Use the Columbo Technique to get b2b Sales Results

Peter Falk as ColumboOkay, today I’m showing my age since most of you will not have a clue about this guy “Columbo” anymore than you would about “Perry Mason.” Yet, the technique works like a charm and will get results – either new information or a close – with the worst case of keeping the sales process moving forward.

So, who is this Columbo character?

A couple of decades ago there was a weekly detective drama starring Peter Falk as Columbo. This guy was a character. Smoked cigars, drove a Metropolitan automobile (now I’ve really aged myself!), had a huge and lazy Beagle for a pet and yet, he solved crime after crime as a great detective would. He wasn’t flashy, he was just very good at solving crimes. (Much like the Sales Superstars just get more b2b sales results.)

The Columbo Technique came from his method of appearing to leave the number one prospect (crime rather than customer.) when the bad guy was not responding to questions or was becoming difficult. So Columbo would pack up and actually leave the room on several occasions, just to return to the bad guy – mention he had only one more question and it was probably meaningless, yet, duty called for asking the question. The bad guy thinking he has gotten away with the crime would then open up – since he would be relaxed and off guard – and give Columbo answers to his question. Which usually lead to another question and soon the bad guy was caught.

In sales the Columbo technique is used most effectively when the prospect believes you are leaving the office. They relax and drop their guard relative to what information they are willing to share. Then the sales person – as they are holding on to the door handle – turns their head, looks the customer in the eye and using a very sincere voice asked if they can ask one last question – since they are leaving.

Surprise, the prospect opens up – since the defenses are down – and shares some valuable information with the b2b sales person. Depending upon the answer from the prospect, the sales person either returns to the desk and asks some additional clarification questions or confronts the issue reviled by the prospect head on.

The outcomes from my personal experience has been either 1. I learn some valuable information about the possible sales objective; or 2. I have actually gotten an order – b2b sale – after reentering the office and having a frank discussion.

I believe the key to the success of the Columbo technique is your willingness to appear to have finished your efforts, pack up and heading for the door to leave. This action relaxes the prospect and lower their guard. Then you ask that special question – gaining an opportunity to revisit an existing issue or the right to ask some clarifying questions for understanding.

The types of questions you would ask – with your hand on the door handle – would be something like… “Before I leave there is one question I have for you, may I ask it now?” When given the okay, ask a great question to drive interest in talking more. Or, another question could be…” Before I leave would you mind telling me the real reason you are not interested in XXXX?” Now, this question is a little more gutsy of a question. However, I find sometimes it seems hopeless to try anything else – so be bold and ask. The worst case is they wouldn’t answer (which is the current situation.) and the best case is they answer the question which allows you to reenter the sales process.

There you have the famous “Columbo Technique or Close.” A close relative to this technique is actually called the “Door Knob Close” which you can find in any good Sales 101 book. And, if you really want to watch a really cool show – find some of the old Columbo television shows starring  Peter Falk. You will enjoy it and you will probably see the technique used during the show. Enjoy both the show and sale.

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Voss Graham

Sr Business Advisor / CEO at InnerActive Consulting Group Inc
Your Knowledgeable Partner for Business Success and Achievement. Dedicated to helping others get to their next level of success. Award winning business advisor; coach to executives and business owners; Business Growth Strategist; and experienced using assessments for hiring & selection, evaluation of teams and improving communication. Voss is available as a Speaker for your conferences or company meetings contact him at 901-757-4434 or use the LinkedIn or Facebook direct messages.

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