Today’s post is by Tom Searcy, CEO and founder of Hunt Big Sales, a sales strategy company that helps CEOs double the size of their company. For more information, visit www.thedeathofselling.com.
Stuck deals are often why it’s called “selling” rather than “order taking” – and longer business-to-business (B2B) sales cycles mean there are even more opportunities for sales deals to get stuck (or die) in the process. In fact, SiriusDecisions reports a recent 24 percent increase in length of the average sales cycle – from 6.4 months in 2012 to 8 months in 2014.
Navigating through the issues and strategies of a stuck deal can show you when it’s time to change your approach and when it’s time to just walk away from a deal.
Below are three reasons sales deals often get stuck, as well as insight into how to unstick them.
1. False Pretense
Sometimes companies engage with sales teams without having any intention of actually making a change. Why?
- They want to learn about the market.
- They’re establishing budgetary parameters.
- They’re reviewing vendors to make certain their vendor is still price relevant in the marketplace, as well as ensure they have negotiating leverage in an upcoming contract review.
Organizations used to stay up to date on the marketplace by attending trade shows or getting some MBA class at a local university to do a market scan. Now, however, instead of doing their own homework, companies gather industry intelligence by sending detailed RFPs to the top providers in the marketplace – and letting sales teams do the heavy lifting of research.
So how do you keep these deals from getting stuck in the “research” phase? The best place to start is getting a clear idea on the stakeholders’ threshold for making a change before getting too deep into a proposal. Maybe the prospect really isn’t interested in making a change immediately – or ever. Examine the RFP’s language to see if it defines the problem the prospect is trying to fix, including problems created by the current provider. If the RFP shows no identifiable problem, the company has no motivation for change – and you will end up residing in Stuckville.
2. Wrong Problem
A deal can get stuck when a sales team is trying to address the wrong problem.
For instance, the problem you are addressing may not be big enough to maintain the attention of the prospect company. On the flip side, the problem may be so big that the prospect doesn’t feel the company has the time or resources to make a dent in it.
Ownership of the problem might also shift over time. A prospect may decide the problem as currently defined is really the priority of another department, person, or division. Or you may find that the problem is being viewed as a “not now” problem by your prospect. Stuck, stuck, stuck.
What can you do to improve this situation? Consider adding people to the buyer’s table. This has a few potential benefits.
- By adding people to the buyer’s table, you’re able to create a greater sense of appropriate scale and definition of the problem. If enough people see the problem as relevant to them, of value to them, and of the right scale and level of necessity to them, they’ll want to participate in the process.
- By increasing the size of the buyer’s table, you can also broaden and reframe a problem that may have shifted ownership to include those who see the problem as relevant.
- An additional champion coming into the conversation may add the necessary political muscle and motivation to move the organization along.
3. Bad Chemistry
Bad chemistry happens when personalities don’t match – not unusual in either business and personal settings. However, when there’s bad chemistry between individual players, departments, or areas of the business, you will not win the business even if your solution is perfect, your cost justification is exactly right, and your understanding of the overall problem to be solved is accurate.
When there is a personality mismatch, there is usually – inherent in that mismatch – a mismatch of trust. Try to uncover the root cause of the mistrust and address it directly. If all else fails, rather than risk losing the deal, it might be better to change out some folks to see if you can revive trust with one or more of the key decision makers.
When All Else Fails, Walk Away
If you are unable to reshape the buying organization’s perception of the problem – regardless of the reason – stop expending resources with this organization. Put the deal on hold. Maybe you can come back in two, three, four, or five months to revisit the discussion and see if the decision makers, urgency, or shape of the problem have changed. If one of those three things has changed, the window of opportunity may reopen and you can revisit with more energy to see if you can land a deal. Always leave yourself the option of walking away from a deal that’s not going anywhere any time soon.