Checklist: What to Do When a Sales Deal is Pushed


Have You Done Enough to Close Your Sales Deal?

While we hope that every deal will close easily, the reality is less clear. Due to pressures like financial restrictions or quarterly concerns (Q4 in particular), even deals that appear to be set to close can be delayed indefinitely. Not only does this impact your bottom line and number, but it also makes forecasting a difficult process and puts added pressure on your managers and reps to hit their numbers.

Whether given to you or a manager, the ambiguity from a “maybe” yields unexpected chaos into the sales process at any time, where you have to continually pass the expected contract value up each month. As a sales leader, you’re also tracking clear financial targets, making holding onto an unpredictable opportunity harder and harder to justify. In all ways, having a hanging “maybe” on a key deal is a critical burden and an even larger challenge, one that can make or break your team and your career.

The problem, unfortunately, does not stop at your desk. While you, as an expert, have a global awareness of the issues that make a “maybe” clutter the pipeline, reps and managers, particularly newly promoted management from the rep team, often will not have a firm macro scale scope on how to process this information. The result is an approach geared toward backing the prospect into a “yes or no” corner, rather than identifying and solving any problems up front. The root of the problem comes from this difference in approach, and key steps can shed light on the actual progress.

Pass the following checklist to your team to keep them thinking critically about pipeline “maybe” in Q4, or review for yourself to keep your thoughts up to date!

☐ Have you taught your prospect something new?

A “maybe” does not always mean that the prospect actually has a hard reason to delay. Often, not connecting with the customer by teaching them something about their business and niche. Prospects buy from trusted advisrs, not reps, and if you haven’t connected or built credibility, it’s not too late. Contact them with an insight-based approach, with the goal to provoke thought or debate.

☐ Is there really a problem that you’re solving?

You always need to answer one thing, no matter how easy the sale: does the solution solve anything? The need you identify as a problem simply may not automatically match the actual need seen by a prospect. The less clear the problem you solve, the farther apart you and the prospect are by the time a proposal is sent.

This makes for a good time to engage the prospect and have them define the problem back to you. Ask specifically for confirmation. The benefits down the line are an easier sale and a clear sense of what needs to be accomplished.

☐ Are your buyer and seller stages aligned?

It is easy, especially when facing quota numbers or budget timing, to rush the buying process on both sides. You want to close the deal, and an engaged prospect wants to implement a solution, activate their budget, or enter the new year ahead. In both cases, the buying process is cut short, information is lost in the shuffle, and it is unlikely that both buyer and seller are aligned.

Take extra time to plan out your buying stages if you have not, and then take a levelheaded review of where you are and where your prospect is. Any disparity, such as the drafting of a proposal before a prospect establishes an issue match, is the likely cause of a stall. Ironing out these points yields real clarity into the forecast.

☐ Do you have team consensus?

Knowing that the average enterprise deal, according to the Corporate Executive Board, requires 5.4 stakeholders to close, not having the right amount of support is a hazard that lends itself to a stalled close. Getting just one or two stakeholders behind an idea simply does not close a deal. If you can only see two stakeholders involved, then you have to accomplish one of two things before the deal closes: either find four more stakeholders, or hope that those two players will evangelize your solution within their company. The latter is less than likely unless the urgency is clear, and requires expert messaging and collateral. Finding new stakeholders is easier!

sales deal
The average deal requires 5.4 stakeholders to close (via CEB)

☐ Are you speaking to the real decision maker?

When it comes to budgets, figuring out exactly who controls the final spend can be a real hunt. Even someone who holds all of the cards of a decision maker – executive team, deeply engaged, leading the search – may actually not have the power to close. Likewise, the power to make a decision may be invested in a person, but with executive approval still required. In either case, it is imperative to learn what system is in place and sell accordingly.

When a deal comes down to decision-making time, clearly asking can make the difference. If a prospect cannot make the decision alone, you can reliably forecast a delay or loss on the sale.

☐ Can you change the status quo?

Remember – particularly at the end of the year, and generally anytime, you have to change the status quo to close a sale. That means offering profound insights that not only educate, but answer “Why Now?” Sparking a debate, breaking down concepts, or diving into the literature can all be great ways to engage with a prospect, so long as the goal is to implement change. According to the Sales Benchmark Index, 58% of qualified deals end in no decision because reps and sales teams fail to change the status quo. Building a buying vision requires you to change this conversation.

☐ Can you anticipate a loss?

The final step in handling an ambiguous deal is to not engage with the ambiguity at all. Assuming the loss of the deal may be a better way to manage the situation, as it prevents the team expecting something that may not come.

The reality is economic: spending intense amounts of time saving a single deal in the final stretch of the year or when trying to hit numbers takes away time that you absolutely cannot get back. It is likely far more feasible to take the loss on one deal and invest that time in easier, more likely to close opportunities. The result is exactly the same – a close – but the additional time saved can be used to do even more. When constraints like Sales Kickoff, Fiscal Year End, and budgeting are already taking up your time, this savings is vital.

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