The biggest waste of a sales person's time is the deal they lose. Losing deals to "no decision" is even worse. It means that either there was never a real deal in the first place and you failed to qualify out, or you failed to adequately motivate (or find the motivation) to compel the prospect to act now. We are finding that companies are losing more business to "No Decision, Inc." What's further disturbing is that leadership recognize this but often feel powerless to do anything about it.
According to Solution Selling, "there are two types of opportunities: looking and not looking. Only 5 to 10 percent of buyers are committed to buying something. The rest, with latent pain, is where the greatest opportunities lie." This is also where you will need to compel your prospect to recognize that pain and act sooner than later. It's ok only to pursue "active" demand, but that condemns you to continually "trawling the waters" for the 5-10% of active prospects. It's a philosophy that requires a specific marketing and sales approach. If “trawling the waters” does not appeal, then what can you do to compel your prospects and reduce those No Decision outcomes?
One Excuse After Another
There are varied reasons for losing to No Decision. Some are not as obviously related to an inability to compel the prospect. Let's run through a few:
Years ago, Sirius Decisions coined the phrase "buyers are liars." For a litany of reasons, buyers are not as truthful as you would hope they are. Human beings are, after all, complex and unpredictable. Without speculating on all those reasons, as a sales professional, you must look for "verifiable outcomes" indicating a seriousness and ability to make a change. It's not what they say, its what they do that counts.
Customers are more unpredictable than they used to be. Situations evolve, and the only constant is change. OK, enough cliches. The point is that companies are desperately trying to become more agile which means they are inevitably less predictable. Your place in their top 3 initiatives can get relegated if that initiative gets downgraded from a "must have" to a "nice to have."
Your company might have an uncompelling solution. Something prospects may want but might not need. We all like to believe that our companies are dealing with big, important issues because it makes us feel … well… big and important. However, thinking it doesn't necessarily make it so.
While there are some valid reasons that you might lose to No Decision, most of them are avoidable with the right degree of collaboration between marketing and sales. The Sirius Demand Type grid is an excellent tool to frame the problem and guide your thinking, but it doesn't provide any easy answers (here's the news…there aren't any). It does help you ask a different set of questions, however. The reality is that most companies don't fit neatly into one area, and therefore neither do the answers.
The Way We Were
There's always been a conflict between finding the 5-10% of Active Demand (let's call them the 10% from here on) and activating Latent or Inactive Demand. There's also a reasonable degree of delusion around what people think they do, and what they actually do. As we mentioned above, using Sirius' Demand Type tool helps here. The Demand Generation tactics of the 1990's emphasized finding the 10%. Companies would only accept leads if you could find the elements of BANT (if you don't know what that acronym stands for, see me after).
That thinking worked as prospects needed to consult the keepers of all the information in those days, (i.e. the vendors) and frankly in the 1990’s the 10% was more like 50%. The vendors, in turn, could demand a commitment from the prospect. A quid pro quo if you will. Vendors needed to see the elements of BANT before they committed time and resource. However, all the information that prospects relied on getting from the vendors became available with the rise of the internet. The vendor’s “advisory” role all but vanished along with their ability to be demanding of BANT. The conflict of "RFP-itus" also arose. Sale organizations would reject leads that had too much BANT believing that a decision was already made. Sales folk-lore began that you didn't respond to an RFP unless you'd written it. The stuff of legend.
Dancing with Myself
It seems that despite talk about "activating latent demand," "creating need," "challenger selling" and the apparent focus of the sales methods, training and coaching, sales and marketing behavior tells a different story. Everybody remains focused on the 10% - the Active Demand, the people who are looking. Unless they are in the "New Concept" world (as described by Sirius), most sales and marketing people are either unwilling or unable to "create" demand. If there’s nothing compelling going on, they prefer to move on down the street in search of "active demand". Moreover, just as important, executive leadership won't wait, as they are under pressure to close deals this quarter. If you want proof of this philosophy, look at the boom in behavioral intent marketing technology. The buzz is around finding and gathering buyer intent data. The technology is focused on tracking your digital behavior and assessing your intent. In other words, it is only interested in people who are already looking.
The Verto Verdict
What's this got to do with the Verto business of closing the gaps in B2B sales and marketing? Gaps exists between business owners and executives, leadership and management, plans and strategies, strategies and tactics, sales and marketing and in this case between your proposition and your prospect. It's our job to spot these organizational and behavioral gaps and then bridge them. This subject represents multiple gaps and multiple opportunities. So, what do you do if you feel like you're trapped selling to the 10%?
Recognize that times have changed, and you need to change as well. In the "End of Solution Sales" HBR Article initially published in Aug 2012, and what the Challenger Sales team will tell you is, start with three things:
Avoid the trap of selling into established demand
Target mobilizers, not advocates
Coach customers on how to buy
According to the Challenger Sales philosophy "star performers lead with insights meant to upend a customer's approach to its business, and they aren't afraid to push customers out of their comfort zone."
Creating compulsion is one of the most enduring and demanding challenges in BtoB sales and marketing. It is also one where admitting your inability to do it can be uncomfortable and unpopular. However, losing deals to No Decision is like a creeping virus which gradually eats away at you. That's because you're being beaten by yourselves. While nobody likes losing, its OK to be fairly outplayed by a competitor (sometimes), but regularly beating yourself is the ultimate exercise in futility... and ignoring it or pretending its not a problem won't make it disappear.