What Is the Columbo Sale or Close?

"Just one more thing!"

Salesman in an electronics store showing the features of a tablet to a female customer.
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Columbo, the 1970's classic TV detective character, was one of the best closers of all time. While he wasn't employed as a sales professional or even earning commissions, he was a master closer. It wasn't getting people to sign on the bottom line that made him a great closer, it was his ability to get people to answer questions.

In sales, the closer is the salesperson who is capable of getting the prospective customer to become a current customer. They know how to read the client and understand their motivations and how to compromise with the client to get them to agree to the deal.

Just One More Thing

The classic Columbo close was the line he often used after the suspects thought Detective Columbo was done speaking to them. He would turn and start to walk away, and just when the suspect began to breathe a sigh of relief, Columbo would turn and say, "just one more thing." The question or statement that followed that brief statement would always pack an incredible punch.

So what can sales professionals learn from Columbo? Plenty, and it all starts with "just one more thing."

The Doorknob Technique

When you are visiting with a customer, nine times out of ten, the customer will have their guard up. They have dealt with hundreds of sales professionals and have, most likely, been in situations when the sales pro used hard closing techniques on them. This experience creates a natural resistance that many feel towards sales professionals. Add to this the public perception that sales professionals will say whatever it takes to close a deal and you can understand why guards are raised during many sales calls.

As soon as the customer thinks the sales call is over, she will begin to drop their guard. The doorknob technique, much like the Columbo close, saves the closing question until after the customer feels that the sales call is over. Then, when the guard is down and your hand is on their doorknob, you turn and say, "just one more thing."

Pressure Can Build Quickly

The thing about the Columbo or doorknob close is that the question or statement you make right after your "just one more thing" statement, needs to be powerful, effective and have pinpoint accuracy. In most cases, the customer will answer the question honestly and quickly. But once the customer realizes that they are still in a sales call, they will raise their guards again.

The question you ask during this brief low guard should be one that is intended to uncover a hidden customer objective. Once the customer answers the question, presumably with their "true" objection, you have an opportunity to speak directly to the objection. If the customer reveals that they think your pricing is too high, you can quickly begin negotiating or building additional value.‚Äč

Example Columbo Questions

While every sales profession is different and requires different questions and processes, there are a few Columbo closes that seem to be effective in most sales situations.

  • Just one more thing I forgot to ask, what will your final deciding factor be in your decision?
  • Just one more thing, what is more, important to you: Low price or high value?
  • Oh, I almost forgot to ask about when you will be making a final decision?

A Final Word on Columbo

The Columbo Closing Technique is a fun method to uncover hidden customer feelings. It is amazing what people will say when they feel that they are under no pressure. But you also need to be prepared for the answer. When under pressure whether intense or slight, most customers will be very careful about what they say. They present themselves to you as they want you to view them. But in that brief moment when they feel the pressure is off, what they may tell you may not be what you want to hear.

If, for example, your Columbo question is something about whether or not the customer would really ever leave their current vendor, they may respond that "it would take a lot." Answers that you do not want to hear can be the exact answers that you need to hear. They may tell you that you need to work much harder at earning trust or building rapport. They may tell you that your products or pricing don't measure up to your competition. And they may tell you that you should invest your time and energy with different customers.