A Sales Lesson From Lt. Frank Columbo: The Doorknob Close


Peter Falk, who played one of television’s greatest characters, passed away last week, but not before giving salespeople one of the greatest closing techniques of all time.

Falk played Lt. Frank Columbo, a bumbling police detective so unusual, he didn’t need a first name. Columbo was a true original, a slow moving, hunched over man wearing a rumpled raincoat and carrying a stogie.

Columbo never seemed to know which way was up — until he solved the crime, usually by tricking the perpetrator into talking too much.

The TV detective used what we now refer to as “Doorknob Close.” His patented “close” was to turn around as he headed out the door and say something disarming like, “Just one more thing.”

The Doorknob Close, also known as the “Reverse Close,” works best when the detective/seller has given up and is literally saying “goodbye” to the perpetrator/prospect.

No seller ever plans to use the Doorknob Close, but it can be very useful because it contains the element of surprise. Here’s how it works.

Let’s say a sales presentation does not go well, and the prospect has not been forthcoming regarding his reasons for not buying. Perhaps the prospect has ended the presentation by saying something such as, “I need more time to think about it.”

The salesperson thanks the prospect for his time and slowly walks to the door. The seller places her hand on the doorknob and then suddenly turns around and says, “Now that the presentation is over, may I just ask . . . why didn’t you buy from me today?”

The timing of this question makes it much more effective than if it’s asked earlier in the presentation because the prospect, thinking the presentation is over, begins to relax.

The Doorknob Close is powerful because it catches the prospect in an unguarded moment. The question, when posed from the doorway, almost always results in new information, which the seller can then use as an opportunity to reopen the discussion.

Warning: Do not be a pest. Do not reward an honest answer by re-entering the room, taking your coat off, and asking for another cup of coffee. Be grateful for the honest dialogue. The Doorknob close is an extra opportunity to close, but don’t try to force the prospect into immediately reversing his decision.

The Doorknob Close in Action

As with all the closes, there are many variations. One of my clients, a national retailer of automobile tires, uses what they refer to as a “second effort” to convert the sale as the prospect is walking out the door.

A person who is leaving the store without making a purchase may not return, so the employee tries to re-engage the prospect before he leaves the premises. This technique can be used on the telephone, too.

Thanks, Lt. Columbo

The Doorknob Close has rescued countless sales through the years. Never give up on asking one more question and keeping dialog open. Sometimes that “one more thing” is the sale. RIP, Peter Falk and Lt. Frank Columbo.