What to do when “No Decision” is not in the customer’s best interest


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I have written before about the only two reasons that you lose a sale;

  1. You should not have been there (chasing this particular opportunity), or
  2. You were outsold.

I know I have fallen at both of those hurdles. Sometimes being outsold means you lost to the dreaded No Decision. In fact according a report I read from CSO Insights this is happening 26% of the time. Ouch!

Now in most cases when the customer is making No Decision they are in fact making the right decision. They will have objectively evaluated the project, and decided that this particular project did not reach the required threshold of return, or was not as important as another more pressing initiatives.

But in some cases they are just afraid, and No Decision is taking the easy way out. This No Decision will often be accompanied by phrases like; “I don’t think we have the right team in place to implement this project now”, “We need to learn to walk before we can run”, “I’m not sure the team is ready to embrace this amount of change.” In truth they are just afraid.

They might be afraid of making an investment for which they will be held accountable. They might be afraid of something that is new. They might be afraid of change. They might be afraid of upsetting the status quo lest it might threaten their own status.

In these cases they are not in fact making No Decision, they are making a decision not to fix a problem that is broken. They are taking cover in the status quo where they are less likely to be seen as the instigator of something that went wrong. Sometimes that is a consequence of organizational culture – and in other cases it is individual responsibility being abbrogated, denied, or ignored. But, is it your job to tell them?

I’ve written before that ‘A bad buying decision usually has a greater impact on the customer than a lost sale has on the salesperson’. I believe that to be true, and I further believe that it is the sales person’s responsibility to tell the customer if they think the customer is making a bad buying decision. It is part of delivering on the trust that you’ve tried to earn.

In all of this post I have assumed that there was a real problem that the customer wanted to fix, the issues were identified, you were speaking the people who had the power to make the decision, and you had developed a joint vision of the desired end-state. Then the customer got cold feet.

But how do you tell the No Decision customer that they have made the wrong decision – without it appearing as mere sour grapes, or that all you care about is selling them your solution?

  • First, be honest to yourself and about yourself. Acknowledge that you have failed to provide enough evidence to the customer to make them comfortable to make a positive decision.
  • Second, restate the problem you think the customer was trying to solve and the impact of No Decision
  • Third, withdraw from the sale, pointing out that this maybe the impetus for the customer to act (and maybe buy from your competitor.) This is in the best interests of the customer. Maybe you’ve nothing to lose anyway, but that’s not the point. The point is that you must maintain your integrity.Your initial contract with the customer prospect was to help them solve their business problem. That’s where you started and that’s where you should finish.

You have two other alternatives to this approach. (1) You can do nothing except walk away and lick your wounds. That serves neither party well, or (2) You can seek other (perhaps more senior) people in the organization who will reverse the No Decision made by your contact – but that’s the subject of another post.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. This is not a simple question.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Donal Daly
Donal is Founder and CEO of The TAS Group the creators of the Dealmaker intelligent sales software application. Donal also founded Software Development Tools - acquired by Wall Data (NASDAQ: WALL), NewWorld Commerce, The Customer Respect Group and Select Strategies. Donal is author of five books including his recent #1 Amazon Bestseller Account Planning in Salesforce. He can be found on his blog at www.thetasgroup.com/donal-daly-blog or on Twitter @donaldaly


  1. Donal, you have offered some excellent advice, especially “be honest to yourself and about yourself.” Salespeople must take that into account and recognize that above all else, they are paid to promote decisions that favor their employer. That hardly makes them objective arbiters of what constitutes a sound decision.

    Do customers make poor decisions? Absolutely. Every day. Sometimes decisions are poor at the point-of-decision (Steve Ballmer, are you reading this?). Sometimes they prove poor in hindsight, once assumptions have played out and market forces have left their imprint (Steve Ballmer, are you reading this?).

    We’ve seen seemingly-good decisions prove disastrous (there are way too many to list). And not to leave anything out, decisions that seemed off-the-wall nuts at the time work out fabulously well. While I too have experienced the pain of a customer decision that went wayward, it’s often presumptuous for a salesperson to proclaim clarity in understanding what is really the optimal choice for the prospect. Overall, it’s very, very difficult for anyone to know with certainty how sound a decision really is. Only time can provide that perspective.

    Regarding the two reasons for losing sales. There are some causes that don’t fit neatly into your categories: 1) change in circumstances, and 2) change in priorities.

    I’ll illustrate briefly with a B2C example, but the same idea applies to B2B. Suppose you are a Toyota salesman. I want to purchase a car, and I met with you on Monday and told you that based on your efforts, I have selected Toyota, and I will return Wednesday afternoon to complete the purchase with you. On Tuesday, I learned I won the state lottery, and am to receive $50 million. I pick up my check Wednesday morning and after depositing it in the bank, I drive straight to the Aston Martin dealership and buy my vehicle. Were you outsold? That’s a difficult case to prove.

    The question of whether you should have pursued me as a customer represents a much thornier issue for B2B sales – one that my company sees frequently. If you are unable to accept any risk that I might not buy from you, the answer to the question is emphatically, no. But a company that cannot accept such risk cannot sustain itself.

    Moving to change in priorities, I’ll use the same example, except this time my circumstances don’t change. Instead, my wife tells me she believes it’s important for me to become more aerobically fit. After listening to her case, I decide not to purchase the Toyota, and instead, drop $6,000 on a new Serotta bicycle, plus another $3,000 in upgrade components. Were you outsold? Again, that’s difficult to prove. Should you have committed your sales time to work with me? The same issues apply as in the previous scenario.

    Assessing risk-management issues in business development is crucial, though often poorly understood. I’m always happy to share more about the frameworks we use.


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