48 hours to the end of the fiscal year. Your sales manager starts every day with an ‘inspiring’ sports video (if not military campaigns footage!). Your VP’s ra-ra is morphing into predictably uninspiring noise. You are on your 3rd cup of coffee, 5% short of hitting your annual number and scoring that President’s Club trip to Bahamas -- and then the possible happens. The highly likely, very probable scenario of your prospect coming to the final closing call and saying “No” to that stupendously discounted, radically transformative deal that you fought your pricing team tooth and nail for. Sounds familiar?
In 13 years of fast-paced technology sales, I have seen this scene repeat itself with comical regularity. What is more comical (or sad, depending on your perspective) is how this moment creates a dangerous pitfall that even very intelligent, customer-oriented and otherwise cool-headed salespeople find difficult to avoid.
A salesperson who has poured their heart into crafting a deal, who passionately believes in the value that the solution they are offering can bring to the client, can -- and perhaps should -- feel disappointed at those efforts not bearing fruit immediately. It is okay to feel sad, disappointed or bitter. It is not okay to vocalize it to your customer in a way that makes them feel like they were a transaction that just failed to go through due to an ATM error.
This is a personal brand-defining and character-building moment -- if dealt with gracefully. It is worth repeating: gracefully.
Here are a few suggestions from my observations over the years:
Take a deep breath. There might be a legitimate obstacle handling opportunity here but you will not get to it in your frustration. Relax. Short of cancer-healing drugs, whatever you are selling is not going to change the world, today.
Forget your deal. Focus on the customer. This is a good time to remind them (and yourself) that what matters is their priority, their plans and their concerns.
Set aside the “mutual plan”. It is embarrassing to see salespeople wave some sort of a “mutual plan” or “close plan” (or worse, an ROI calculation built with matchsticks and play dough) in the customer’s face, asking “But you said earlier…” followed by “What changed?”. Is the answer not obvious? The customer’s mind/timing/confidence/views/preferences/circumstances/decision/budget changed! Trying to call them out on their earlier promise is not going to change the present reality but will certainly make for a lousy relationship after this call.
Remember Consent 101. The rules of consent do not change. “No” still means “no”, even in sales. It is immaterial what they said earlier -- the same customer is now saying something different and if what they say was important and carried weight then, it should still continue to be important!
Focus on the Customer. Forget your quota. Forget the trip to Bahamas. The customer does not -- and should not have to -- care about your quota attainment and sales metrics. If there was an equivalent to the Hippocratic oath in technology sales, it would be about a salesperson’s primary focus being on delivering solutions to the client. If the client is not ready for the solution, cannot pay for it, does not understand it or does not need it immediately, your job is done and it is time to move on -- gracefully.
Focus on the Customer. (Yes, it is worth repeating). Focus calmly and patiently on their reasons, trying to understand them. Often, you will gain an understanding of a critical factor that was overlooked during the sales cycle, which improves the chances of a future sale. Rarely, you might even uncover an obstacle or a misperception (or miscommunication) that can be easily resolved and might even lead to an immediate favourable outcome.
You may lose the sale today but as any sales veteran would emphasize -- do not lose the relationship. This is the perfect moment to let the customer see that they matter more than your numbers and statistics. If they are backing out at the 11th hour, they are probably not feeling great about it either. Give them a graceful exit and save the relationship. Making this a habit will eventually pay off more often than it seems.
After all — unless you are leaving your sales career in 48 hours — there is always next year!