It is not rocket science to conclude that timing is critical in sales. In fact, it’s said that timing is everything. While I agree, whether or not you properly execute your sales process will indeed either lead to success or cause timing problems.
Things do change. Decision-maker’s leave, priorities change and budget freezes occur. In some cases, you simply can’t control these. For example, in the movie Dumb and Dumber, Jim Carey asked a woman he likes what the chances are of them getting together. Just like a prospect, she first offers a non-answer. After he asks some great follow-up questions, she says, "One out of a million." His response is, “So you’re telling me I have a chance!” While the odds are extreme, I guarantee you that every salesperson on the planet has thought exactly the same thing at some point in their careers.
Before we discuss warning signs, let’s look at some of the potential causes of this.
There are belief system problems, such as these few: believing that prospects are being honest, that you can’t lose this deal, and that they seem to be committed.
Issues with Sales DNA can present challenges too, including:
- Incomplete discussions about finances and budgets as a result of Discomfort Talking About Money;
- Failing to clarify or question contradictory comments because a need to be liked makes it difficult to ask questions or confront;
- A need to educate (a form of free consulting) caused by a belief that says you need to do a lot of research to make the right decision;
- Failing to hear the most critical things a prospect says because you are trying too hard to reach an outcome (thinking while you sell or Getting Emotionally Involved).
If we approach opportunity management from a purely data-driven perspective (the science of selling), it could manifest as a desire to validate a conclusion that we have already reached. Not asking others for their opinion is a perfect example of this.
I recently heard a youth hockey coach say that virtually all of the parents who come and ask his opinion on whether or not their child should play in a summer league or attend a skills camp have already made up their mind and simply want him to validate their opinion. Worse, most do not listen particularly well when the child is not really interested in or committed to playing hockey.
My conclusion is that the warning signs of a deal going wrong are always there in big, bright, flashing, red neon lights. As quoted in Pogo, "We have met the enemy...and he is us."
What are the warning signs that we so frequently ignore?
- Momentum shifts – slowing down and sometimes speeding up,
- Behavior changes – interaction, calls, email response,
- Missed or extended deadlines on agreements,
- Unexpected holding patterns,
- Lack of follow-up or follow-through by prospects,
- New players arriving on the scene, and/or
- Requests for additional data or information.
Your solutions are either important to your prospects or they are not. If it is important and within their control, it will happen. If it isn't important, it won’t happen. While the accuracy of this statement is not 100% correct, it is probable in the 70-80% percent range - pretty good odds if you were playing the lottery.
Warning signs connect to the sales process. This means the warning will arise from one of the following areas:
- Quality of the Relationship,
- Existence of a Need,
- Compelling Reasons to Buy,
- Whether or Not the Decision Maker is Involved in your Meetings,
- Whether or Not you Completely Understand and can Influence their Decision Making Process and Criteria,
- Whether or Not you are Aware of and Aligned with their Timeline, and/or
- Whether They Can and Will Spend the Required Money with you.
It’s very likely that in most cases of delay or eventual loss, one or more of these areas was not thoroughly addressed. Things were said that you accepted as the truth and you moved forward without questioning anything. Having missed the first warning sign (one of the steps was not completed), you may begin to understand and accept the warning signs described above and ignore the flashing lights that say trouble lies ahead.
So what can we do to prevent these things from happening?
- Slow Down.
- Develop more effective listening and questioning skills.
- Be sure they are serious, rather than simply interested, in moving their business to you.
- Become more effective at selling value.
- Thoroughly qualify every real opportunity.