What Causes a Sale to Derail?

All sales professionals have experienced disappointment when forecasted sales derail at the last moment. Unfortunately, most sales reps move on to the next opportunity, never taking the time to do a post-mortem.

There is always a reason why a sale doesn’t close. And the quicker we understand the “why,” the better the chances we can avoid losing future sales. Start by identifying the point when the customer said they wouldn’t proceed with the purchase, as it may shed light on the “why.”

Take one sale that recently failed. Divide the entire sales process into thirds – Start, Middle, and End. Now, determine when that sale fell apart.

Sales that derailed at the BEGINNING (1/3) – Let’s agree that we aren’t talking about sales opportunities that never really got started. In this example, the customer was qualified, expressed interest in your product and/or services, and desired to continue conversations. Then they informed you that they are not going to proceed any further.

There are multiple reasons why a sale stops in this beginning stage. It may be that:

The customer wasn’t forecasted properly– Every organization tries to forecast their sales, so they designate various stages in the sale process. Sales reps are asked to “pigeon-hole” their prospects into a stage, and this is where problems occur.

Just because the sales rep decides to identify a buyer as ready to make a purchase doesn’t mean the customer aligns with their assessment. Forecasting tools sometimes lack milestones that assist sales reps in accurately designating the stage of a buyer. And if forecasting software includes milestones, sales reps may not know how to effectively move customers from one stage to another.

The customer didn’t connect with your product and/or services – People are human. They may be logical and use checklists to rate your product and/or services. But they need to connect, whether to the sales rep, the product and/or services, company, or all the above.

Did your presentation, conference call, or in-person visit provide ample opportunities for the customer to express feedback? Did you identify the problems or issues that started their search for a solution? And if so, did you listen and acknowledged their concerns?

Often, sales reps are more focused on getting through their talking points that they forget about their customer. Today’s buyers are more interested in benefits than they are features. They buy when they are convinced that your product and/or services solve their problems, or increases production and efficiency, allowing them to get home on time.

Solution: Top performers establish real communication with customers early in the process. Ask attendees in that first meeting their name, job title, issues they want to solve and their expectations. Take time to ask about the problems they are trying to solve.

Never assume customers are in a good place if they aren’t engaging. In this stage, encourage them to respond to bullet items in the presentation. At the close of the meeting, get the customer to tell you if they desire to move forward to the next stage or step.

Sales that derailed in the MIDDLE (2/3) – This the most critical stage where customers are scrutinizing your products and/or services. They want clear answers to their questions. It’s important that sales reps plan to reach out to others in the company suited to handle tough questions.

Make clear to the customer what the next step involves. For example, tell them that the next activity is participating in a demo, followed by getting access to products and/or services. If they agree to move forward, schedule the next meeting. Now move that customer with confidence to the next forecast stage.

Customers stop the sales process in this middle stage because:

The product and/or services aren’t what they need – There are occasions when a sales rep has great initial conversations with the customer. However, discussions about products and/or services are superficial. Then reality sets in when the demonstration begins. Objections arise during this stage due to undiscovered parameters.

Never make assumptions about customer requirements or limitations. Sales often derail in this stage because sales reps and customers entered with different expectations. For example:

  • The initial presentation was on target but when the products and/or services are scrutinized, the main benefits customers are looking for are not fully addressed or completely ignored.
  • The customer was told the products and/or services are easy to use but find out in this stage that they need staff with specific skills to implement or maintain your solution.
  • The sales rep talked about low-cost entry for products and/or services only to find the solution is no longer within their budget due to undisclosed implementation fees, NOT discussed earlier.

The product and/or services appeared to be complex to use or understand – No one wants to buy something that appears different than what was promised in the initial call. And they certainly do not want to add more complexity to their job. If the problem is with your product and/or services, then the company needs to make things simpler.

Often, the issue is not the products and/or services but how things were presented and explained to customers. Presenters, especially if it involves technology or software applications, forget their audience is not as familiar with terms or your products. If a process appears difficult to complete during a demo, the customer will lose confidence in your solution.

Solution: To be perceived as a top performer, take that extra step. Make sure you know their budget limitations. Share details if certain skills are required before the live demonstration occurs.

Then send an agenda to the customer, days before the scheduled meeting. Identify the benefits you plan to demonstrate and if anything may be missing. This provides time to make last minutes changes.

Finally, separate the “money” discussion from the demonstration. Customers should experience your solution without constraints. Let them make an emotional connection first.

Tell them you’ll send a proposal with costs in an email. If their implementation cost exceeds their budget, then include details on how the benefits over time improve their overall productivity and about any related savings.

Sales that derailed at the END (3/3) – Losing a sale at the end is harder to understand. Everything was performed as required. Product and/or services survived the close scrutiny. The sale was poised to close. Then the decision was made NOT to continue.

Customers exit the sales process in this last stage because of a stakeholder problem. Perhaps, they:

Failed to designate a stakeholder – All purchases made for products and/or services must have at least one decision maker. However, that person may not be the stakeholder, someone responsible to manage and maintain everything, once the purchase is completed. And when this person is not designated at the beginning stage, there is a chance nobody wants the additional responsibilities at the end.

Didn’t engage all stakeholders – Remember that complex sales with multiple decision makers require consensus, which cannot occur if some of the stakeholders aren’t engaged throughout the process. Sometimes, when the decision is made NOT to move forward with a purchase, the customer also decides not to identify stakeholders who had objections or what they were, which doesn’t help the sales rep.

Perhaps an important stakeholder remained incognito throughout the sales process, which may have been the issue. For example, the sales rep failed to know that the customer’s CFO, who never attended meetings, had to sign off on all major purchases. Going over budget limits could have triggered the rejection. This is when sales reps need to have great negotiation skills.

Solution: If the task of assigning a stakeholder slips the beginning stage and becomes the source of contention at the end, then acknowledge the problem and inform the customer you can help. Offer additional one-on-one training, once the customer identifies that person.

Handling objections is a little more challenging. If the customer does reveal the stakeholders and their objections, get it in writing and request an opportunity to respond. Ask for clarity if you don’t understand an objection. Then reach out to others in the company that can assist in writing your response. Make sure ALL stakeholders receive the finished document.

For future reference, it’s always a great idea to identify every stakeholder early in the process. Create a spreadsheet and track who they are, their role, their attitude, and their influence. Keep the spreadsheet updated as some of the columns change through the sales process.

Call to Action – Prep for Success

Sales professionals at the top of their career never wait for things to happen. They engage their customers, work through issues, identify benefits, and encourage feedback. These are traits that come naturally to some, maybe even learned by observation.

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