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June 28, 2022

“It Takes Five Closing Attempts Before You Get A Sale”. Where It Came From, Why It’s A Myth, And When It’s True

If you’ve been in sales more than a week…or in advertising…or advertising sales..you’ve heard it..or a variation of it….

“It takes five closing attempts before they buy”

“You need to run the ad five times before anyone will buy from it”

“It takes five sales presentations before you get a sale”

“It takes an average of five e-mails before they buy”

Most of these are simply not true, and in a few cases, it can be true. But let’s find out where this came from, shall we?

In the 1950s an advertising agency was testing a new brand name. So they hired some people to be in a focus group. And in that focus group they found out that it took an average of five times hearing the brand name…before the brand name was easily remembered. That’s it.  It wasn’t five repetitions before anyone bought anything, it was just remembering the brand name.

In my last post, I talked about a print ad salesperson that I talked to in an hour long consultation. And I touched on this subject with him. But let’s take different ad media and see how this “5 times” idea works;

Radio. Repetition is needed on radio. It isn’t needed because it takes 5 repetitions before someone buys. Repetition is needed because in most cases the listener isn’t sitting there with a pen and paper to write the phone number, or website, or address down before the end of the ad. And that’s one reason longer radio ads work better than short ones. A 60 second radio ad can have far more information in it than a thirty second ad, and it gives more time for someone to capture (or remember) the contact information. The bad news about radio (and cable TV too) is that if you aren’t listening to that station, it’s as though you never ran the ad. Most people use radio as background music…..so first, they ave to hear or see the ad completely, and that can take several repetitions before they are even aware that an ad was on at all. The bad news about radio (and cable TV too) is that if you aren’t listening to that station, it’s as though you never ran the ad. Most people use radio as background music…..so first, they ave to hear or see the ad completely, and that can take several repetitions before they are even aware that an ad was on at all.

A few years ago, I was talking to the sales manager of the local radio station and I was thinking of advertising an expensive portable heater on the radio. He told me it would take a week or so to know if the radio as worked. I said “No, I’ll know within an hour of the first ad”. I ignored his advice to create a jingle and be clever in the ad. I used a 60 second ad to literally read a sales letter about the heater, and include my address. It was local, and most people would know how to find me as there is a popular restaurant a couple of doors down from us.

An hour after the first ad was broadcast (in our small town) we had sold enough off the ad to pay for the entire month of radio ads. It should be known though that if your business isn’t known, and you are difficult to find, it will take a few repetitions for people to remember how to find you. The cable TV responses are similar to radio.

Print advertising, mostly direct mail. Once is all it takes to gauge response. Why? Because they have your ad in their hand. They can keep it, pass it along, throw it away…whatever they want.

It takes no repetitions at all. With a full page (or multiple page) direct mail piece or ad…you can tell the whole story…you can put comparable items in the ad, you can list features and benefits, create a compelling story. If the reader likes what you say, they can save the ad (or letter), put it in their pocket, read it again later…or call you from the ad. In direct response advertising, when done in print, every subsequent identical ad will pull a lower response. Generally, the second and third repetition of the ad combined will equal the response from the first time the ad is seen. So why do you keep advertising in print? New eyes. If someone hasn’t seen your ad before, it’s new to them. The other reason is timing. Some people are simply not ready to buy that day, and they may buy the 10th time they see your ad. But my experience is, have about three or four different ads…with different target audiences (or different appeals to the same audience) and rotate those ads. When do you stop running the ad, or mailing the direct mail piece? When it stops making a profit.

E-Mail marketing. The reason you need so many repetitions of e-mail to get a good response is that the media is limited. It’s hard to sell in an e-mail. You usually need to include a link to an online sales letter. And there is sometimes no emotional need to buy right away. The huge benefit is that it’s free, and you can send e-mails until someone unsubscribes to your list.

Personal selling. In most forms of selling it’s entirely possible to get the vast majority of your sales on the very first presentation. Why? Because you can answer all their questions while you are in front of them, and they get the complete story. They’re also most excited about your offer the first time you show it to them. It’s nearly impossible to repeat the emotional high that comes from a great sales presentation. Just like a movie. How many times do you need to see a movie before you know if you like it or not?

But there is still the “It takes five closing attempts to make the average sale” idea. Is it true? In my first several years of selling, it may have been true…or at least close to true. Why? I didn’t know how to sell. I didn’t know how to qualify, when to talk about the money, and how to position myself as a trusted adviser. I didn’t know about pre-selling before they ever see you, or perfectly matching your offer to their concerns.  It took multiple closes after the presentation, because It broke down into “Objection-answer”. Literally, I was arguing with the customer. Eventually I would wear them down..and some of them bought. But it also wore me down…and it wasn’t really fun.

Think about the last really expensive thing that you bought…that you really wanted. Got it? How many closes did it take before you said “Yes”? I ask that in seminars, in talks to large groups of salespeople…and the answer is nearly always “One” or “None”. Why? Because you wanted it. There was no doubt in your mind. You were certain.


How to achieve that level of certainty in the mind of your sales prospect is in my book One Call Closing.