Any sales representative will say that “closing” is the hardest part of their job. After all, signing new customers and upselling existing accounts is how a representative makes quota. If they’re not getting prospects to sign contracts, they’re not going to hit their number.
There are some killer and common sales mistakes to avoid if you hope to succeed. I know, because I was once in your shoes. Here are the most prevalent and devastating closing fumbles representatives consistently make.
Sales Closing Mistakes
- Discounting the Importance of the Discovery Call
- Closing Only Once
- Not Asking for What You Want
- Using Statements Instead of Questions
- Not Getting a Personal Buy-In From a Prospect
- Not Creating a Sense of Urgency
- Not Embracing Silence
- Not Knowing the Prospect’s Decision Criteria
- Not Understanding the Prospect’s Purchasing Process
- Closing Before Everyone Is at the Table
- Closing People Who Can’t Deliver
- Getting Caught Up with NINA
- Attempting to Close Someone Through a Third Party
- Using Underhanded Closing Tricks
- Waiting Too Long To Address Questions and Objections
- Closing Too Early
- Not Understanding Their Bottom Line
- Stepping on the Close
- Talking Too Much
- Not Asking for What You Need
- Not Understanding Internal Decision-Making
- Persisting When the Prospect Says 'No'
- Trying to Make Closing Easy for the Prospect
- Closing When You're Not in a Closing Position
1. Discounting the Importance of the Discovery Call
According to most prospects, they’re in the same group as their competitors. Whoever nails the first part of the sales process tends to be the one who will finish or close it. The discovery call is the new close call, so if you don't ask the right questions, the deal will just stop.
When you identify a good fit prospect, you want to be very specific on your expertise and experience. Having a discovery call will help you understand what the biggest issues are. Two great questions to ask are:
- What do you love about your new business development efforts?
- What do you want to improve?
I also like to address the “we have decided not to start” objection — which is universal — right upfront. I like to ask the following questions:
- When do you need the problem solved?
- When do you need to see the cost reduction?
- When do you need to get the customers by?
All these questions create that mindset of moving to solve the problem sooner rather than later.
What we like: Remembering the importance of the discovery call early on in your process will help you put as much effort into it as you will during the close. As such, you’ll increase the chances of winning the deal by starting off strong.
2. Closing Only Once
You should consistently "close" throughout the sales process for three main reasons:
- You’ll secure greater and greater buy-in from your prospect.
- You’ll filter out tire kickers.
- You’ll get key information, meetings, introductions, and more.
For example, you might ask for the buyer's cell phone number on your first call. Being able to call or text them directly — instead of going through their assistant or calling their work line — will make them much easier to contact.
At the end of the third meeting, you could ask them to connect you with procurement so you can start learning about their purchasing requirements.
What we like: By including “soft closes” throughout the process, you will have more of an advantage over other vendors, and you'll also seem more prepared and experienced.
3. Not Asking for What You Want
Stating your ask might be common sense, but it’s hardly common practice.
There are two reasons reps don’t simply state what they want from a prospect. They might be afraid of rejection, so they soften their language to minimize the chances of hearing "no."
On the other hand, it’s possible they don’t know what they want. This is a sales mistake to avoid, as too many representatives go into a call or meeting with no real concept of what they’re hoping to get. And if you don’t know what you want, how can you get it from the prospect?
Enter every interaction with a clear objective in mind, and don’t beat around the bush when asking for it. For example, "Will you be signing and sending the proposal today?" works best because it explains to the prospect what the seller is closing without beating around the bush.
What we like: Asking for what you want makes it more likely that you’ll get it. You have to ask for what you want from the prospect without being afraid to hear no.
4. Using Statements Instead of Questions
Closes should always be phrased as questions, not statements. This works best because questions require direct answers — statements don't.
If a sales representative says to a prospect, "It would be great to meet on Monday afternoon," that prospect can respond in a multitude of ways. But if the representative asks, "Can you meet on Monday afternoon?" the prospect has only two possible replies at their disposal — "Yes, I can," or "No, I can't."
Sentences that start with "I’d like to" or "Maybe, we can" aren’t closes. Questions that start with "Are you," "Can you," or "Will you" are.
What we like: Asking direct questions will help you close the deal more effectively than plain statements. The questions also allow you to get a direct answer and, if needed, a follow-up by the sales representative if they need more time.
5. Not Getting a Personal Buy-In From a Prospect
The other mistake I often see in the closing process is not getting prospects to buy in for personal gain. To help bring value to your sales close, give your prospect a personal stake in the sales process.
To get a good sales close with personal gain, ask:
- How can we make you look good in the process and when you start?
- How can we make your boss and team look good?
