This is probably one of the biggest questions in sales – when do I give up on a prospect? When do I walk away from a sale? Every salesperson struggles with this, and more than a few of us have stayed too long at the party trying to get that elusive and difficult prospect to commit. Walking away is hard especially after spending all that valuable sales time and energy.
And while working too long on a prospect can be frustrating, the worst offense of all is staying so committed, working so hard, that you wear that tough prospect down. You actually land business that in the long run turns out to be one of the worst decisions you ever made.
That unfortunately is my “M.O.” the way that I tend to roll. I love to sell so much, love the challenge, that I will stay in the game, working hard to win over my prospect, that sometimes I wind up with business I do not want.
For example, it happened to me last week! I worked on this prospect for months, it was a keynote for a small group of business owners and sales professionals. They actually had come to me, after visiting my website.
In talking with the prospect, I could tell from the start he was really hesitant. He came right out and told me he was not sure that he even needed or wanted a speaker. On top of that, he was not sure I was the right fit, and if the topics I talked about was even something his clients would benefit from. Now, I should have taken the hint – right!
Don’t Ignore the Signs
Instead of listening to those hesitations, I took them on as a challenge. I jumped in and started to sell. I worked so hard to convince him that I could “make” his conference fantastic. I invested so much time taking on and pushing past his objections– far more than I have had to do with others. We had conference calls, and I shared countless emails, we reviewed the meeting agenda and discussed my presentation in detail and at length.
Still, he was hesitant, really not sure, but I persevered and got the contract signed. My thought was I was going to go in there and just blow them away. I put on the full-court press – I had researched the company, done interviews, even gone so far as to visit some of their locations. I was ready!
I flew in the day before, went to the opening night party, mingled and connected with their attendees. The next morning, I was up early, wanting to make sure that I heard and took notes on every speaker coming before me.
During lunch, I went back to my room and worked on my presentation. I updated it with key points and details of every speaker that had gone before me. I punched up with jokes and included more interaction given I was speaking right after lunch, and I was the only “non-industry” speaker on the agenda.
I delivered, and thought I rocked – the audience was engaged, laughing, taking notes. Wow, boy, was I wrong – the audience loved me but my client not so much. One day after my presentation, I could not even get the meeting planner to return my call. When he did finally answer my email, it was curt, short and to the point. The email told me while they appreciated the effort, it was not the presentation they had in mind.
At first, I was shocked, I had gotten LinkedIn invites from their attendees, and a few emails from some saying that they had enjoyed my presentation. What went wrong? How could I be so misaligned with the event planner?
Why? Because I sold a product to someone, who did not want to buy it. I set myself up for failure by winning a sale that should never have been sold. I missed the clues, ignored the signs, and put energy into a sale that had no chance of being successful.
So how do you know when to walk away, or what are the signs that a sale, even if you win, is not a sale you want? Again, there is not an exact science or set of rules, but here are some tell-tale signs it is better to walk away.
3 Solid Reasons You Don’t Want the Sale
- They’re Reluctant: my first clue should have been his reluctance. He had more reasons why he should not do business with me than why he should, and I should have been listening. I took those on as a challenge, rather than as the reality that maybe he did not see the value in what I had to offer.
Reluctance is natural in a prospect, and as a sales professional, we have to help them see why doing business with us is the right decision. However, when a prospect’s reluctance is not something you can help them get past, perhaps there is more to the story. If your prospect is not more elated than you to sign the contract, then this is not a contract that should be signed – a clue I missed.
- They Beat You Up On Price: my next clue should have been the price. When you have listened intently to their needs, their goals, and provided a value-add solution, and every question they have goes back to price, you have just gotten another strong clue this is not the right prospect.
When prospects are keeping focusing on price, when every point in the conversation takes them back to price, then maybe it is time to walk-way. In my case, this prospect had never hired speakers before; they had always used sponsor and allowed them to sell from the stage. (Another clue – this is not my ideal client.) So, every time we discussed price, he went back to trying to convince me to do it for free or significantly reduce my fee. Neither of which I would do, and when he signed the contract he did so still thinking he was paying too much. I should never have made that sale. If a client cannot see the value, is not comfortable with what they are paying, then you have set yourself up for at least a hard climb of convincing them they made aright decision.
- Never Good Enough:The moment this contract was signed, my new client wanted more. More meetings, more time to review everything I was doing, and more time to tell me how to do my job. Now don’t get me wrong, I love it when clients engage, but nervous clients do not know what they want, so rather than relying on your professional expertise, they take control of the situation. You end up investing valuable time and energy working to make them happy, rather than investing in delivering a relevant and quality product.
Walking away from a sale is never easy, but as professionals, we (well, especially me) need to learn that sometimes it is the smartest decision we can ever make. While investing the time and energy to get the deal to close, it took me away from selling to other prospects who would have been far happier with what I was delivering. Besides I ended up putting valuable resources and time into aa client I could never make happy.
Believe me, my sales goal for 2019, is knowing when and having more courage to walk-away!