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“No Decision Made” Is Still A Competitive Loss

by David Brock on November 27th, 2013

Depending on the research you look at, “No Decision Made” has a huge impact on results we produce.  The lowest levels I’ve seen with leading market research firms is a little more than 20% of forecast deals end in no decision made.  Other reports have it going up from there, some as high as 50% of forecast deals.

Recently, I’ve noticed a weird kind of psychology around these types of deals.  Yes, we don’t like them, but somehow it isn’t as bad as losing to our competitors.  We don’t treat these deals as a loss, we typically don’t go through loss reviews, we just do a collective sigh, a shrug, and say to ourselves, “better luck next time.”

No Decision Made is a competitive loss–probably the worst kind of competitive loss we can suffer.   I’m assuming here, that we executed our strategies flawlessly, we were well aligned with the customer, but the competition had a better solution.  In any kind of competitive effort, teams can compete vigorously and effectively, but in the end one wins.  (Yeah, I know most of you will say this is a very flawed assumption, but give me a break–at least for the purposes of this article.)

No Decision Made is possibly the worst kind of competitive loss because we failed with the customer.  There wasn’t a better solution the customer chose instead of ours, we simply failed in getting them to prioritize and drive change in their organizations.

No Decision Made arises from a number of factors:

1.  It wasn’t a real deal in the first place.  In our qualification, the customer accepted a meeting, smiled at us, fogged a mirror, and continued to engage us in discussions.  Perhaps they had some idle time, perhaps they were doing research for the future, perhaps they were lonely.  In any case, we jump all over it, put it in the pipeline, and pursued it as an opportunity.

Maybe I’m exaggerating a little.  We may have found some people really interested in doing something, it was legitimate in their minds, but, we failed to qualify widely or high enough.  So while some people were serious about buying, it was never real because all the people involved in the decision were not qualified.

2.  The customer was interested, we qualified properly, they had a strong desire for a new solution, but they couldn’t organize themselves to make a buying decision.  In complex B2B sales, many people are involved.  Each has a different agenda and priority.  Each has a different constituency and goal.  There are politics involved between individuals and groups, there are struggles for power.  Finally, they may simply not know how to buy–in many B2B decisions like complex software solutions, major capital investments, and so forth–they may only buy once in their careers–so they simply don’t know how to buy.

Letting this happen is a sales error.  If we are aligning ourselves with the customer in their buying process, we are also going to facilitate that process.  We are going to help them align the disparate agendas and motivations.  We’re going to help overcome the power struggles, we’re going to help them learn how to buy.

3.  The perceived risk of change is greater than the risk of doing nothing.  This is a huge factor in No Decision Made!  Customers may genuinely be interested in our solutions.  They may be interested in the potential we offer in helping them address new opportunities or to improve their businesses.  But then we have to deal with the “Change” issue.  Doing nothing is much easier.  Doing nothing requires taking no action.  Doing nothing means no risk.  Doing nothing is what everyone is comfortable with—even if there are some problems or challenges, even if the customer knows there is a way to improve.

Doing nothing is the easiest course of action until we make the pain/risk of doing nothing greater than the risk of making the change.  It is our responsibility to create a compelling need to change.  We need to make sure the customer believes doing nothing is not an alternative, they must change, they must act.

4.  The customer has a better use of their resources, time, energy, and funds.  No it’s not choosing a competitor, but they choose to invest in a completely different project.  We may be selling a new software system, we have won over IT and the users, they are hot to trot, they go to the CFO to get funding for the project only to learn the company has chosen to paint new lines in the parking lots and to upgrade the food service in the cafeteria.  (OK, so I’m exaggerating.)

We may qualify and win at the functional and departmental level.  But unless we, and our customers, get the project to the top of the corporate priorities, funding and resources may be diverted to completely different purposes.  Our customers compete for funding and resources within their own companies.  As excited as they are about their pet projects, unless they convince upper management to allocate the resources and funds, they — and we — cannot move forward.

Yes, we try to call higher up the food chain to get executives involved, but we also need to make sure our customers are “selling” internally, getting the support of everyone they need to move forward with the project.

I’m sure there are many other excuses for No Decision Made, but I’ll stop here and rely on you to add more in the comments.

But No Decision Made is, possibly, our biggest and most consistent competition.  Failing to develop and execute strategies against this competitor is a sales failure.  We waste our customers’ time, our time, and lot of resources.

It’s our responsibility to develop and execute strategies to counter this competitor.

As managers and leaders, we need to analyze and understand losses to No Decision Made.  We need to include these in our loss reviews and win/loss analysis.

It is unacceptable to sigh, shrug our shoulders, and say, “Better luck next time.”

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  1. As always, Dave, you’re right on target.

    In my experience, there is another consideration: The rep hasn’t tied the value of their offering directly to the customer’s business and/or financial plan, with specific, quantified, and verifiable numbers.

    Even if there is a strong business case, customers may still not take action, but the stronger the business case, the less influence your points will have on the status quo.

    • Great comment and clarification Dave. I’d made the dangerous assumption that part of what we do is always create business justified solutions–using metrics critical to the customer. In reality, this is done too infrequently.

      It’s critical that all sales people speak the languages of our customers’ businesses. This includes the impact on the KPI’s of the functional executives involved in the decision, and the KPI’s/Financial impacts critical to the CFO.

      This is just a fundamental part of every deal. If we don’t provide it, the customer has to do it themselves–they don’t know how to, or don’t take the time. The result is another No Decision Made.

      Thanks for this critical addition Dave.

  2. Thought provoking Dave. One part I am most intrigued with is finding the decision makers which can be a huge challenge. We always think (or rationalize) we are engaged with the right people while we’re at the plate and swinging away. It’s only after getting the bad news or the orders start to go south that we begin to question if that buyer, PM, VP, etc. that we’ve been spending so much time with was the right person or group? We have all heard the buyer tell us they truly are the decision maker (and some are), only to be disappointed when we find out there may be a few more folks who need to be involved. Over the years, I have discovered there’s on sure fire way to know for sure, when your customer gives you the order!

  3. Hey Dave,

    This is where role vs. the amount of change comes into play for me. When I get concerned with that at the start I look to secure time with decision makers and key stakeholders.

    However, it comes down to a great question you put up in a recent blog where you like to ask the customer “if we can build a business justified solution, are you willing to fight for it?”

  4. The article and the comments are spot on. Excellent topic and clarification of no decision. I posted another comment about sales qualification in your latest blog. I am curious if others have a simple consistent and reliable across sales teams (inside and outside) qualification process.

    • Thanks Steve, I’ve put some ideas on your question in the other article where you also posed the question.

  5. Dave: good article though having been on the buying side many times, I will share that ‘doing nothing’ is often very difficult. Salespeople need to disabuse themselves of this notion, because it leads to bad stereotypes, and lots of unwarranted frustration. Though buyers are sometimes knock-kneed and fearful, they are also many times, astute, rational decision makers who know that putting a stake in the ground project-wise carries both advantages and disadvantages. Further, I believe that as salespeople, we can make the facts available, we can provide a business case, we can make numbers look attractive (a topic to discuss over beer), but the notion that “We need to make sure the customer believes doing nothing is not an alternative, they must change, they must act,” is a stretch. The motivation for change comes from the prospect – the job of sales – actually, the purpose – is to make sure the facts are presented in such a way that the choice to change appears as attractive as possible.

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