Those kinds of questions will ensure that the prospect is thinking about the benefits for them and their team for moving forward.
What we like: Asking the prospect what they’ll personally gain will give them time to look over all the benefits and move forward with your business.
6. Not Creating a Sense of Urgency
Closing sales are driven by two things — need and timing. If a need is great, but other priorities are more important, your deal will get pushed. Additionally, if a need is great, but the prospect doesn’t understand why they need to address it right now, your deal will also get pushed.
Avoid the common sales mistake of not creating a sense of urgency. Identifying pain points isn’t enough to close a deal. You also have to create the right timing, which means creating a sense of urgency. Explaining why they should act now is the only way to close a deal.
What we like: By creating a sense of urgency, you’ll be able to emphasize that the need must be solved now and that the company’s revenue is at stake. As such, you’ll be able to close earlier than you intended.
7. Not Embracing Silence
Silence can be uncomfortable, but it’s golden when closing. Many representatives often rush to comment on their prospects’ responses immediately after being uttered, which is a sales mistake to avoid.
Here’s what this sounds like:
Representative: "Can you meet this afternoon?"
Prospect: "No, I’m busy."
Representative: "Not a problem — how’s tomorrow?"
However, to turn this sales mistake into something great for both you and your prospects, you only need to simply fall silent after the prospect responds. You see, the prospect will often answer your follow-up question before it’s even spoken.
Here’s the above example, revised to use this approach:
Rep: "Can you meet this afternoon?"
Prospect: "No, I’m busy."
Prospect: " … But I can meet next Tuesday."
Waiting in silence lets the prospect direct when the follow-up can be before you jump in to fill the silence.
What we like: During moments of silence, the prospect will often answer an implied follow-up question that you, the sales representative, might have asked prematurely.
8. Not Knowing the Prospect’s Decision Criteria
Asking for the prospect’s business is a way to signal that the closing of the sales process has arrived. You also need to know when it’s time to ask for it. Asking too soon makes the prospect feel rushed, but asking too late will make the deal last longer than it has to.
At the beginning of every sales process, make sure you find out what specific criteria the decision-maker needs to make a purchase. Do they need the vendor to follow a certain review or legal process? Do they need a particular set of features or a specific business case to be built? Once you find out the criteria, it will be easier to fulfill them methodically, so a natural endpoint becomes obvious.
What we like: Knowing what the prospect needs to close the deal will help you close at the right time instead of prematurely. Plus, knowing the prospect's specific process will help you fulfill any outstanding requirements, increasing the chances of a close.
9. Not Understanding the Prospect’s Purchasing Process
Understanding the purchasing process is a similar but slightly different requirement than the one above. Some companies require a legal review or formal procurement process to get a deal done. Others are required to evaluate a certain number of vendors. Still, others will have specific requirements for payment terms or types.
To avoid a sales mistake, it is best to know the purchasing process before formal negotiations start so that you won’t get through the entire closing sequence only to have to go through a weeks-long review process before the deal can be signed.
What we like: Knowing your prospect's purchasing process will help you close the deal without delaying it because of reviews or other unexpected factors.
10. Closing Before Everyone Is at the Table
Negotiating with the wrong people is a big sales mistake to avoid because it is a waste of time as a representative. They won’t be able to tell you if a decision can be made or what it will be. Bring in all necessary stakeholders and bring them up to speed on your progress thus far before you start talking about pricing and terms. This will help close your sales with the right people at the table.
What we like: When you negotiate with the necessary stakeholders, you will be able to successfully close the sale with the right people.
11. Closing People Who Can’t Deliver
Why pose an ask to someone who can’t give you what you need? It’s not a good approach, and yet, this happens all the time.
A classic example is asking for a referral from someone who obviously can’t provide it. An entry-level engineer can introduce you to their coworkers and their direct manager. But the CEO? Probably not. Don’t ask a contact to commit to or give you something they can’t provide.
What we like: Making an ask to the right person will help you get what you need — without needing to jump through additional hoops or, worse, looking silly.
12. Getting Caught Up with NINA
HubSpot Senior Sales Manager Katherine Fischer recommends sales representatives stay wary of getting involved with NINA.
"NINA stands for No Influence No Authority. It is someone who talks a great game telling salespeople exactly what they want to hear but is a total waste of time.
One of the biggest sales mistakes to avoid) is trying to close a NINA for anything. You shouldn’t try to close for the next steps, an introduction, or anything else. Let's say they agree to the next step. In that case, you'll be wasting time building a relationship with someone who can't progress the sale in any way.
However, NINA is a great coach once you recognize the limits of their contributions. NINA is best to gather information from them to then later craft very personalized emails to key stakeholders. For example, you can ask a NINA questions like, ‘What is talked about most frequently in the company meetings?'"
