Despite our best efforts, some of the deals we work on will at some pint in the sales process stall. How can you extricate yourself from the land of no-decision for those cases in which - despite your best efforts - your deals nevertheless grinds to a halt.

There are three points in the sales process where a deal is likely to slow down: after you've made your formal presentation, after you've presented your proposal, and when your contract has gone to Legal. Because the last of these is less a matter of "selling" your decision-maker and more a matter of getting the prospect's attorneys to get on with it, we're going to focus here on the first two situations, since they're the ones requiring us to use our skills to close our buyer.

Let's start with what strategies we can employ to try to prevent a deal from slowing to a crawl.

1. Establish dates for next steps - yours and theirs. You should, of course, be doing this at every point in a sales engagement, but it becomes even more critical after you've reached the presentation/proposal evaluation stage. Why? Because it's at this point that the dynamic changes for the prospect. Up until now, you've both been in "discovery mode" - you're learning about the prospect's business, and he's learning about you, your company, and your solution. It's a safe, non-threatening place. With your presentation and proposal, you've moved into "selling" mode. The prospect is aware of this, and any concerns, worries, or fears he's kept to himself will begin manifesting themselves - often times as unresponsiveness. That's why it's particularly important at this stage to agree to speak or meet by a specific, agreed-upon date. Failure to do so gives the prospect an out.

2. Insist on delivering and presenting your proposal in person, and with the decision-maker present. A proposal is a selling tool, but just like a tool you might use around the house to fix something, it won't get the job done unless its owner is there to make it do so. With your proposal, you are proposing the terms of your business relationship. Your prospect will most certainly not agree with or accept everything you've proposed; wouldn't you rather have him "object" with you there, so you can help him resolve his concerns, rather than while he's reading it alone, where you can't?

Now let's explore some tactics we can use in conjunction with these strategies. Each of these, with the exception of the last, presupposes you've been able to have reciprocal communication in some form or another with your prospect - which may sound circular, since, after all, your deal may have slowed down precisely because you can't get a call back.

1. Uncover the real reason for the indecision/delay

We've all at one time or another been on the buying side of a transaction - as consumers. Think back to what you felt when you were faced with making a decision on a major purchase - a car, a house, a piece of furniture, an investment. How did it feel? Despite knowing the purchase you were about to make made sense, you likely weren't quite ready to commit. You needed - wanted, in fact - to share your concerns with the salesperson and have them resolved. Well, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. When your prospect demurs, find out what's holding him back and help him resolve the issue. It's a win for both of you.

2. Reiterate the consequences of doing nothing or of delaying

Revisit the goals and objectives they revealed in your earlier discussions, and why they told you the purchase had to be made now - and why it couldn't wait (prospects often lose sight of these things when faced with the daunting decision of making a commitment). Have him think about what it will cost him: lost opportunity, lost time, lost ground to competitors, special terms, discounts, etc. Communicate subtly that the world doesn't stand still just because they do. Remind him of what he said he wanted, why it was critical that he have it, and what he won't get if he continues to delay. Also, since no one likes the feeling of being in an indecisive state, you might try something like, "Wouldn't it feel better to make a decision, one way or the other, rather than having it continue to hang over your head? Let's work through this together"

3. Find out where you stand, and why

If the prospect is reluctant to open up, well, you may have a deeper problem: you may not have developed a "trusted advisor" relationship. Granted, this is not always possible, especially with prospects who value being neutral among vendors over developing an advisory relationship with one trusted vendor. In this case, approach the situation by first asking a closed-ended question, such as, "Are we closer to working together, or not working together?" If the answer is, "closer to not working together", you'll need to probe for why. If the answer is, "closer to working together", you'll want to uncover what it will take to get to "working together".

4. Send a "surrender" letter

When all else fails, and it looks as if your prospect has simply gone underground, try sending what I call a "surrender" letter. It says, in so many words, that "I give up, since it seems that you're no longer interested in engaging us." In the letter, you express your disappointment that after both parties had invested so much time and effort, neither one will reap the benefits of a working relationship. You then ask for feedback on where you failed them in conveying the value you could provide (to request a sample of such a letter I use with prospects, e-mail me at If you're lucky, the prospect will feel guilty enough to respond (probably by email), and you'll learn why. With this knowledge, you may then try a last-ditch effort to save the deal.

Action Item:

Review your list of stalled deals and determine which of these tactics would be appropriate to try. For deals in which you're about to make your presentation, be sure to agree at the end of the presentation on next steps with precise dates. For deals for which you've already presented and are preparing a proposal, insist on delivering it in person. If you get push back, explain the value to the prospect of discussing it together - that you'll be able to immediately clarify anything that requires clarification. Employ these strategies and tactics, and you'll see your sales cycles shorten, and your sales figures go up.

Good Selling!

Author's Bio: 

Sales Solutions founder Craig James has over 15 years' experience in sales and sales management, primarily in technology and software. He's helped dozens of sales people, business owners, and entrepreneurs sharpen their selling skills and close more business, faster.

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