It happens to all of us. We feel like we’ve done a good job. We did our investigation, asked good questions, put together a strong proposal and delivered a solid presentation.
We left feeling great as everyone that we talked with sounded excited and there was a powerful vibe at the end. The only thing left was the formal decision to move ahead (and, of course, signing the contract or purchase order).
Then...nothing. Phone calls aren’t returned. Emails go by unnoticed. At most, we get cryptic responses indicating that no decision has been made yet, but everything is still under consideration. I call this a Zombie opportunity. It appears to still be walking, but there’s no life.
As virtually every salesperson that I’ve ever met would attest, a dead opportunity (one where a clear and distinct “No” has been communicated) is better than a Zombie opportunity. While it’s easy to simply say you should treat a Zombie as if it’s dead, the truth is that all too often the value of the opportunity is simply too good to do that.
Here are some tips when dealing with the Zombies in your pipeline:
Understand Your Working on Buyer’s Time
I deal with this issue regularly when I coach salespeople, as well as when I manage my own sales opportunities. I always remind people that buyers and sellers work on different clocks. To a salesperson, one day feels like a week. To a prospect, one week feels like a day.
So, when a prospect says they’ll have a decision by a certain time, and a week’s gone by; a seller feels like everything has fallen off the tracks while the prospect feels like they’re still, basically, on schedule.
Be careful that you don’t prematurely diagnose an opportunity as a Zombie just because the prospect is a month off your schedule. A Zombie shows more symptoms than just a lagging timeline.
A No Decision Is A Decision, Treat It That Way
If you’ve given the opportunity sufficient time and you’ve reached out to multiple contacts (you did build relationships with multiple people within the company, didn’t you?) and received no clear feedback, realize that they’ve made a decision.
The decision they’ve made is No Decision. In essence, they’ve made the decision not to move forward, but also not to reject the opportunity. While this is extraordinarily frustrating if you’re on the sell-side, it’s actually quite reasonable if you’re objective.
You may not know this, but the words “decide” and “homicide” both have the same Latin route. They both mean “to kill.” Making a “yes” or “no” decision means you’re killing all other options. A No Decision simply means they’ve decided not to kill any options.
Know There’s Only One Reason Someone Doesn’t Move Forward With You
Now we’re at the critical point of this post. There is one reason and one reason only that someone doesn’t move forward with your recommendation. That reason is, simply, that they don’t see sufficient consequences in not moving forward.
This means your job is to educate them on the consequences (positive) of moving forward and the consequences (negative) of not moving forward.
The Goal is to Create A New Decision
The most common (and biggest) mistake I see in how sales organizations deal with Zombies is that they keep putting forth the same argument and business case. You must realize that if the case you made was sufficient, you wouldn’t be having this problem.
You’re goal is to create a new decision opportunity. This means that you’ve got to identify additional consequences and opportunities. Create a new line of questioning. Review your prospect’s objectives and strategies and figure out how you can approach the opportunity from another angle. By creating the opportunity to make a new decision you avoid the inertia that created the Zombie in the first place.
Know When to Let Go
Don’t be afraid to let go. The most powerful tactic when dealing with Zombie opportunities is to “go for the no.” Give your prospect permission to tell you that they’re not going to move forward.
Here are a couple of things you can say that may help move the opportunity towards a clear decision:
Mrs. Prospect, normally when I’m working with a customer like you and the decision stalls out like this one has, it’s a sign that one of two things has occurred. In some cases, it’s simply because something internally is going on and there just isn’t the organizational capacity to deal with this opportunity. In others, and really it’s okay if this is what’s happening, is that the organization isn’t going to move forward and for a variety of reasons, they just don’t want to tell me “no”. Can you tell me which description applies to you?
If their answer is the first scenario ask them for a realistic timeframe to pick things back up.
The key is to be open, honest and authentic. Your goal is to create win/win results. It’s okay to be upfront about your perspective.
The key when dealing with Zombies is to fine a leverage point to change the focus and move the conversation forward. Don’t get (too) frustrated. Remember that from the customer’s perspective whatever they’re doing is what they feel is the best thing for them and their organization. Your job is to provide the insights and confidence to move forward.