What we like: When dealing with a NINA, you can use them to gather information that will help you sway key stakeholders, speeding up your closing process.
13. Attempting to Close Someone Through a Third Party
If a sales rep can’t get through to the CEO, they might pose a question to their assistant like so: “Who do you think your boss would recommend being there?”
With this question, you’re asking the assistant to deliver what you want on behalf of their boss. Not a good idea. While it’s fine to pose your close to the assistant or a third party, make sure you’re closing the actual decision-maker directly. With this in mind, the above question becomes, “Who do you recommend should be there?”
Close the person you’re talking to, not that person on behalf of someone else. The latter approach is a recipe for misunderstandings.
What we like: Never go through a third party, but allow the third party contact to direct you to the decision-makers to close the deal.
14. Using Underhanded Closing Tricks
Up to this point, you should have run a straightforward and honest sales process — so why stop now? A sales mistake to avoid is to not fall back on tricks. Too many salespeople fall back on tricks and techniques designed to persuade their prospects into closing before they’re necessarily ready to.
The problem with those tricks is that they’re completely transparent, put unnecessary pressure on buyers, and don’t work that well. Keep your behavior above board throughout the sales process, unless you want to leave your buyer with a bad taste in their mouths at the eleventh hour.
What we like: Not using closing tricks and keeping your behavior consistent throughout the process will leave the buyer happy after the close has ended.
15. Waiting Too Long to Address Questions and Objections
HubSpot Partner Channel Account Manager Jill Fratianne suggests reps stay on top of any issues and concerns prospects might raise. According to her, "The biggest sales mistake is waiting for the close to get every possible question or objection handled.
“Ask all the 'closing questions' early on — especially when it comes to any legal processes or deal-breaking technical questions."
What we like: You don’t want to wait to ask the important questions, because you risk learning about critical purchasing criteria too late. Ask your questions early to help better close the deal.
Featured Resource: Objection Handling Guide
16. Closing Too Early
Just as you wouldn’t pitch your product on the first call, you shouldn’t go for a final close when you’re only halfway through discovery. The sales cycle can and should speed up if it’s possible to do so without cutting corners, but often you’ll need to follow each step and work on the buyer’s timeline to get a deal signed. Trying to force a sale over the finish line when you’ve only completed a few of these steps will prematurely end a deal you could have eventually won.
What we like: Do not close too early or force a sale. Follow all the steps needed to close the deal with the buyer while working on their timeline.
17. Not Understanding Their Bottom Line
Making a sale isn’t the end-all, be-all. The deal has to be mutually beneficial to both parties, which means not compromising on price or payment terms that can harm your company.
It is best to be accommodating where you can and help your buyer if they’re genuinely willing to commit to a purchase. However, don’t agree to terms that are so far from your company’s bottom line that you’d be better off walking away.
What we like: You and your buyer will come to terms that will help them commit to a purchase, while you won’t have to stray too far away from your company’s bottom line or risk not making quota.
18. Stepping on the Close
On that note, don’t step on the close. A representative steps on their close when they immediately tack the word "or" or "and" onto the end of their closing question. Instead of asking the prospect, “Would you be able to meet tomorrow?” and letting the question hang, representatives often hastily tack on an additional phrase, such as, “Or are you available next week?”
Words such as “and” and “or” add choices to a conversation, and closing is about eliminating choices and pushing the prospect toward a simple "yes" or "no" answer. By adding a clause, you increase the possibility you’ll get a muddled or half response.
What we like: Do not use the words “or” or “and” when closing a deal because it adds choices to a conversation and can delay whether the prospect will say “yes” or “no.”
19. Talking Too Much
At the negotiation table, silence is your best friend. Another one of the common sales mistakes is when the sales representative routinely talks themselves out of a deal. Their prospect is fully bought-in and ready to discuss specific terms, but the rep gets so excited that they keep going. This introduces doubt to the buyer's mind.
If you tend to be a chatty closer, remember this — no one ever listened their way out of a deal. Every time you finish introducing a new term, responding to a question, offering a concession, or, most importantly, stating your price, you should stop talking. And when your prospect says, "Sounds great, I think we're ready to move forward," wrap up the conversation and end the meeting.
What we like: Remember not to over-talk. As long as you have said your objectives, stop talking. Over-talking can scare potential buyers away. Let them respond and wrap up the conversation.
20. Not Asking for What You Need
HubSpot Sales Team Lead Lindsay Kopit suggests reps be frank and upfront with prospects. She says, "If you've built trust with your stakeholders, you should feel comfortable asking for what you need.
