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Sales Recovery: How To Manage a Sale Going Wrong


Guest articles > Sales Recovery: How To Manage a Sale Going Wrong


by: Sharon Drew Morgen


Do you know the difference between which prospect you’ll close and which one you’ll lose?

How can you tell, midway through a sale, whether you’re on track for success or you’ve lost the deal?

How can you tell when you’ll be unsuccessful in advance and cut short your time and energy to offer more time for those who are able to buy?

All prospect situations seem to be going along successfully until they aren’t. You work hard to find the prospect who has appropriate need and interest. You do your front end due diligence. You promote and pitch the product professionally. You follow the process of objections, time delays, surprises. You even project a time when the sale will close – much to your manager’s dismay. And you hope, hope, that this time all of your hard work will pay off. But it’s a guess.

There seems to be no way of knowing which prospect will actually close, and which one will disappear forever into choices you have no control over.

Out of the loop

How do you end up being wrong so often? Most calculations state that from first prospecting call to close, only approximately 7% of your prospects will make a purchase. If that’s true – or anything close to that number is true – you’re wasting, say, 90% of your time. What’s even worse, you believe that you’re going to be successful until far into your time wastage.

I know I personally sometimes either deny signs that a sale might be going south, or arrogantly believe I can save the day somehow.

But the reality is, as outsiders, the only data you have is either data your prospect has chosen to share, or from your own best guess based on similar situations.

One of the problems is that you’re basing your hopes and guesswork on historic patterns – buyers who have bought given the same fact pattern, or problems you know your product can resolve and seem to be a perfect fit. It seems logical that the new prospect should buy if they want their problem solved.

As an outsider to the buyer’s unique cultural norms and mental models, you have no way of going into the team or Problem Space of the prospect because you don’t live there with them. You don’t know their internal politics, or the complete set of people issues that must be managed; you don’t know exactly what is maintaining the problem that your product can solve – if the prospect knew how, the problem would have been solved ‘yesterday’ (and why wasn’t it??); you can’t know all of the hidden agendas, the office politics, the historic problems that must be resolved before a purchasing decision can happen.

Changing the possibilities

Let me tell you a story about how assumptions get us into trouble. It’s not specifically about how a sale was lost without knowing why, but a story of how a sale never got to happen because the sales approach was wrong and the seller didn’t know how to recognize what didn’t work. It’s the same premise: operating from the assumption that the seller 'knows' what’s going on and doesn't recognize his own approach as being part of the problem.

I know this tale intimately: it happened with a new member of my team who was recently trained and just getting his head around the difference between selling and helping someone manage all of the elements necessary for a buying decision.

My salesperson told me he was having problems getting a good response from a specific industry when he made cold calls. He was quite frustrated because he only had a finite number to call, and asked what he’d do when he’d completed all calls in the category without a sale. It was obvious to him that we were in the wrong industry, given the responses he was getting.

When I asked him what he was doing, he shared a scenario that made it clear that he was using conventional sales techniques, and hence received conventional responses. Here is how one of his conversations went:

Seller/John: Hello. My name is John from Morgen Facilitations. This is a sales call. Is this is a good time to speak? [So far, so good.]

Prospect: Sure. I’ve got a few minutes. What are you selling?

John: A new paradigm sales training. How are you currently bringing new thinking into your team to enhance their skills? [Good job, John. On the money.]

Prospect: We purchase scripts that we have designed especially for our product. We’ve used this scripting service for a long time, and we’re happy with them. They give us the results we seek.

John: So what I hear you saying is [Good so far.] that you are happy with a result that might be less than what you could be getting if you were using a different sales model [LOST IT. Told the guy he’s stupid.]

Prospect: I’m really satisfied with our results and don’t want to change anything. Maybe you can call back in a year or so when we’re in the market for new training, and we can take another look then. Thanks for the call.

John did what so many sellers do: attempt to lead the buyer to the conclusion that they need the seller’s product, and in the process they don’t acknowledge the buyer’s success, historic decisions, internal systems, company politics, vendor relationships, staff comfort. And the prospect shuts down.

John’s final assessment was that the buyer wasn’t interested. It never occurred to him that anything he was doing might have caused the response, and he had no insight into what was really going on internally. Indeed, John had no way of knowing whether there was interest or not. The response he got was a buyer reacting to a stranger who attempted to get him to change to something unknown, and who told him metaphorically that his historic decisions were stupid. He did all he could do: he left the interaction. John set up the buyer’s response and blamed it on the buyer.

Support the solution design

But look at the new possibilities if you have the buyer add in the considerations necessary for him to consider changing. Here’s what I would have said, using Buying Facilitation questions and summary:

I hear that you have a system in place that has worked for you over time and that you have been extremely happy with. What would you need to think about to consider the possibility of adding a new skill set to your current methods in case there might be even more success possible?

