Richard Lowe at RBL Associates shares his advice to help you jump start a software sales deal.
Stalled deals are an unfortunate fact of life in software sales. For any professional in the field, this is likely a common scenario: you’ve invested a lot of time and effort into building the relationship and the client is engaged and interested in your product, but then things suddenly grind to a halt and calls go unanswered. However, while this might be common-place, it’s not a reason to give up hope and move on to the next sale. With the right approach, it’s more than feasible to jump-start a deal.
Identifying when and why things are heading south
Prevention is, of course, the best cure where possible. Being able to identify when and why things are beginning to slip will be hugely beneficial in preventing a deal stalling. I’ve had over 30 years of experience in sales myself and I can certainly say that while every sale is different, the warning signs are usually the same.
Aside from the call-blocking, any indication of agreed deadlines being missed or the customer failing to get in touch with references that have been supplied can certainly suggest that your contact is becoming disengaged and you could lose your client sponsor. If you find that budget review discussions have failed to reach a conclusion at multiple internal meetings and you’re being prevented from speaking to management teams as well, then it’s certainly time to take action.
It is important, however, to always bear in mind the reason a deal is stalling before trying to tackle it. I’ve found there are seven common reasons:
- Internal management of the deal was never assigned to one individual, so there is no-one willing to take responsibility for progressing anything
- The initial point of contact has had a change of job or priorities and no longer has time to work on the deal
- There’s a mismatch between yours and your client’s expectations as to the pace of progress
- The C-Suite link is missing, resulting in senior level decision makers pushing the deal-relevant decisions down their list of priorities
- Your sponsor is struggling to get budget sign off as they can’t demonstrate a return greater than the cost and risk of change – whether that be because you haven’t created a strong enough business case or they aren’t able to explain it to decision makers
- Those against the deal have been more vocal with decision makers than the supporters
- Finally, the worst-case scenario has occurred and a competitor has entered the process at the end and managed to change the criteria to suit their capabilities
How to get things back on track
While the above will certainly help identify red flags, no amount of preparation will prevent every deal from grinding to a halt. In these instances, the first thing to consider is how valuable a deal is. If the potential is there, then it’s worth putting the time in to jump-start activity, Here’s how:
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Start at the beginning
As with everything, a deal is only as good as the foundations it is set on. If an offer has been designed based on incorrect or misinterpreted information, then it’s highly unlikely to be closed. Ask yourself and get others in the team to consider if the customer’s full needs and internal processes were understood and clear in the pitch? If you’re able to get through the call-blocking and speak to your contact, they might be able to provide valuable insight that will help get things back on track, so persist where necessary
Reassess the value to the business
The pace of change in the world of today is rapid. Your customer’s priorities can shift quickly, so it is often a case of their objectives changing since initial discussions took place and they have shelved the idea of a new system based on the initial requirements. However, by getting back into the mindset of your client and identifying the problems that they need addressed, it’s possible to re-attach the value of the deal to their new challenges – potentially for additional gain on your part.
Strengthen the business case
Finally, for deals where the cost and risks associated with change are causing the customer to become nervous (which, if we’re honest with ourselves, is quite often the case), the business case will need to be strengthened. In these instances, I’ve often found that further highlighting how the benefits are greater than the risk of change creates the best chance of success. The reason being that psychologically we all treat the possibility of loss as more serious than the potential gains of a change.
In the world of software sales, facing a stalled deal is common, but it’s not necessarily the end of the opportunity. By taking the above steps to identify when things are reaching a dead-end and tackling them appropriately after identifying the cause, it’s possible to regain the momentum – or even increase investment.