Building a better sales pipeline is a lot like that famous lyric from Kenny Roger’s The Gambler: “Know when to walk away, know when to run.”
It’s a business developer’s nightmare. Just when you think everything is in place to land a big deal… poof. You begin to get the cold shoulder.
Maybe someone you viewed as your advocate in winning an account at a prospective client undergoes an unexpected, 180-degree behavior change. That “glad to hear from you” in their voice is gone. They become vague with information. Or you get the sense that you’ve become an unwelcome interruption in their day.
They might even go dark.
Even the best sellers face this challenge from time to time. It’s maddening. In most instances, it’s our job as sales exerts and leaders to bring the client back from the brink. It’s in our DNA to compete and win. Build strategic relationships, deliver solutions, and get the business.
But sometimes it’s best to let go of the opportunity and take it out of the pipeline. Assess the people, the process, and what changed.
When I recently was on the receiving end of a cold shoulder from a formerly warm prospect, I decided to dissect the experience, and learn how to improve my strategy the next time around.
I uncovered five possible reasons for the disconnect. Here they are, along with some solutions you can employ.
Why Your Prospect Turns Off the Lights
- Lack of influence. I only had contact with one person for this opportunity. And he wasn’t signing the checks. While he initially was an advocate and had some level of influence over the final decision, he wasn’t the decision maker. This was a smaller organization, and had only one decision maker in this case. Solution: If your connections within the account don’t have decision-making power, take action. Request a proposal review that includes the decision maker, or at a minimum, a discovery conversation with them. It might sound like: “Now that we’ve reviewed a few options, I typically present to the decision committee. Can we work together on that follow-up?”
- Unidentified intelligence. Sometimes there’s behind-the-scenes intelligence you don’t have at your disposal. Bias happens, and individuals at the prospective client may be giving preferential treatment to your competitors in the form of better intelligence. Even when you ask the best questions, you may not receive the relevant answers. Solution: Staying aware of this possibility is crucial, but how do you know what you don’t know? Try asking a question like: “Is there anything I haven’t covered in our conversation, that I should be asking? I want to make sure I’m getting to all of your most important decision items.” An additional solution: do your homework with the other relationships you have in the account – if you have a high level of trust with those relationships, you’ll likely get better intelligence.
- Too much or too little. Do you know how your fees compare with the competition? In this situation, my proposed fees may have been too low. While a typical point-of-view is to find ways to lower fees, this may have worked against me. Solution: Fees that are too low don’t inspire confidence in your buyer, and lost confidence may translate to lost opportunity. Conduct research and understand pricing on previous or similar solutions.
- Conflict avoidance. My prospect’s reaction to conflict was avoidance. If he ignored me long enough, I’d go away. Some people will do anything to avoid conflict. That can include your prospects and influencers, who may struggle with adverse situations, fear of letting you down or telling you no. Solution: our job becomes to always leave the situation better than we found it. Give them a professional and non-defensive out. It may be a follow-up email, sincerely thanking them for the opportunity, acknowledging that maybe they have found another option, and leaving the door open to future conversations. No burning bridges.
- Goldilocks principle. Like Goldilocks, prospective clients are looking for the right fit. There are times when our expertise or approach won’t be the right fit, from their perspective. It’s their perspective that matters the most. Solution: This is where it’s important to separate yourself as a person from the negative result. When the product is you, this can be a lot more difficult. One strategy comes from Harvard researcher Dr. Susan David, author of Emotional Agility. Her strategy is to create a meta-view of the situation. She describes it as “creating space… where you are able to helicopter above your thoughts and emotions.” It’s in this space where we separate our self-worth from the sales situation. That space can help you to process the feedback for what it is: an opportunity to grow, to learn, to be better the next time.
Next time you have an opportunity stuck in your pipeline or a prospect has turned out the lights, it’s worthwhile to dig into why it’s happening. It will help you strategically decide to let go of that opportunity, learn from it, and win the next one.