In a recent edition of Top Sales Magazine, I wrote an article called “The Black Boxes of Lost Deals”, which generated a great deal of communication from readers. It related the importance of conducting post-mortems on lost deals with major accounts to the airline industry’s best practice of capturing information from black boxes after accidents. Aviation’s impressive safety record is driven by its open attitude about failure and the fact that mistakes are openly analyzed, communicated and learned from. And it’s the black boxes that provide the framework.
In selling, though, human nature can trump learning. After losing big deals, selling teams are often inclined to move on, choosing not to dwell on the negative. But there’s another very practical reason why post-mortems aren’t conducted. Very few selling organizations have post-mortem frameworks to follow – fundamental frameworks that, truthfully, should deliver value long before autopsy time. For much earlier in a major pursuit, Go/No-Go processes help identify opportunities with the highest probabilities of success, fortifying decisions to move ahead or pass on the deals.
I was very surprised that most of the conversations I had with sales leaders after the article weren’t about post-mortems at all but about Go/No-Go processes. Several shared that their organizations simply don’t have Go/No-Go frameworks to utilize. Decisions on pursuits are often made randomly and emotionally with no meaningful process followed. No process? Think about it. How can sales organizations learn from losses if they can’t evaluate the reasons that dictated deals be pursued in the first place? No paths to review. No retraceable logic to learn from.
In the article, I mentioned Sandler Enterprise Selling’s Pursuit Navigator framework as a very practical Go/No-Go model which separates an opportunity’s issues into three areas – Client Issues, Selling Team Issues, and Finance/Contract Issues. The issues are evaluated to determine the level of stability or risk for each. If you determine you’re stable with an issue, you move to the next. But if you spot risks, you develop mitigation plans quickly. Delay is not an option. In enterprise deals, time is money – big money.
A few of the sales leaders asked me about the types of issues that are typically evaluated and given the surprisingly high levels of interest in the topic, I thought it would be valuable to review some of the common issues as examples here:
- We’ve never worked with the account before – Of course, we all love to win business with new accounts. That said, pursuing unfamiliar prospects demands research not required with current client opportunities.
- We don’t have multiple contacts in the account – Often, we’re attracted to a deal because of a particular individual in the account. Having a friend inside is great but major deals require multiple contacts at different levels.
- The opportunity came from an RFP – There are RFP’s that result from your close interaction with an account, increasing your chances of winning. The same can unfortunately be said of relationships a competitor has with the account. Do your due diligence.
- We’ve never delivered the required solution before – While this may seem odd to many product firms, the services world understands this well. In any case, there’s risk in doing something for the first time so make sure you can depend on what you propose. There’s much at stake.
- There’s no clear follow-on business – This is less of an issue with some selling organizations than others. The point is to know if your solution is likely a “one and done” initiative. Going in with your eyes open makes your Go/No-Go an educated one.
- The account is unwilling to communicate openly and freely – Of course, some procurement processes dictate the contact procedures. That said, if you feel there’s something amiss regarding communication in a pursuit, don’t ignore your sales instincts. You’re probably right.
The Pursuit Navigator process reviews over forty issues that are customized to a specific selling organization’s business model. It’s likely, though, that examples like these would be part of every organization’s evaluation framework. In a “deal forum” setting, the relevant selling team members collaborate to determine stability and risk for each issue. Think about the six examples I’ve shared. Given the potential upside and downside of decisions regarding major pursuits, why would you not evaluate them? How could you possibly contemplate moving forward without clearly understanding their implications? Of course, the results of an effective Go/No-Go process can’t insure victory. But they can guarantee that the most timely and credible information is at hand to make decisions as meaningful and educated as possible. Rational thinking trumps emotions. If the decision is made to proceed after risks are mitigated as effectively as possible, the time and effort spent on due diligence increase the chances of winning. And if the decision is made to drop out, the costs and expenses of pursuing a low-percentage deal cease and precious resources are redeployed to other more promising initiatives. At the end of the day, both outcomes are gifts to your organization and its stakeholders.
For all the right reasons, build and follow a Go/No-Go framework. It will absolutely help with your post-mortems, providing constructive insights into the causes of death. But more importantly, it will make your stories have happier endings by allowing you to diagnose and treat problems while you have the time to address them!