When You Want Customers to Buy, Tell Them They Cant


“What the eye sees not, the heart craves not.” Dutch proverb

A few years ago, I came across a brochure promoting the services of an independent consultant named Sommers White. It was written entirely in a question-and-answer format — and the first Q & A in the lead really caught my eye:

Q: Why should I hire Sommers White?

A: Perhaps you should not.

Why is this opening so effective?

First, it is unexpected. The surprise factor gets your attention. Second, it instantly builds White’s credibility. He won’t take just any business. He has to believe he can really help you before he will work with you. What an ethical guy! Third, it actually enhances your desire to find out more about White and possibly hire him. It’s intriguing. Who is this man of mystery? Why is he so sure of himself that he doesn’t even want your business?

This technique of selling is called “the takeaway close.” White did not invent it, although his use of it as a lead is unusual. The basic premise of the takeaway close is that people want what they can’t have.

Think about it. Your doctor tells you, “No more candy.” What do you instantly want? Candy!

Sales trainer Paul Karasik recommends you use this method when trying to close a sale with a reluctant prospect. If the prospect is hemming and hawing, shut your notebook or folder, take the contract off the table, and say, “You know, you’re right. This may not be for you.”

The prospect will immediately want to know why you are saying that and, often, will try to prove you wrong. In essence, he’ll start selling YOU on changing your mind and accepting him as a customer. What an ideal situation!

Another thing that makes the takeaway close so effective is what I call “the power of the contrary.” What I mean by that is this: When you do something people don’t expect, it instantly gets their attention.

For example, a radio commercial for Seaman’s, a furniture store in my area, begins: “Whatever you do, DON’T buy furniture today!” You don’t expect a furniture store to tell you NOT to buy furniture. So you listen. It sounds as if you are going to get helpful consumer advice — maybe tips on shopping for a sofa or chairs. Turns out that the tip is to wait until Saturday for Seaman’s big blowout sale. But it works. The commercial got your attention — and now you really want to wait for that sale.

So … the next time you are having trouble closing a prospect or moving a sale forward, try the takeaway close.

One caveat: You have to be willing to lose the sale to make this work. You must be prepared for and ready to accept the possibility that the prospect will say, “Yes, you’re right; this is not for me.” Therefore, the takeaway close should only be used either (a) when you already have more business than you can handle — and therefore can afford to lose the sale — or (b) when the sale is stalled and you cannot move the prospect forward using your other closing techniques.

(Ed. Note: Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing” (Alpha Books). He can be reached at www.bly.com or via e-mail at rwbly@bly.com.)