Be honest about your targets, and you'll be surprised with how willing prospects are to work with you — provided you've built a strong relationship throughout the sales process."
What we like: You should always ask what you need as a sales representative. Coming to a close is about what benefits the buyer and the business. Letting a buyer know your targets will work out in both of your favors.
21. Not Understanding Internal Decision-Making
Knowing how decisions are made from your prospect's end is important. Kopit explains, "It's easy to get carried away with a prospect who is excited about your product or service, but it's important to remember to get buy-in from everyone involved in the decision-making process.
Use helpful statements like:
- 'Have you made a similar purchase in the past?’
- ‘Could you walk me through that?’
- ‘Is there a procurement process?’
- ‘Does the deal need a sign-off from the board?’
We like questions like these because it helps to uncover other stakeholders and avoid roadblocks at the end of the sales process. Knowing this information ahead of time ensures that you are on the same page as your prospect and that your timelines align."
What we like: Look at how the decision-making process is handled by all key stakeholders in the company you’re selling to. By asking a few questions, you can talk to stakeholders and avoid problems at the sale's closing.
22. Being Overly Persistent When the Prospect Says "No"
If your prospect turns you down, the worst response is arguing with them. That sends a clear signal: You aren't confident enough to accept their "no." They'll lose faith in you — not to mention your rapport will suffer.
So, what should you do? To avoid a sales mistake, just say, "Okay." If an alternative makes sense, you can offer that one. For example, maybe they didn't want to connect you with procurement because they think it's too early. Your response can be, "I understand. Is there someone else within the organization familiar with your buying criteria who may be able to give me similar insight?"
Showing you can calmly get a "no" without becoming irritated, pushy, or insecure will raise your status in the buyer's eyes and increase the odds that next time you'll get a "yes."
What we like: Don’t become irritated or pushy when hearing the word “no.” As a sales representative, let the no be their answer. If there’s a way to get the sale at a later time, ask a follow-up question. Don’t be overly persistent to get a yes, because you will leave a bad taste in the buyers’ mouths.
23. Trying to Make Closing Easy for the Prospect
Representatives often believe closing needs to be easy for the prospect, but that’s a sales mistake you want to avoid. By definition, closing requires the salesperson to put the prospect in a mild state of discomfort.
If buyers don’t feel a slight amount of pressure, they’re not going to make a choice. And “no decisions” are always worse than closed-won or even closed-lost. Don’t be afraid to turn up the heat a few notches to get an answer.
Closing is tough, but avoiding these missteps and sticking to a confident, concise, and "always-be-closing" mindset will set you up for success.
What we like: You want the prospect to feel comfortable but not too comfortable during the closing process. Adding a little pressure to the buyer while staying confident and concise will set you up for success.
24. Closing When You're Not in a Closing Position
HubSpot Principal Account Manager Leticia Henry framed this point with a baseball analogy. She said, "If you think of the sales process as a baseball diamond, each base represents a different step in the sales process.”
She explains that successful people sell consistently because they follow a consistent, repeatable sales process. They have a clear understanding of the purpose and outcome of each step.
"Like baseball players, sales reps who take the time to pass through each base know that, while the process might be longer than hitting a home run, they are more likely to close the deal — or make it to home — more consistently.
"Sales reps often try to close a deal when they’re not in a position to do so — that's to say they’re on first or second base but are trying to reach home base in one swift run. That may work some of the time, but it will not help you close reliably.
"You need to get in position to close the deal — to get to third base consistently. Being on third base means that you can answer 'yes' to the following questions:
- Are you talking to the decision-makers?
- Does this customer recognize that they have a problem?
- How much does the customer want to fix this problem?
- Does the customer want my help fixing it?
- How much does the customer believe that my solution can help solve the problem?”
Henry states that if the answer is "yes" across the board, you've successfully put yourself in a position to close. If the answer is "no," you need to consider a few points. She suggests representatives ask, "Where am I in my sales process, and what will it take for me to hit my next step?"
She continues, "Home runs are marvelous, but you can't bank on them to consistently make it home. I have about a 60% close rate. Among the reasons behind my success in closing is that I follow my process every time. I do not go for the close until I’ve covered all of my bases.”
What we like: Don't close until you’ve answered key questions that make it clear you’re ready to present your final pitch. You need to put yourself in a position to close if you want to close consistently.
Avoiding Sales Closing Mistakes is Key for Sales Success
Closing is challenging, but completing each step and not trying to overstep or skip a few steps will set the closing up for success. You want to meet your buyer where they are and ensure that, at each stage, they are closer to knowing whether they will make the purchase. Have an "always-be-closing" mindset, and you’ll be successful.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in October 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.