There are numerous reasons why sales opportunities stall. Some reasons are unforeseen and out of the control of the sales executive. Examples include regulatory changes or sudden changes in the buyer’s leadership team.
However, most reasons can be anticipated and mitigated by conducting proper discovery and performing continuous qualification. By asking the right questions, validating and triangulating what you heard with the relevant stakeholders and conducting ‘trial closes’ along the way you will greatly reduce the likelihood of stalled opportunities.
Once you understand what issues the buyer is looking to resolve or what outcomes they are looking to achieve, it is important to ask what would need to occur in order for them to make a change. You can refer to this part of discovery as uncovering their ‘buying criteria’. Buyers have multiple buying criteria. If they weren’t asked, it is possible that they may not have communicated what those criteria are. Once you uncover the reasons why they would consider making a change, most likely there is one criteria which is more important than the rest.
Early in the sales cycle is also the ideal time to gain an understanding of which stakeholders are in the critical path of the decision process. You want to find out who within the organization will be most affected (positively or negatively) should the company make a change. It is also important to know how the decision will be made and who the decision makers are. In larger more complex sales cycles, there are multiple stakeholders who can and will influence the decision.
Virtually every sales opportunity above the buyers’ approval limit needs to be cost justified. Knowing how the buyer intends to conduct this analysis and what is needed to constitute a positive business case is essential in the qualification process.
Assuming the opportunity can be cost justified, you should also explore reasons why the buyer wouldn’t proceed as proposed. Potential reasons why buyers don’t move forward even with a positive business case include lack of funding, competing priorities or insufficient internal resources.
Once you a) discover the buyer’s pain or gain; b) understand their buying criteria and c) learn their decision process, you are in a position to determine whether or not it makes sense to advance the opportunity. If there is mutual value to continue conversations, then building a business case and addressing potential constraints go a long way to minimize future delays or surprises.