my experience, I think the final stages of Handling Objections, Closing, and Follow-up, are the most difficult parts for many people. Why do you think ‘Handling Objections’ is so hard for people? What would you recommend for one to do, to be better at ‘Handling Objections’?

Well, see what I wrote above as an answer to the previous question. The biggest thing for sales reps to understand are that objections are given to the customer by the salesperson, they are not just dreamt up by the prospect. A customer hands you an objection because at some point, they didn’t like what they heard, saw, or how you made them feel.

What I mean by this is that a customer will not give you an objection if you actually make them feel good. And you do this by making them feel like you are not giving them a sales pitch, that you are not just there to sell them something, and that you actually care about helping them and solving their problem.

If that is the case, you will have very few objections. And if you do, it will most certainly be a pricing objection, but that is usually born from what is called “purchase anxiety,” which is alleviated easy enough, and is a whole other topic.

‘Closing’ is of course the proverbial Holy Grail. Can you suggest 5 things one can do to successfully close a sale without being perceived as pushy? If you can, please share a story or example, ideally from your experience, for each.

The first thing you should do? Drop the word “close” from your vocabulary. The word should be banned from the world of sales.

Why? Because it’s inherently a hard action, a negative connotation, almost adversarial and conquering. When declaring “I closed them today!” You are declaring a victory, a triumph over the prospect, and as soon as you do that, your mindset is completely wrong for selling. As soon as you make the sale about YOU, and not about the customer, you will remain, always, a mediocre and selfish salesperson.

I never once used the word close when making a sale. It was always “I helped the customer solve their problem today,” or “I assisted Mrs. Johnson in purchasing what she needed to fix her issue.”

So I never answer these questions that ask — What are the 5 Best Closing Techniques? or The Top 3 Closing Lines…because here’s the thing to understand

You don’t need a closing technique if your main intention is to help the customer. The mindset of helping a customer, figuring out a way to solve their problem without ever thinking about how to close them, will actually make you sell a heck of a lot more. And you’ll feel better doing it as well.

Last year, I did some training for the sales force of a solar company, who’s seven salespeople were “closing” at a paltry 21% for the year. After working on changing their mindsets to helping instead of selling, and asking them to always use the word “help” in place of the word “close,” their numbers rose to over 45% in just three weeks, simply because they changed their mindset.

Finally, what are your thoughts about ‘Follow up’? Many businesses get leads who might be interested but things never seem to close. What are some good tips for a business leader to successfully follow up and bring things to a conclusion, without appearing overly pushy or overeager?

Again, this depends on the business and what you are selling, as some sales cycles are quite long, and then some are one-call sales situations. However, one can never discount a solid, well-written, email sales funnel as you can engage the prospect without being pushy, using great sales copy to get them interested, and then simply move them along toward an appointment or an actual sale. Again, depending on your product or service.

Now if you are talking about follow up after meeting with someone, this can never be passive aggressive, it always has to be direct. Ask them for the order at the appropriate time, never dance around that fateful question. If you have given them everything they asked for, and you have their timeline, then be proud of your product and excited to have them as a customer. Tell them that. Always love what you sell.

As you know there are so many modes of communication today. For example, In-person, phone calls, video calls, emails, and text messages. In your opinion, which of these communication methods should be avoided when attempting to close a sale or follow up? Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?

A sale should be asked for in person whenever humanly possible. If you meet with your prospects regularly, try to move your procedure to securing business on the first visit, especially if it’s B to C. Very rarely do companies that swim in the B to C marketplace get call backs once the salesperson leaves the prospect. The best time to ask for the order is during the initial visit, even though the potential customer will tell you almost every time that they will NOT be buying anything that day.

But a great conversation about how your product or service can and will solve their problem, without being pushy or fake or robotic, will result in that prospect buying from you on that first visit more often than not.

However, if you do not meet with your prospects regularly, then a combination of email and phone calls works best, with texting mixed in as well. You have to stand out if you are going to sell things without actually meeting someone. And don’t leave voice mails. Just keep calling until they pick up or you get through. Voice mails are only returned 3% of the time. If you get the receptionist or gatekeeper, leave a message with that person, then follow up immediately with an email.

Ok, we are nearly done. Here is our final “meaty” question. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Wow, are we talking sales here, or a movement for the world in general?

If it’s about sales, the movement I would start (and have started in my own small way) is to get every salesperson to drop the dreaded “sales pitch” and work on becoming human beings that actually sell for a living. There are incredibly effective ways to be successful in sales without using a sales pitch. This would turn salespeople into professionals that prospects actually want to meet and do business with and the perception the profession would change dramatically.

As far as a movement for the world, I’ll leave that up to my 16-year old daughter.

How can our readers follow you online?

Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!

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