Don't Gamble on Low Probability Prospects
by Jeb Blount
In the chorus of Kenny Roger's famous song, "The Gambler," the old gambler urges the young man to, "know when to walk away, know when to run." I've given the same advice to thousands of Sales Professionals - advice that has rarely been heeded. Packing up and walking away from a deal that is going nowhere is one of the hardest things to do in sales. Even some of the best salespeople I know have continued to work on accounts that, from any observer's point of view, were a complete waste of time, only to regret the energy, time, emotion, and resources they poured into it once the deal was lost.
Then there are the legions of salespeople who never seem to let go. They hold on until the final painful moments when prospects, who never had any intention of buying, finally break the truth to them. They make excuses to their sales managers and they angrily blame the buyer, market, or competitors.
I hear the same sad stories again and again. Deals lost and time wasted on prospects who were not the decision makers, were already under long-term contracts, were just shopping for price to keep their current vendor honest, or who were not in the buying window. Each working day salespeople across the globe are surprised to find out, after investing blood, sweat, and tears, and of course promises to the boss, the account they have been working on won't close. And to make things worse, many of these salespeople were completely blind to all of the clues that were blinking like neon signs saying,"this prospect will not close, move on!"
On the other hand I know Sales Professionals who have a keen sense of the viability of a deal. Using solid questioning strategies, a simple mental checklist, and intuition they quickly extract themselves from the sales process once they believe working with their prospect or customer is unprofitable or a waste of time. This rare ability serves them well because it allows them to focus their most valuable resource - time - on accounts that have a high probability of closing. Even though sometimes they may be wrong and pull away from a prospect too quickly, it is better that they move on than take a chance and waste massive amounts of time on a prospect that could potentially never close. From years of observation, these are the Sales Pros who produce the most consistent results year in and year out.
So how do these Sales Professionals know when to walk away and sometimes run? What methodology do they use?
The good news is you can train yourself how to walk away from low probability deals. The first step is becoming familiar with the concept of probability. This is what the old gambler is trying to teach the young man on the train. Imagine if you walked into a casino and over every table there was neon sign that gave you the probability that you would win if you played that particular game. Some of the tables flashed 20%, some 50%, and still others 80%. Where would you place your bets? If you were smart you would walk away from the 20% tables and play the 80% tables.
This is how the best sales professionals look at their pipeline. Instead of viewing all of their prospects as equal, they look for neon signs that indicate the probability a deal will close. And they only spend their scarce resources only on high-probability deals. They gauge the probability of each prospect using a variety of indicators to act as that neon sign. They uncover these indicators through advanced and patient questioning of the buyer, influencers, and themselves with questions like:
Am I dealing with the economic decision maker (this is the person who has the power to say yes and write the check)?
If I'm not dealing with the decision maker can I get to that person?
Is this prospect under contract or outside of a budgetary buying window?
Can I add value to this prospect's situation by solving problems?
Is the buyer exclusively focused on price?
Is the buyer willing to establish a personal relationship or are there walls up that I can't break through?
Are there influencers and coaches in the account who are on my side?
Does my incumbent competitor have a solid position in the account that will be very difficult to dislodge?
Is there a level of dissatisfaction that I can exploit?
Am I being allowed access to the information, people, and material I need in order to develop a winning proposal?
Are there economic circumstances that may make this prospect a risky customer?
Are the buyer(s) engaged and doing their part to move the deal forward?
If sold, is there a strong chance that the account will not be approved by my management team?
Using the answers to these questions, and many more, top performing Sales Pros gauge the probability that a particular deal will close. And what sets these high-performers apart is their steadfast discipline to walk away from anything that falls below their probability comfort level.
Over my twenty year career in sales, one of the common attributes I have found in these top producers is when asked why they have such high closing rates they almost all say, "because I only call on prospects who are going to buy." In other words, they only spend their time with high-probability prospects. You see, these top performers clearly understand the value of time for Sales Professionals. Time is the great equalizer. Every salesperson is given the exact same 24 hours each day - no more and no less. The difference between the top performers and everyone else is how they use that time. Top performers know that the real secret to improving their closing percentage is the self-discipline to ask hard questions of, and about, each prospect. In doing so they work less, earn more and close more deals.
Considered one of the leading experts in sales and sales leadership, Jeb Blount, author of PowerPrinciples, has over 20 years experience in sales and marketing. He has a passion for growing people and the unique ability to see potential in everyone. Over the span of his career he has coached, trained, and developed thousands of Sales Professionals, managers and leaders. As a leader, consultant and coach he holds a core philosophy that in every endeavor there are a handful of key principles, the basics, which, if focused on intently, will drive peak performance and achievement. Visit his website
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