Other Facilitative Questions might be:

What would you need to know about a new model to recognize that it might fit into your values and brand?

How would you know that new material, such as we have, would even have a possibility of working in your work situation?

And, later into the conversation:

Given you’ve had the scripts in place for so long, how would you need to manage the team learning to ensure they could add something new without causing them distress or loss of revenue?

A prospect's response to this exchange would be thoughtful, get him considering decisions he had made, and open up new possibilities without threatening existing internal systems.

With the proper decision directing questions the Facilitation process helps the prospect design a solution and direct him through the range of decisions he'd need to manage anyway if he were to make a change by purchasing your product.

This is the aspect missing from the ‘selling’ model and what keeps sellers in the dark: buyers are fighting hidden internal systems that maintain their status quo and until they address these monsters they can’t buy. Anything that rears its head must be addressed, and whatever has been used in place of your product - whatever people or rules or relationships or politics or historic systems that have any touch-points around the decision to bring in a new solution – will keep the process from moving forward.

By having your communication based around product placement (and your information gathering and relationship building are all based on ultimately placing product), you remain out of the loop with no way for you to take any lead on the change that needs to occur within the prospect’s environment. The best you can do is to direct the buyer in the area your product can solve; you can’t get in there with him to help him formulate his own system of change.

How to know when it's not working

Here is what you’ll hear when the sale is going wrong:

  • One of our partners just contacted us and might be able to help us straighten out our problem;
  • We have a new initiative starting soon. We’ll need to wait until we’re farther along on the implementation before we can move forward;
  • There has been so much change here. I’d like to speak with you again in 6 months when things have calmed down here;
  • I think we’re going to continue using what we’ve got for now. Can you call in about 3 months and see if we’re ready then?
  • The people who have given us our current X are coming up with a new product that might be able to do what we want. It won’t be out for 2 months, but we’ll need to wait ‘til then to trial it.
  • I’ll need to run this by a few more people.
  • We need to make sure we’ve got the budget for this.
  • We were thinking of a solution that is a bit simpler than what you and I have come up with. We’re either going to have to scale this back, or wait ‘til there is budget next year.

Whatever the excuse, it’s built around an internal system that you are unaware of and can lead to surprises. From where you stand, you can only see a problem that your product resolves. I recently heard a conventional sales person doubt that he, personally, would have missed a long-standing problem that delayed a large sale by years – even when the people who missed this issue were 5 very very senior partners of a well-established international consulting group who were partnering with every single “C” level exec. Oh… the arrogance of our profession!

What to do

Once you hear any of the above objections (or any others), you can actually get back in the game by using the Buying Decision Funnel and lead the prospect through all of the decisions that need to be managed in order to make a new decision. The Funnel will lead the prospect from strategic to tactical decisions that her entire system will have to address. We’re talking about CHANGE here, not just about solving the identified problem.

Remember that the prospect does not seek your product: she seeks to resolve a business problem and your product may help her do that. And she will not consider making a purchase until she’s tried every conceivable approach to solving the problem with resources already familiar to her (go to and read up on the sequence of buyer’s decision making). Your new job is to ask systems-based questions that will lead the prospect to her own answers – not use information-based questions that will help her buy your product. [Should you wish to learn more about this, go to and purchase my ebook Buying Facilitation: the new way to sell that expands and influences decisions].

Here are a couple of examples to help you move the prospect through their decisions when you hear that the sales is stuck:

What I hear you saying is X and that your timing might not be what we first discussed. What would you need to know or do differently in order to have ready whatever needs to be managed in order to move forward when it’s the right time?

How would you know that my product would offer a solution that your team would be able to adopt and recognize as a reliable alternative/addition to what you’re currently using?

Of course, I can’t give you all possible Facilitative Questions here as they need to be formulated as per the conversation. Just note that when formulating the questions, include systems elements surrounding the perceived problem (including roles, rules, relationships, politics, vendor management, etc.) not just questions that help YOU determine a ‘need’. Keep reminding yourself that your prospect has a much bigger issue than your product can solve, and that the only person who can resolve their issues are inside the organization.

It’s not rocket science, but truly demands a different mindset as Buying Facilitation supports the front end of the sales cycle that has been hidden until now. Indeed, it's a systems approacht to collaborative decision making and not the selling method.

You have had no choice but to base your closing predictions on the content of what prospects say, rather than managing the system that they operate within. But now you can help prospects manage their actual internal buying decision system. This will put you on the buyer’s team, uncover three times more prospects, and close sales 600% faster than with conventional sales.

Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy?

Contributor: Sharon Drew Morgen

Published here on: 29-Apr-07

Classification: Sales



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