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But They Really Need The Product!

by David Brock on November 25th, 2015
Wishful thinking crossed fingers

I was doing a deal review with a sales person.  It was a big deal, important to the sales person and to my client.  But the deal had been stuck for some time.

As I reviewed the deal history, there were a bunch of things “wrong” with the deal.

When it originally, was put into the system, it had a projected close date that was unusually fast.  Both because of the very short sales cycle and the size of the deal, it caught management’s attention.  Everyone was ecstatic.

Then it slipped, and it slipped, and it slipped.  In the past 8 months, the target close date has slipped 8 times.  Hmmmm…….

The deal is still in “Qualifying,”  it hasn’t moved since it was originally identified as an opportunity.  Hmmmm…….

The deal history is filled with lots of notes about meetings with the customer, great demos, but also peppered with phrases about funding problems.  The sales person did not seem to be executing the sales process, he didn’t seem to be doing the things necessary to move the customer through their buying process and the deal through the sales process.  Hmmmm………

Nothing about this deal seemed to be right, there was only the sales person’s insistence that this was a good deal and it would close on the date he had listed in the system.

At this point, I was asked to do a deal review.

You can imagine the meeting:

I sat with the sales person, saying, “There’s been a lot of activity on this opportunity.  It continues to slip, it’s still in qualifying and hasn’t move out of qualifying in the past 8 months.  What’s really going on?  What is it that makes you believe this deal will close when you say it will, what’s different than the last 7 dates you believed it would close.”

The sales person looked at me with one of those, “You just don’t get it” expressions.  He replied, “They really need the product!”

I asked, “Why?”

I got the same look again, this time with a little more frustration.

The sales person described all the meetings he had, how interested the customer was in the product, concluding with, “They really need the product!”

I asked, “Why?”

We were clearly at an impasse.  To help our conversation, I looked at their sales process, I looked at the criteria to move the opportunity from “Qualifying” to “Discovery.”  I asked the sales person about those things–one of which was a compelling need to change.  I asked, “What’s their need to change?  What problems are they having that are forcing them to change?”

The sales person didn’t answer.  He talked about the meetings he had had, how interested they were in the product.  In fairness, he identified issues the customer was currently having and how the product would help eliminate those issues.  But he couldn’t identify the urgency or compelling need to change.

I looked at other criteria in the qualifying and discovery parts of their sales process.  ‘What are they trying to achieve?  How will they justify the investment to their management?  What are the consequences of doing nothing?  What alternatives are they considering?”

At this point, the sales person, frustrated, started waving his arms a lot, reiterating all the meetings he had, how interested the customer was, concluding, “They really need the product!”

I challenged him, “If they need the product, what are they doing to find the money?”  He didn’t know.

“Why does this keep slipping?”

“Well,” he said, “They are really busy doing other things, they can’t take the time to do it now.”

I said, “Then it doesn’t appear there is a critical need for a change.”

You can guess how this review ended.

How many deal reviews just like this one have you participated in?  It doesn’t matter what stage of the sales process they are in, but I’ve been in the “same” review hundreds of times.  It’s a sales person driven by a compelling need to sell, a customer that’s showing interest, but none of the things needed to move the deal through the critical steps of the sales process are being done.  Too often, these are deals where the sales person has “gone through the cycle,” has proposed and is trying to close, but they still can’t answer any of the questions I’ve posed.

The sales person has a customer who is interested in listening, but the sales person isn’t executing the sales process, asking the critical questions, making sure the customer is doing their part in “buying.”

Sometimes, the sales person confuses interest in a product, or even “wanting” a product, with “needing” a product.

Eventually, these deals are abandoned.  Sometimes they are categorized as “No Decision Made,” which is wrong–there was never a decision to be made in the first place.

This kind of wishful thinking, the absence of any attempt to help the customer move through their buying process, the inability to drive the customer to address the critical business issues, is nothing more than sales failure.  It is inexcusable.  In this case, the sales person wasn’t selling, he was just a live information source for the customer.  They would have been better off going to my client’s web site.

In fairness to this sales person, it wasn’t all his fault.  This situation had persisted for 8 months.  It was a significant deal, his manager wasn’t asking the questions I posed.  The sales manager wasn’t coaching the sales person through using the sales process to engage the customer in “buying.”  The manager should have been engaged months ago, but hadn’t been.

If a customer really “needs” a solution, we have a responsibility to help them move through their buying process.  The “need” indicates there is a real business problem, there are consequences to not addressing the issue, there is justification and great value to the solution.  If the customer “needs” the solution, nothing should stop them or us.

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