Stalled Deals?


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We all have them, we know what they look like.  They’re stuck.  We look at aging reports and see them staying in the same stage of the pipeline, not moving forward, getting older, moldier as time passes.  Sometimes, I see entire pipeline’s clogged up with stalled deals–I feel like calling “Roto Rooter.”  The longer a deal is stalled, the less likely it’s going to happen.

There are a lot of things that cause deals to stall, let me review a few that seem to be the biggest–with some ideas about how to free them up.

They Aren’t Real Deals:  Probably the biggest factor I see in stalled deals is they were never real in the first place.  They were figments of a sales person’s imagination, wishful thinking, maybe a little desperation.  Perhaps we met with a customer.  They were polite and interested.  Maybe a little curious and wanted to learn more.  (Maybe just lonely and wanted to talk to a sales person).  Too often, we let these get our hope up–particularly if our pipelines look really bad.  We feel by sheer force of personality, by presenting how really cool our products are, by showing how other people are using them, we can get the customer to say yes and buy.  If that doesn’t work, we can pout, cry, plead……  But if a customer doesn’t have a compelling need to buy, however well and hard we sell, the customer isn’t going to buy.  The deal isn’t real.

What’s the fix?  It’s counterintuitive, but simple, focus on vicious disqualification.  Don’t let bad deals into your pipeline.  Don’t waste your time or the customer’s by trying to make something that will never happen, happen.

They’re Real Deals, But They’re Not Ours:  Sometimes the customer has an urgent problem, they have a real need to buy, they’re going to spend money.  The problem is, they’re not going to spend the money on us.  Too often we chase deals that are outside our sweet spots.  Again, wishful thinking may prevail, “We’ve never been able to sell this type of customer very well, our products aren’t a great fit, there are better solutions, but miracles sometimes happen!”

The interesting thing about these deals is they are seldom “lost.”  Since they aren’t in our sweet spot, the customer never really considers us for a solution.   We will not make a short list–perhaps they’ve already decided–at least that we’re not in contention.  But we refuse to let go.  We keep it in our pipeline, hoping, praying……

What’s the fix?  Get over it!  Throw the deal out.  Better yet, disqualify it in the first place.  Don’t waste your or the customer’s time on a deal that’s not in your sweet spot.

We Aren’t Helping The Customer Buy:  Selecting the vendor or solution is probably the easiest part of the buying process.  That’s where we focus out time.  But deals stall out long before the customer reaches this point.  They stall out because the customer doesn’t know how to buy, they can’t align the diverse agenda’s/priorities/interests in the organization, they can’t get the attention of their management to make the issue a priority.  Over time, people get frustrated, other projects arise, they shift their attention, they do something else.  The deal stalls.

What’s the fix?  One of the greatest values we can create is helping the customer buy.  If they’ve never/seldom bought before, what should they be looking for, who should be involved, how do they make their issue important to managers?  Also, how do they put together the buying team, aligning interests, priorities, and agendas?  How do they look at and address the WIIFM for each person investing time in the buying process?  If we don’t help them do this, and they can’t do it themselves, regardless how strong their need to buy, it won’t happen.

We Have No Strategy To Move Forward:  This is somewhat related to the previous item.  We have lots of meetings, we share a lot of information, but we aren’t moving forward.  Often this is a result of not having a defined sales process (or not using it).  The sales process defines the critical activities, events, triggers to help move the customer through their buying process, and us through the sales process.

What’s the fix?  Let the sales process be your guide.  In each meeting, we should agree on next steps and activities.  We should agree on the actions, dates for completion and who’s responsible. We should document these and share them with the customer.  Most of all you’ve got to have a an Opportunity Plan or Strategy.  Absent this, you are just taking a random walk and may never reach your destination.

The Fear Of Change Is Greater Than The Value Of The Solution:  Customers can get all hot and lathered about a solution.  They see all sort of benefit and value.   They are excited, they want to do something………BUT…..  Things aren’t that bad now, there are so many things on their plates, then there’s the time/hassle/risk.  What if things don’t work?  Why rock the boat?  We’ve been able to hobble along so far, why not just keep going with what we are doing.

These deals often get to the end of the sales process, we’ve presented a compelling solution, the competition may have presented their solution.  We end up with No Decision Made.  No one’s won, no one’s lost.  The customer does nothing.

What’s the fix?  We can’t just focus on the value of the solution and the future state.  We have to make the customer realize the consequences of doing nothing are far worse than the risk/challenges of changing.  If the pain of doing nothing isn’t greater than the pain of the change, the only rational result is No Decision Made.

We Aren’t Paying Attention:  This is the worst sin of all.  We simply aren’t paying attention–we aren’t keeping our pipelines, our deals updated.  I can’t begin to count the number of pipeline’s I see where there are a significant number of deals that have been “in process” for 2, 3, 4 times the average sales cycle–and no one is challenging them.  The sales person isn’t looking at it–dive into the system, they haven’t made a call on the customer in years (I’m not exaggerating)–and a deal with an average sales cycle of 150 days has been in the pipeline for over 1000 days.  Even worse, management isn’t challenging them, management isn’t forcing sales to clean up the pipeline.

What’s the fix?  Sorry to be so blunt–do your job!  Do your job or your management will find someone who will.  It’s each sales person’s responsibility to make sure each deal is moving forward.  It’s management’ s responsibility to coach them, to help them move deals forward.  When something get’s stalled, help the sales person figure out what to do.  Pay attention, do your job!

Concluding thoughts:

No deal should ever stall!  At least, no deal should stay stalled.  It means the customer is missing opportunity.  They are missing the chance to improve, to more effectively achieve their goals.  Stalled deals cost both the customer and us.  Stalled deals are really a failure of our own execution.

Pay attention, watch for the items above, don’t let any deal stall, keep the velocity and flow through the pipeline.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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