Knowing When to Say So Long to a Deal

In sales, optimism is practically in your job description. It’s not just that you’re an optimist, you must be positive even in the face of extreme negativity, or return to positivity after dropping momentarily outside the faith of “I Will Make This Sale.” But be careful: that same sunny disposition can doom you if a deal is a dud and you fail to see that, or if you discount the fact that not every deal is created equal: You can’t sell mom jeans to hipsters. So don’t let your “it’s all good” attitude blind you. What also needs to be in your wheelhouse is being good at determining when to cut your losses and move on to greener sales pastures.

If You Really Love an Undone Deal, Set It Free
At times, nonstarters are fairly obvious to spot; a discerning sales professional won’t even touch certain deals to begin with.

But it takes paying closer attention to the signs to be able to predict which underway deals are most likely to circle the drain and enter the sewer system rather than the pipeline. And no matter where you are in the life of a deal—even if you’re heavily invested time-wise—you might have to bid it a fond farewell in favor of something newer but more promising. Learn to read the signs—hopefully sooner than later—and be cautiously pessimistic when it comes to these factors:

  • What does the company’s financial forecast look like? Are they growing? Are they trudging up the steps of bankruptcy court?
  • Are they really in a position to buy your G&S—goods and services—or are they just blue-skying?
  • Don’t assume they’ve done their homework or that they even know what they require before you put a lot of time and energy into them. Make sure they’ve articulated a compelling need. Otherwise, you won’t know until it’s too late that you actually do not have the G&S to meet that need. Likewise, if you know from the beginning that you really can’t provide them with the solution they’re looking for, the onus is on you to inform them of that fact and then set them free. Continuing with the sale though you can’t deliver is going to bite you in the long run.
  • Whether by phone, via email, or in person, who is it that you’re dealing with over at JohnDoeCorp? If your point person is not at the decision-making level, encourage his or her supervisor to join the conversation. And do it early on, before you’re racking up touch points with your chummy, well-meaning but powerless contact.
  • After the first meeting with JohnDoeCorp, do a deeper dive into evaluating who they are. Is this someone you can really hit it off with business-wise? Do you even want to work with them? They could be a nightmare. So don’t rashly jump into it. Also, do they like you? Hard to believe, but they might not, which is not necessarily a reflection on you. So … meh … move on. They weren’t worth it.

You Sit by the Phone and…
Are you doing all the calling? Do they never call? Guess what, Sunshine? They’re giving you the brushoff. Of course you’re always going to be the one driving the process in sales, but a feedback call from the prospect shows a mutual interest.

If they’re bringing up your competitors, that’s good to know. Because what it tells you is that they’re serious about finding a solution, but may not be convinced that you’re the right fit.

Flake Factor
How committed are they? Are they making good on their promises, like sending you the documentation you requested? An interested prospect will send you what you need when you need it.

Are they using you for the price? If so, be careful: They’ve used others before you based on price alone. They’ll use another in the future—after they’ve dropped you for someone with a “younger” price.

Finally, if the sales person is in limbo, analyze what else is happening:

  • Have they cancelled calls and meetings and/or no-showed?
  • Are they maybe dodging your calls? Do they return your emails?
  • Have you heard through the sales grapevine that they might be talking to your competitor?

All of this is not to say “put every dead lead on the ‘do not call list,’” so to speak. But just analyze situations realistically, ask yourself questions and plan, that “dead-end lead” simply might not be in a position to make a purchase right now. Send them back to Marketing to file under M for maybe. Periodically, check the pipeline for patterns and possibilities. And, at the first-tier level in the pipeline, group your prospects according to factors such as industry, revenue, geographic location—whatever categories are important to you. Keep an open mind: Today’s bad lead could be tomorrow’s dream

Those most successful in this relationship business—for truly, sales is a relationship business—know what they want in a customer, stick to that set of criteria, and look at what traits different customers have in common. The point is, you beautiful optimist, keep keeping your chin up—optimism is part of your job after all, but so’s realism. You gotta know when to pack up your smile and move on.