The Takeaway Close

“Like all science, psychology is knowledge; and like science again, it is knowledge of a definite thing, the mind.” – James M. Baldwin

One of the best leads I ever read was in a small brochure created by SW to promote his consulting practice. The brochure was written in Q&A format, and began in this unforgettable way:

Q: Why should I hire SW?

A: Perhaps you should not.

Whoa! What chutzpah! “Perhaps you should not”? The nerve of this guy! Who sells anything by telling you not to buy it?

Plenty of smart marketers, it turns out.

Human psychology is funny: The more you tell somebody they can’t or shouldn’t have something, the more they want it. The technique of applying this psychological principle to sales and marketing is called “the takeaway close.”

In sales, it works this way: If the prospect is hesitant and you are not getting anywhere, you start to pack up your sample case, papers, or whatever, while telling him – in a serious, sincere, even somber voice – “Maybe this isn’t right for you.”

As soon as you do that, most prospects will immediately say – “Wait, hold on a minute!” – and ask you to continue your presentation, much more interested than they were only seconds ago.

Seaman’s, a local retailer near my office in northern New Jersey, runs radio commercials to announce sales using a variation of the takeaway close. The radio announcer begins by thundering a command to the listener: “DON’T buy furniture today …”

It catches your attention, because you expect to be told to buy … not to be told “DON’T buy.”

He then finishes the sentence: “DON’T buy furniture today … wait until Saturday for Seaman’s big half-price sale!”

Applying the takeaway closing technique to your marketing is easy. Simply adding the words “order today – supplies limited” is often enough to get the phone ringing off the hook.

Or, in a lead-generation campaign, change the phrase on your reply card from “for more information” to “to find out how you can qualify” – implying that receiving what you are offering is not a sure thing, but only granted if the prospect meets your criteria.

Another variation of the takeaway close is used in ads for home-study courses that offer a free booklet with a test to judge your writing or artistic talent … implying that you can’t take the course unless you pass the test.

Remember, people want what they can’t – or think they can’t – have or get.

Time-limited offers are yet another variation on the takeaway close. In this case, the product or service is available … but only if you buy now.

Direct marketers know that, almost without exception, adding a time limit or expiration date to a promotion lifts response rates.

In service industries, telling prospects you can squeeze them in a week from Thursday makes you seem desirable. On the other hand, if you tell prospects “I can see you now,” they worry. Who wants to go to a professional who isn’t in demand?

The late Howard Shenson, a consultant and author, called this the Busy Dr. Syndrome, noting that people want to do business with those they consider to be busy and successful, not those who seem desperate and in need of the work.

The technique works in personal relationships, too. Singles who date know that one way to attract the interest and attention of members of the opposite sex is to play “hard to get” – to make them call you, rather than you calling them. When in pursuit of your soul mate, the worst strategy is to leave 48 messages on his or her answering machine. It demonstrates that you are eager and needy, and makes the other person less interested in you.

Why does the takeaway close work? Why do people, upon hearing they can’t have something, want it more?

Perhaps the motivator is scarcity, an imbalance in the supply and demand equation. The shorter the supply of something, the more it is valued. That’s why gold has a much higher price than copper, even though copper has many more practical uses.

Whatever the reason, the takeaway close often works like gangbusters.

Today’s Action Plan: Increase your sales right now by putting the takeaway close to the test. Tell half your inbound sales leads that your product or service is available right away. Tell the other half that it’s not available until December … but you MIGHT be able to slip them into the schedule earlier. Then measure the closing rate between the two groups. Let us know the results of your experiment by e-mailing us at Include your name and hometown, and we may print your comments in an upcoming issue of ETR.