At its best, sales is a wonderful, exciting profession with a thrilling chase for closes, supporting clients in achieving their objectives and being able to meet a variety of people in all kinds of locations. At its worst, sales is an exercise in frustration, and the kind of losses that can wound your self-confidence. In the spirit of Halloween, we examine common horror scenarios and how to come back from them.
- A deal disappears after a verbal agreement.
You think you’ve got the win – your prospect has given you the word that they’re moving forward. You celebrate, telling your manager and coworkers about it, and take a long, relaxing lunch, luxuriating in your success. Then a few days later, the client you thought you had announces they’re going with your biggest rival in the marketplace. Crushed and embarrassed, you wonder what went wrong. While it’s likely late to get that account back for now, there’s ways to handle future verbals.
- Remember it’s a verbal agreement, not a binding contract. As a result, it’s only tentative. We see this in worlds outside sales – in college sports, where an athlete gives a verbal to State University, then on Signing Day, inks a letter of intent with University of State instead, shocking State University with the flip. Or in the courtroom, where a party may claim a verbal agreement, but the other side produces a signed written contract that says otherwise. What wins? The written contract. So while a verbal agreement is a good sign, it’s only a sign, not a genuine commitment.
- Understand the role of the verbal giver – are they a decision maker or an influencer? If not, the verbal comes with a whole bag’s worth of salt. And if they’re not a decision maker or influencer, do your utmost to find out who is and reach out to them, rather than just relying on the person who gave you a verbal agreement. Hitting on multiple fronts increases your chance of closing.
- Send a confirmation email signaling a written readiness to move forward and ask for a reply confirmation. The greater the paper trail, the better the commitment. Also schedule a formal meeting at the time of the verbal to lock down the contract rather than just relying on a potential client’s promises. The more commitment you’re able to secure, the greater the likelihood of close.
- Forgetting the importance of Procurement and Legal.
Sales professionals don’t often think about the procurement and legal departments when dealing with a potential customer, but they should. Procurement and Legal can be the places where contracts go to die, no matter the sign-off of other decision makers. Procurement has a vested interest in getting a vendor for as low a rate as they can, whereas legal acts with paranoid diligence to be sure the client doesn’t get caught in any snags that could result in a courtroom appearance. Avoiding these possible pitfalls means following these guidelines:
- Involve those departments fairly early on in the process. When it’s apparent you’re a possible contender for the contract, consider reaching out to Legal and Procurement to start building a relationship. Putting in the work now, while it might seem like putting the cart before the horse, has the ability to cut down future potential obstacles and ensure a smoother road to close.
- Get your own non-sales departments in on the relationship building, too. While your procurement team probably won’t be involved in these discussions, getting your own legal department in touch with theirs, apprising your lawyer of the situation in advance and stepping out of the way can fast-track the process. After all, your legal side knows what their legal team is watching for and knows how best to address any issues or concerns that might come up in the review process.
- Find a champion on the business side. Ideally this shouldn’t be too difficult when you have one or more influencers and/or decision makers who prefer your bid. The reason why these are so critical is because they can intervene in the event that Procurement decides to play hardball and hold up the process.
- Your connection to a major potential client was just let go or changed jobs.
You’ve put in the hard work and cultivated a relationship with a key player in a company that would be a game-changer for your revenue. Then one day, you find out that the contact you’ve spent months on is no longer at the company. It’s crushing to see all that work go down the drain, but there’s ways to rebound from that horrible circumstance:
- If the contact changed employers, keep in touch with them (including congratulating them on their new position!). While they might not have the influence they did at their old job (it takes time to accrue power, after all), long-term they can still be the key to a contract, and one that might be even more lucrative, depending on where they jumped ship to.
- Let’s say the worst possible outcome occurred and they were let go. Paradoxically, it’s even more important to stay communicating with them in this period. The reason why is because when they do become employed again, they’ll remember you didn’t ghost them when they no longer had a potential contract to offer. That turns the seeming loss into an opportunity to become truly trusted and show you care about them as a person - not just a potential check. And the money might still come in if they’re able to find another decision-making or influential position when they are employed again, in which case the first point applies.
- Regardless of what ultimately happens with this connection, take it as a learning experience about the importance to develop multiple points of contact with an organization you’re targeting. That way, even if something happens to the person you have the strongest relationship with, you’ll have other options to fall back on with that company (Note: Still follow the first two guidelines – you might unexpectedly end up with two contracts instead of one – one with the original prospect and one with your best relationship’s new employer!)
Each of these situations can be unsettling and disappointing, but preparing for their instances and reframing your approach and mindset to these worst-case scenarios can reverse your misfortune, transforming them into surprise winning situations.