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Yes No Maybe"My 2nd favorite word is No!" That's what my former employee James was famous for saying.  It's great when your prospect does you the favor of saying no, but most times their actions and words will sound more like, maybe. That puts the pressure on you to decide when a maybe is really a no. The trick is to be confident about when to pull the plug on a prospect and move 'em out. If you're not making forward progress with each call, email, or meeting then you need to stop and ask yourself, what are the chances this will close? Your confidence might wain at any time during the sales cycle from a cold outreach conversation to after you've sent a contract with Ts and Cs. You need to be able to identify the red flags that might pop up along the way and then take appropriate action to get the deal back on track or decide it's time to move on.

Stop spending time with people who aren't going to buy

Most of my clients have a 20% close rate. That means that only 1 out of 5 prospects will become a client, so the faster you're able to identify the 4 out of 5 that aren't going to purchase the better. Wasting time with prospects that aren't going to purchase robs you of time for revenue generating activities like:  prospecting for new business, moving those who will buy through the sales cycle more quickly, and networking for referrals.

The challenge for most sales reps is this, they struggle to identify who will eventually buy and who won't. The inability to recognize the players from the posers not only is a waste of your time but is extremely frustrating. You need to be able to identify those most likely to buy at every stage of the sales process, so let's break it down that way to help you. 

During Prospecting:

You've just connected with a prospect for the first time. You don't really know much about them and they know nothing about you. You share a bit about your company and then begin the process of qualification. You want to ask 3-4 questions to help you determine if a longer discovery call would be appropriate. The questions should not only help you determine if you should schedule a discovery call, but should also help you disqualify them on the spot, so as not to waste your time or their. 

The goal of the prospecting call is this:

  • Determine if the person you called is the right person to speak with, ie - are they a decision maker or influencer
  • How are they currently doing things around what your product or service offers? 
  • Do they have a pain with the current way of doing things that your product of service can solve?

So, what 3-4 questions should you be asking in during those initial calls to determine if a full discovery call would be appropriate?

Here are a few:

  • How are you currently doing X?
  • Who are you currently using to help you with X? (you're probing for competitors and contract end dates)?
  • What's your role with X?
  • and any disqualification questions you have

I'll caution you here. If the prospect tells you, they have no money or no budget this isn't an automatic disqualification situation. It's the go-to answer for someone who wants to get you off the phone quickly. Don't fall for it. It's still your job to ultimately determine if they have a pain your product or service can solve, regardless of their current financial situation. If you determine you can solve an issue, they're facing them they're a qualified prospect, just maybe not a buyer at the moment. 

During Discovery:

Congratulations! Your prospecting has uncovered a company that you believe has a problem your product can solve. Now it's time to dig deeper and start to determine if they are going to be the 1 in 5 that will ink a contract eventually. 

Start this call by laying out your expectations for the relationship. You want to emphasize with your prospect the importance that they be willing to share information with you that will help you determine if your product can really add value. You also want them to be upfront with you at all times, meaning if at any point they don't believe that they can or want to purchase your product, they'll tell you, so as to not waste their time or yours. 

Now that you've established your relationship ground rules, here are some additional areas to probe during your discovery call to help you determine if they will be a customer at some point.

What is the impact of the problem on the business? People will spend money to solve an issue if it drives more revenue, reduces costs, increases efficiency, or reduces risk. You need to make sure you understand the impact of the pain, which is ALWAYS financial. What is this issue costing them in lost revenue or excessive costs? 

Is their problem great enough to spend money to fix? If the impact of their problem is only a $10,000 issue and your product will cost them $20,000 then there is no ROI, there. 

Is now the right time to fix the issue? Timing is everything in sales, so it's critical you understand if they have the internal resources to roll out a new product or service, are they currently under contract with another vendor, or are they heading into their busy season and a new vendor would be disruptive at this time.

Who else is going to be involved in the decision?  Most buying decisions are what we call, decision by committee. As such, it's unlikely that your contact will be the sole decision maker so who else will be involved in the process either actively or passively.

Will your point of contact be capable of building a business case internally for your product? It's great that you've found a point of contact who is responsive and knowledgeable, but do they have the internal street cred to convince others and get this deal over the finish line? A champion is great, but an internal influencer is better. 

Use the discovery call to help you further qualify them in or out. Make sure that they see value in what you offer, they have money for an initiative like this, your contact is an influencer, and the timing is right. 

During the Sales Cycle:

Based on your discovery call you've determined you have a live one! So, you've added them to your pipeline and are moving them forward in the process, but don't spend your commission check just yet. There is still a good chance that they won't close. I'd say about a 2/3 chance, at this point. So, what are the signs that your deal might be in trouble as you move through the sales cycle? 

Here are some things to be on the lookout for:

  • There hasn't been any 2-way communication in the past 2-3 weeks - you're being ghosted
  • There is no FIRM next meeting on the calendar that the prospect has accepted
  • You assigned them "homework" and they say the dog ate it when they come to the next meeting
  • You're unsure of what the next step is on the prospect's side to move the deal closer to closed/won
  • They aren't comfortable talking about cost or budget
  • They are unsure of what the internal process is for getting a contract signed
  • The is no real pain or impact (Impact is how that pain is financially affecting the organization)
  • There is a competing project, and the deal is going to have to wait a while
  • The budget didn’t get approved, and this initiative will have to wait until next year
  • Your contact left the company 30 days ago and you've had not connected with the replacement

If any of these things are happening you need to stop, drop, and roll- your deal is on fire! Ignoring any of these warning signs and burying your head in the sales sand isn't helpful. You need to take action quickly. But what actions should you take to revive this dying deal, without putting the deal completely in jeopardy? 

  • Reach out to another contact in the company to try and get some intel
  • Try a different method of communication - LinkedIn, video, or send them something in the mail.
  • Send them something of value - article, prospecting lead, or industry report. 

It is frustrating and disappointing to invest hours of valuable time in a prospect that disappears on you or decides not to buy. Alas, it is the nature of the business. Not everyone who is a fit sees enough value to purchase, has the authority to purchase, or feels the timing is right. So, stay in control of the process by making the decision to move on to greener pastures. 

Your walk-away point:

It's become clear that something has changed with your prospect and you feel like the last to know. After making repeated attempts to re-engage them, you need to make the hard call. It's time to walk away. I believe just like having a prospecting strategy, a discovery process, and a referral strategy, that you also need a Walk-Away strategy. You need to know what your walk-away point is and stick to your guns. How many weeks without 2-way communication will you allow? How many weeks of being strung along hearing, "We should be able to meet about it next week" are you willing to put up with? You need to decide if X happens then it's time to walk away. Having a strategy around these unfortunate situations will make it feel less personal and more professional.

The last step in your walk away plan should pull out the last-ditch big guns. Here is a last-ditch strategy I use before I move on. I ask the following question that I learned from Chris Voss, author of "Never Split the Difference." "Have you given up on solving X issue?" Notice I didn't ask, "Are you still interested in fixing X?" I purposely ask the negative and not the positive. It's much harder to say you're giving up on something.  After sending this email I wait 2 days and then move the deal to closed/lost if I don't receive a response. 

Sales is art and science. The science part tells you that the majority of prospects will not purchase your product. As such you need to make sure that you not only see the signs along the way but accept them as just part of the selling process. It's not personal, it's business. Your job is to offer a solution to an issue a company is facing, but we can't make people want to change or want to buy.