How to leak your sales funnel gracefully

Deals can drift, delay or simply disappear. For many buyers, ‘do nothing’ is a legitimate option – and a popular one. Sure, you can also make mistakes, or do well and still lose to a competitor. Whichever the case, how you exit that ‘thanks but no thanks’ conversation is just as important as your opening call.

Think about the most common conversations at the point of exit, and what’s really going on:

  • “This is not a priority for us right now”

At some point it will be. You need to be the one they call (or receive a call from) when their priorities change.

  • “We’ve decided to go with one of your competitors on this one”

There will be a next one. You need to be amongst the considered set for the next need.

  • “Thanks, but there was a better fit from one of your competitors”

Again, that’s true for this need, but what about the next one?

  •  “We’re going to stick with our current supplier”

Timing, urgency or fit didn’t justify the change to you on this occasion, but who knows what will change?

Sales people know not to take rejection personally. Marketers don’t usually have the same visibility on individual opportunities as sales people do, so they’re OK too.

But is ‘OK’ good enough?

Think about how the relationship changes between a consultative (win-win / joint-venture) sales person and their prospective buyer when the buyer says “no”. The good sales person has been building rapport and respect, but now they’re positioned as the ‘loser’ in the deal.

It gets worse.

Think about the more-innocuous (and more common) reaction to an unwelcome follow up call. “Look, I really appreciate you following up our meeting, but we’re OK at this point. Thanks for calling”.

Who’s in control now?

In each of these situations, the seller has moved from ‘someone who might help me’ to ‘someone who I don’t need (and is bothering me)’. As the seller, you’ve lost your footing.

This is another situation where Sales and Marketing need to work very closely together. You need to regain your footing – fast – and Marketing can help. So take control and set the plan:

“Mr customer, at this point I need to let you get on with things. But at some point [be specific about when if you know] you’re going to have this on your A list. So here’s what we’ll do so that I can both keep out of your hair, and be around when the wind changes for you.

“I’m going to make sure we add value to your business by sending you [name your recycling tactic – e.g. thought leadership articles].

“And then we will meet again in [insert timeframe] to review things. Clearly, if your priorities change in the mean time, be sure to give me a call. Until then…”

This is no different from what your non-buyer had in mind anyway. From their perspective, you’ve backed away and left them to get on with ‘things’. But from your perspective, everything is different. You have:

  • Regained control of the relationship and the course of events;
  • Gained their explicit permission to participate in your recycling tactic;
  • Confirmed the timing and manner of the next contact; and
  • Repositioned yourself as the person who will help them – just that it is now ‘next time’.

And Marketing’s role?

The recycling. Individual contact from a skilled sales person is both your most effective and most expensive tactic. Keep this tactic for where it will have greatest effect.

Marketing is far-better equipped to recycle your leaked or stalled prospects than Sales is. So you need to agree the handover process so that your (non-)buyer’s experience aligns to what your sales person told them.

Smooth baton changes will ensure the work effort from all concerned is minimal, and that the buyer sees this as a logical progression.
How you let your buyer leak from the sales funnel has a material effect on how you are positioned as a company, and as individuals. Your ability to get the buyer back into the sales funnel at a later time depends very much on how you handle yourself when they leak.

Leak with grace, and you’ll be welcomed back.

By Hugh Macfarlane, Founder of align.me and author of The Leaky Funnel.

This article is copyright align.me, 2008. It may not be copied or published without express the written agreement of align.me.

 

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