Don't get stuck in the middle of the sales pipeline

As sales professionals, we spend a lot of time focusing on the early and late stages of the pipeline. It makes a lot of sense if you think about it.  

In the early stages of a deal, things are exciting and optimistic. As sales people, we are the most fervent of optimists, aren’t we? You reached out to a target prospect, managed to get to the CxO and now you have a meeting scheduled. 

You are psyched to put that on your pipeline report, right?  Wrong! We really hate to tell anyone that we have a big meeting because then they will ask us about it (or our managers will want to tag along because it is important) so we keep it to ourselves until the last possible moment. 

Now we are at the end stage of a sales deal, you’ve gotten a verbal, Legal is putting the final touches on the contract and you are going to ink that deal any day. Great stuff!  

So…what about the middle of the pipeline? Sales reps have a tendency to get stuck in the “quicksand” with many deals and we may keep pushing them but they are stuck. The quicksand is a bad or dangerous situation from which it is hard to escape and we just keep hoping something happens to rescue us. 

We must always remember that sales deals are like sharks – they must keep moving forward or they die. This is also where you tend to get more questions from your sales manager about the likelihood of closure.  

So what happens in the middle of the sales pipeline that can cause a deal to stall?

We talked about the early stages of the deal – initial meetings, identifying the Critical Business Issues (CBIs), and maybe a demo of the solution. This idea that the demo is actually moving us forward is false – we’ll share that in another post.   

At this stage, you are driving things forward and things are going smoothly. All of a sudden you realize your client has gone dark; you’re calling multiple times and not hearing back. There are so many things that might be happening behind the scenes that you may not be aware of that can cause this situation:  

  • A change in the “players” – a new executive comes on board, someone leaves, etc.
  • The CBI gets set aside for something that management feels is more important (or you never really got to the CBI).
  • The budget gets cut. 

These are just a few reasons why a prospect might go dark but there are certainly many other possibilities. We should also mention that if you have taken the time to build great rapport and trust with your prospect, he/she is less likely to avoid you and more likely to share some inside information so that you can truly assess your deal.  

Coming out of the darkness

At a certain point, your prospect will likely come back into the light and you will re-establish a dialog. But at this point, you have no way of knowing if the deal you had previously is still in play or if you are looking at a different solution. At this stage, you must re-qualify the deal. You might be back in the discussion again but you must realize that the deal you have now will likely be very different. 

This is where you have to think critically about what happened. Consider this metaphor; imagine that you are driving your car at 100mph and it stops at mile marker 12 on the highway. You now have to wait 3 months for the motor vehicle club to come rescue you. If you relate this metaphor to your deal, it is essentially the same situation; the deal was stopped dead, it took 3 months to re-engage and now you get back in your car as though nothing happened… but something did!! What was it???  

In our next post we will talk about how to re-qualify your deal. You must assess what happened and figure the best course of action to get things moving again.