Where sales opportunities go to die, and how to (sometimes) resurrect them

by on October 29, 2010 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Top Sales Dog
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It’s almost Halloween, and therefore a good time to consider what happened to all those seemingly viable sales opportunities that have disappeared into the Great Nothingness.

Understanding where they go when they die will help you figure out the best ways to keep future sales opportunities alive – and, sometimes, raise one from the dead.

Here are three destinations for dearly departed sales:

Hell: It could be worse
You didn’t win the deal, your competitor did. Your opportunity went to hell. But it isn’t necessarily dead forever, says sales coach and author S. Anthony Iannarino.

The first thing to do is perform an autopsy (win-lose analysis) to determine why the opportunity died. Was it neglect? Accidental poisoning? Starvation?

Ask yourself: Did I do something to kill this opportunity or let it die? Are other opportunities also at risk from the same hazards?

The good news: Sometimes these opportunities come back to life. Ask yourself: Am I going to leave this one buried, or check the pulse from time to time? And if I do see signs of life, what will I do differently next time?

Purgatory
Your prospect made a decision not to change; now your opportunity is trapped in purgatory. You need to find out where this opportunity went so you can bring it back to life or send it on its way.

Usually purgatory is that place between “everything’s fine” and “I have to do something right now.” In other words, the pain is still there (that’s why you keep trying to sell to customers like these) but it isn’t strong enough to overcome the “switching costs” – the costs associated with making a change.

It’s rare that switching costs are exclusively financial; in fact, financial costs are rarely the reason for a “no change” decision.

Opportunities in Purgatory are difficult to bring back to the land of the living. You will need to break out the defibrillator paddles and create some electricity. You do that by driving home the implications of the decision not to change, reducing switching costs and demonstrating a return on investment that justifies the remaining costs.

Zombieland
Sometimes opportunities look like living, breathing things when they are really zombies – the living dead.

Maybe you called an unqualified prospect to make your activity metrics. Maybe the prospect is a prestigious company or the kind of customer you’d like to do business with. None of that makes them a viable prospect. Nor does the fact that you made a sales call, presented your product or service, got great feedback or established solid rapport.

Maybe you were a welcome distraction that helped them look busy. Maybe they like being pursued.

There is only one solution: Put them out of their misery. Mercilessly disqualify them and spend your time where you can create value – for real clients and your company.

“Opportunity zombies” will eat your time and your energy, soaking up future sales results. They cannot be revived; they only look like it. In the future, recognize and avoid them.

Remember the dead
The key point of this exercise: There is always a “cause of death” when a good sale goes under. Lost sales don’t just happen.

And you can’t improve your game unless you understand how and why you lost an opportunity. Even if you couldn’t prevent it, it’s important to see the causation – because you’ll be better able to accurately judge the value of future opportunities.

So take a moment and list every significant deal you lost so far this year. List the cause or causes of death. Classify them according to where they went. Then come up with an action step to either (a) revive them or (b) let them go:

  • For deals that went to hell, list the actions that you will now take on the live deals in your pipeline.
  • For those that went to purgatory, identify where the dissatisfaction existed and work to understand how the prospect lost the motivation to change. Could you have created more urgency based on the implications of not changing? Could you have inspired rather than simply sell? Could you have addressed the switching costs more effectively?
  • Finally, look at your pipeline. Find the zombies. Delete them. Call them and respectfully break off your engagement with them. Even better, recommend these prospects to your competitors! Let other salespeople become the next meal for opportunity zombies.

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