One maxim comes to mind whenever the topic of a lost B2B sales deal emerges: “Experience makes you wise.” No, it’s not something our grandparents and parents say for fun; I’ve realized this the hard way.
A deal can die for several unexplained and unaccountable reasons even when the requisite preparation is flawless, which is fine, because there are things we just cannot control.
However, a deal shouldn’t die because of things under our sphere of influence.
Having previously unacknowledged the many factors under my control, I thought it best to share the many mistakes my team and I have made over the past years to keep others from making the same blunders.
The following pointers should give you a clear picture of the cardinal don’ts:
- 1) Lack of preparedness:
Admittedly, it’s the most common problem we salespeople face. I have lost deals because I wasn’t well prepared for meetings. Therefore, this lack of preparedness had a domino effect that resulted in my inability to ask the right questions, to efficiently execute demos, and to make the right pitch. The results were a mix of lost B2B sales deals, unresponsive clients, and missed quotas.
- 2) Lack of follow up:
This is worth committing to memory because it deals with being in the conscious memory of potential buyers. At any point, I work on 30–40 opportunities, and in a week, I have an average of 20–25 meetings and an even greater number of calls to make.
Either many of these calls don’t go through or the client is busy and asks for a callback. Due to the voluminous nature of transactions, I often forget to follow-up in some of the cases. In retrospect, many of my leads from the not-followed-up pile would have had a good chance of converting if the timing of the follow-up was right. Alas, it wasn’t so.
Now, imagine the same situation with buyers who are contacted by multiple sellers on a routine basis. If the seller’s follow-up procedures aren’t in place, he/she ends up being omitted from the buyer’s consideration set irrespective of how wonderful the initial meeting was or how good one’s product is—talk about a knife that cuts both ways.
- 3) Inability to link solutions to the client benefits:
It seems like a very obvious thing; in order to sell, the benefits need to be shown to the client. However, it’s surprising how often this situation occurs in real life.
I have seen that while salespeople are great at articulating about their product, they are unable to form the crucial link between the solution and the business problem that the client is trying to solve.
To many, this link seems obvious, hence, they don’t articulate it. However, in reality, we should not leave this linking to the client. If this linking is not done clearly, and soon, one encounters a situation where the client doesn’t call back or goes completely silent, giving you the end result of a lost B2B sales deal.
- 4) Inability to build trust:
Many companies, especially startups, face this problem wherein a client somehow distrusts the company, or the company/ startup fails to engender trust. This lack of trust is usually hard to overcome even if the company provides a performance guarantee of some kind.
- 5) Inability to unearth the key decision criteria:
Many times, there are stated decision criteria and there are unstated or implied decision criteria. One has to be very careful in understanding these implied decision criteria and formulating a plan to address them if there are gaps, because knowing the fine line could be the difference between a gained or a lost B2B sales deal.
The key to unearthing the unstated decision criteria is to ask a lot of open-ended questions: about the sponsor, about the buying process, about their current challenges, about who all are involved, about whose KRA will the project impact, etc.
After asking all these and noting down the answers, it still requires a lot of reading between the lines to understand the real decision criteria.
- 6) Inability to unearth internal dynamics:
This requires a bit of legwork, which would explain why it’s a problem. Client politics and their internal dynamics matter greatly in B2B sales.
One has to figure out the internal politics of the client organization in order to make the pitch relevant and comprehensible while targeting a specific set of stakeholders. It is not easy, especially if you are hunting for business (e.g. in a startup).
In the early days of my startup, I had pitched my product to the Head of Sales of a large insurance company; usually, the VP-Sales is a pretty powerful person in a company that has over 4000 salespeople.
- However, my deal was killed by the Chief Information Officer (CIO) saying that they had already implemented a homegrown solution “six months ago.” It didn’t matter that the adoption of that solution was less than 10%.
- 7) Ignoring yellow flags:
Here’s when being highly perceptive helps. My count of lost B2B sales deals is high, or rather, many deals just died because I did not pay attention to the yellow flags.
For example, during my consulting days, a client once wanted to try out an approach to a problem that we were advocating; potentially, it was a large deal for my company. He wanted to pilot it, but he said he wanted to try it in the least critical process; that should have been a yellow flag.
If someone is serious about a solution and spending money, he/she will try it in the process that is most critical. Despite the flag, we went ahead, and sure enough, after some time, this deal went nowhere.
It is very common for salespeople to ignore yellow flags when they are under pressure to meet targets. The situation at hand might scream yellow flag, but salespeople will ignore these signs and speed right ahead. It is kind of like what we do when we see a green traffic light turning yellow, we speed ahead to get to where we want while ignoring that the situation demands we slow down. For more on this concept do read Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play by Mahan Khalsa.
- 8) No well-thought win strategy:
This happens quite often, especially in highly competitive deals or Request for Proposal (RFP) processes. If time isn’t spent in thinking about how to differentiate, what it would take to win, and how to execute the win strategy, then chances are it will be very easy for anyone to lose the deal.
- The only reason why I now know the dos and don’ts is because I did the don’ts, but that doesn’t mean everyone must be subjected to the same fate. There are innumerable errors that can lead to lost B2B sales. It’s better to learn from others’ mistakes than to make them. I hope this reading helps in order to help eradicate some of the common reasons for failed sales deals.