Surprising Strategies for Stalled Opportunities

Last week I listened to a podcast from Victor Antonio with Matt Dixon (Remember, from the book The Challenger Sales?). Dixon, a researcher on sales behaviours, has recently written a book, The JOLT Effect. It’s about how high performers overcome customer indecisions.

It was interesting to listen to (here is the link) because Dixon could observe thousands of sales conversations thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. With nearly all salespeople working online, sales call recordings were analyzed, particularly what happened to Stalled Opportunities. I am sure you know this feeling where despite spending a significant amount of your time moving the customer through the Buying clock, the customer goes dark. There is no decision made, no commitment to change, and as a result, that opportunity is put into the loss category. Dixon and his research team found that this is the case for nearly 60% of all opportunities. I can imagine that at an average closing rate of 30%. But here is the surprising thing: they were able to put those Stalled Opportunities into two categories and found more specific reasons from the Buyer’s Perspective.

It turned out that 44% of the customers did not change suppliers and preferred to stay with their status quo. In other words, in the new way of selling terminology: they listened to the sales person,  got engaged in the conversation, moved forward in the Buying clock phases to Change to What and Change to Who but then realized that the grass was not greener at the other side and fell back to the Why Change? Phase. Despite salespeople, as Trusted Advisors, addressing this by emphasizing the risk of not changing and opportunities to capture when changing, the customer was not convinced that a change would be better than staying as they are.

But in the remaining 56% of the cases, the customer gave a different reason for not buying: they were indecisive. Meaning they preferred not to make a decision. They believed that a change was needed but were indecisive about going ahead with the salesperson’s offer. So, in our sell like never before world, that means the opportunity isn’t stuck in the Why Change or Change to What? Phase but hangs right in the middle of  Commit to Change phase. The research further analyzed this customer’s indecisiveness and found three main reasons. I have added my comments to add context and link to the new way of selling. To help the customer with a commitment to change, these are sales activities we need to improve on:

  1. The customer didn’t know what option to pick. Comment: This may not be the case in all purchase decisions, but I can imagine this, for example, in purchasing IT software as a product or service (SaaS). There, you have many options like licenses, multiple cost structures, local or Enterprise coverage options etc. Customers often think in these situations: “what if I pick the wrong one”? To be honest, I think like that when I stand in front of a supermarket aisle and cannot find what’s on my shopping list out of the dozens of options. I believe that the right approach is often to make it easier for the buyer. Help the buyer with walking before running. For example, ask to start with a small part of the business. This equates for the buyer to a request for a small commitment. This is less risky than handing over the whole business.
  2. The second reason for being indecisive is that despite all the salesperson’s efforts, the customer still finds a lack of information to make the final business decision. Comment: Probably a great deal of buyers are experiencing this dilemma. There is so much information out there that it is sometimes hard to believe that the salesperson’s information is exactly what you were looking for as a buyer. So, buyers keep looking and keep meeting with other potential suppliers. They don’t decide because they haven’t found the information there were looking for. I recommend anticipating this by doing a much better job in the Change to What? Phase. Be more specific when collaborating with your Change Champion about what a different solution should look like. Then get a consensus of the whole buying room that these solution criteria are needed to deliver their desired business outcome. Adressing these challenges earlier in the Buying process will benefit you when it comes to Commit to Change.
  3. The third reason for indecision is Outcome Uncertainty. Comment: As Dixon explains, what if, as a buyer, in the end you don’t get what you are paying for -who’s head will roll if the purchased solution doesn’t deliver as promised? Comment: Here, we need again to help the customer by building with your change champion a solid business case for change, including the business objective, solution criteria, solution description and quantifying the ROI.

I suggest discussing these new findings with your sales teams. Do they see these patterns of customer indecisiveness? What are their current approaches, and would reacting or pre-empting as described above help them? What are their strategies for Stalled opportunities? I am curious about your feedback.

Thank you, Matt Dixon, for your insightful research!

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