In our business, more than half of our deal coaching work focuses on “unsticking” deals, and believe me, it’s exactly how it sounds. Sometimes a deal loses momentum, gets lost in the fold, or just gets plain stuck. Some symptoms of a stuck deal are:

    • Loss of contact with the decision-makers


    • Stretching time frames


    • Fewer members in the conversation


    • Creeping inquiries that seem picayune, out of context or defensive


These symptoms are measured against my three indicators of the health of a deal: information, people and time.

The reasons that deals get stuck generally fall into two categories: “Problem” problems and “Us” problems. In this post, we’ll focus on the “Problem” problems. Next time, we’ll focus on the “Us” problems.

“Problem” problems fall into these categories…

    1. Not a Big Enough Problem. It’s very painful to be a prospect’s number one “B” priority. You never get enough of their time or attention to help them resolve their problem, even though they know that they should fix the issue…eventually. You get strung along with a series of “give me a call back in a few weeks” or “I think we’ll be ready for this next quarter” or “I need to get my arms around [blank] and then I can work on this.” You’re always on their list, but never on their desk.


    1. Not “My” Problem. When I was younger, I thought that people worked together for the betterment of their company and that this was reason enough for people to take action. Now that I am older and wiser, I realize that people operate only in their sphere of influence.


    1. Not “My Boss’” Problem. There are quite a few people who want coverage, protection and safety in the workplace. They achieve this by only doing those things that their bosses tell them are important. Unless there is not only permission, but clear direction, there are people who will not take action.


    1. Not a “Now” Problem. Because they’re consumed with busy days and a limited number of resources and time, executives do not always stay focused on the long run. The fires of the day take time, resources, attention and priority, so only what’s right in front of the prospect—right now—is most important.


    1. Only My Problem. The loudest voice is not necessarily the most important voice or the compelling voice. If we have one insistent person and the remainder of the Buyer’s Table is much less interested in changing, you will get interest during the sales process, but stall out when it’s time to make the move.


    1. It’s All My Problem. Sometimes people know you are right. You have identified the problem accurately and it is a big issue. The problem is that that person is the problem—or at least their decisions have created the problem. So, if they agree to change they will have to own up to their mistake.


Here’s a short list of questions to ask yourself as you move to unstuck a deal:

    1. Whose problem are we solving? If the problem can’t be quantified in hard numbers around time, money or risk, you are talking to the wrong people. Who has the problem and where they are in the pecking order is critical. I worked with a tech company who spent all of their time with the end-users who were really enthusiastic about my client’s solution. When it came to getting funding, however, the management was interested but not committed. Management knew that they had little money to spend and that though they were griping, employees probably would not leave. So they decided to save their money and let the people gripe. Some times the truth is ugly.


    1. Who loses if they buy from us? Someone was committed to a course of action different than buying from your company before you showed up. They either wanted to do it themselves, keep the status quo or buy from someone else. We so often focus on the ideal “win-win” solution that we don’t focus on protecting those who appear to have lost when we are selected.


    1. When will the first moment of real measurable results occur? If the benefit will occur out past 90 – 180 days from now, you are not going to be able to get anyone’s full attention. We have all been trained as consumers by the automobile, cell phone and PC industries that the longer we wait the more features we get for a lower price. While this mentality is probably not a direct fit for your business, the perspective is still there. Put off the final decision for as long as possible to see if you can make a better deal.


Once you’ve determined to unstick a deal, what do you do?

    1. Get a bigger Buyer’s Table. You do not have enough of the right people at the table to get the deal done. If the deal is dragging because the people at the table do not see the need for what you are selling, expand the table and see if you can connect with a bigger need.


    1. Re-Frame the problem. The perception of the problem you are solving needs a makeover. Specifically, you need to increase awareness of the impact to Time, Money and Risk if the issue is not solved.
      Also, it is possible that the “who or what caused this problem” needs to be re-framed. If there is someone who is going to lose because we admit we need to change, you are going to have an “eel in the deal.” Shift the perception of what is causing the problem. See “Under the Bus…thump, thump” for some ideas of how.


  1. Change the timeline. You need to create some relevancy and urgency of the deal to within the next 90 – 180 days. I recommend breaking down the process into:
    • Must-take now steps
    • Earlier steps
    • More steps


  2. Secure an additional champion. Face the facts. This champion doesn’t have the pull, motivation or priority to get this deal done. Not only do you need a bigger Buyer’s Table, you need a stronger champion.
  3. Walk away. You don’t have to land every deal. If there is no urgency and you cannot re-engage the Buyer’s Table, the deal may very well be dead.

In my next blog post, I’ll talk about the “Us” problems and what you can do to overcome them.

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