Handling Showstoppers and Deal Breakers

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Showstoppers and deal breakers can pop up anytime during the selling cycle. Worst of all, they can make the difference between winning and losing business, especially in a competitive situation.

If you are lucky, the issue is identified early enough in the transaction to allow you to address it. In too many cases, the issue is only revealed following the loss of the sale to a competitor.

I recently came across a nice little 2016 article by Sarah Niedoba writing for Canadianbusiness.com about 5 deal breakers that kill your sales. It’s a worthwhile read, particularly if you find that you or your team are repeatedly striking out or wasting time during the selling cycle addressing surprises and unforeseen issues.

Common Mistakes that Result in Showstopper Issues

In the majority of cases, these mid-cycle surprises are not the result of the prospect holding out on the sales team. In most situations, Sales has either failed to listen or failed to ask the right question at the right time.

Issues and Sales Behaviors that Can Result in Deal Breakers

Let’s look at several common issues and sales behaviors that can result in deal breakers.

Inadequate Discovery

– Early in the buy cycle, the prospect is revealing clues and facts about the issues they are confronting. These clues may include online behaviors such as white paper downloads, browsing product literature, selected video or other content perused on your webpage. These clues are also revealed in the questions that are asked during the initial contacts between Sales and the buyer.

Early on, your discovery process should make no assumptions about the nature of the prospect’s pains or issues. Ask questions, then follow the questions with confirming questions to make sure you understand your prospect’s responses. Always probe for more details, and always look for any unanswered questions.

Overreliance on Collateral

You may have the best brochures, professionally produced video and the most highly evolved website and lead-scoring software going. But, none of these replace sitting down in front of the prospect and talking through the issues one on one.

Collateral can’t ask questions. Communication requires two parties engaging in listening and speaking.

Failure to Talk to All the Right People

You will be making assumptions and guesses if you don’t speak with all relevant contacts, influencers and decision-makers within the account.

The most consequential facts may be revealed at the end-user level. You can’t rely on upper management to do this because they simply do not have the personal experience with the day-to-day implications of the problem at hand.

Individual managers may not fully disclose issues due to political sensitivities. But the folks that use the widgets you want to replace will be far more likely to fully describe any issues they are having.

Your favorite contact may tell you what you want to hear; others will tell you what you need to know.

Biz Talk and Technospeak

It is so easy to rely on industry-specific terms to cover a wide variety of meanings. It can be lethal in the sales business. The problem with this vocabulary is that people derive meanings from these terms based solely on their personal experience. Worse than that, they may well assume they understand your meaning, but they are reluctant to confirm it for fear that they will appear out of touch or ignorant.

Speak in plain language, use specific descriptors and keep the industry jargon to a minimum.

Overreliance on Benefits and Features

Sales reps spend hours familiarizing themselves with specific features associated with their product or solution. Part of that process is learning how these features drive benefits for the customers or user.

Too often, it is easy to assume that “any idiot” can see why “our solution” is best.

Keep that information in your briefcase, and talk with the prospect about pains and needs during discovery. As issues are revealed, you can explain why this or that feature might be useful in mitigating the prospect’s pain. Always confirm that the prospect understands the relationship between any benefit, feature and pain combination.

What Are the Signs of an Unrevealed Show Stopper?

As mentioned earlier, the first clue is too often simply losing the deal. Sales reps moving forward with happy ears, blinders or overconfidence in the solution they are offering can suddenly find themselves coming in second in competitive situations.

Two specific early-warning indicators that Sales should pay attention to include the following.

Reluctance of the Prospect to Move Forward

When the sales cycle suddenly seems to come to a halt or when your contact just doesn’t want to go to the next step, it is a sure sign that something has been overlooked.

This is when Sales must look backward and review every stage of discovery and every discussion occurring between the prospect and the rep. Look for any area where an assumption has been made, where clarification might have been more helpful and where an unresolved issue might be lurking.

Sudden Appearance of a Competitive Solution

Prospects will naturally seek alternative bids or opinions on almost any large-scale purchase. But if an otherwise uncontested engagement suddenly includes a competitive vendor, it may well be because your prospect has an issue that they feel you are not addressing or are unable to address.

At that point, you just have to ask. A frank talk with your prospect should reveal any outstanding or misunderstood perceptions they may have about your solution and how it might address their problem.

Technology Helps Expose Hidden Showstoppers and Deal Breakers

There are several technologies that Sales can rely on to help reduce the showstopper from appearing out of nowhere to wreck their sales cycle. Most sales teams should have full access to these systems, and they should incorporate their use into their selling process.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Systems

Make sure you are speaking and engaging with the right person. Dig deeper than title and look for information related to roles. CRM systems and Contact Management Systems should provide descriptive capabilities to identify clear information about the people you are talking to. It is easy to assume that your contact may have knowledge of a specific issue, when in reality, you really should be talking to someone else in the organization.

Configure-Price-Quote (CPQ) Software

Configuration systems that are driven by guided-selling-based scripted interviews are invaluable to both buyer and seller as a tool to hone in on the real issues in play and make sure nothing is left out during the discovery and solution development phases of the sale. Complex problems require complex solutions, and neither buyer nor seller may have all of the required knowledge in their heads. CPQ brings a virtual expert to the table that ensures the solution will match the need.

Marketing Automation, Customer Portals and Web Resources

Make sure your e-selling facilities are set up to receive information about the visitor, prospect and buyer. Scoring and contextualizing materials offered to visitors will help to ensure that the inquiry is answered with relevant, useful information. These systems are not necessarily there to replace sales, they are there to qualify prospects and warm them up for productive engagements.

How to Avoid Showstoppers and Deal Breakers: Listen to Customers

The best insurance against showstoppers and deal breakers is found in one simple word: listen.
Listen to your customer. Listen actively, ask questions and confirm your understanding of everything they are telling you.

Effective selling requires effective communication, and that requires listening.

Sales Performance