Sudden change with a customer or prospect can throw an otherwise ironclad sales deal (and pipeline) off course, leaving you with either a startling sense of dread or misdirected optimism. If you’ve been in sales for any significant amount of time, this has likely already happened to you:
You have a deal in your forecast that you have been working for quite some time and have accurately forecasted it all along. Thank god for your company’s excellent sales process, which provides you with the critical, key sales activities you need to qualify and move the deal through the sales cycle. More importantly, your sales process clearly indicates what your customer/prospect should be doing at every stage. And, your customer has been in lock step with you the entire journey. But then, something horrible happens – change.
Along comes an organizational change at your customer’s/prospect’s company – new management, a merger/acquisition or a reorg. You may or may not know the new executive that you will have to work with, either personally or through reputation, but you are concerned there may be a shift in priorities. Nonetheless, you feel confident that the business outcome your product and/or services promises to deliver will rise above all the upheaval and your deal will be immune from the sudden change.
But, the deal starts slowing down. It had momentum before but now, it does not feel right. You talk to everyone you know and they believe things are on track, but the new management is not being clear or forthcoming on their priorities.
A bit more time goes by and the only thing you know for sure is that the deal is going nowhere. It’s definitely not going to be signed within the timeframe previously agreed to. Now what?
We all need to be prepared for these types of situations because they happen way too often these days. I personally have even had a deal not get signed due to the key executive dying. It’s a bit difficult to push that deal forward when the company is reeling from such a devastating situation.
Many of us have been in the middle or towards the end of a sales cycle when a sudden change takes place. It happens all the time. So, what should you do?
Before it even happens, the best thing to do is to not rely on only one deal and have plenty of others in your pipeline. This should make sense to everyone. It is also important to ensure that those additional deals in your pipeline have a high percentage chance of closing in your fiscal year (based on their timeframes) so you can make/exceed quota. We all know too well what happens when this goes awry.
When everything with your customer was going great, you relied on your sales process (and your buyer’s buying process) to ensure the deal had momentum. But when there’s a sudden change that throws that momentum off its tracks, it’s best to use account/territory planning as a vehicle to protect your pipeline.
Account/Territory planning should be all about building and enhancing relationships, understanding your customer/prospect’s priority business goals, and building and aligning your pipeline based on customer/prospect priority business outcomes and timeframes. The planning process should help you build your pipeline over a 12- to 36-month timeframe since your customer’s executives aren’t thinking in just your fiscal year. Since they are thinking 12-36 months out, over time, your pipeline should have deals 1-3 years out, matching up with their preferred timeframes. This will add quality to your pipeline for the upcoming year and subsequent years, helping to offset any changes in priority and momentum.
So, rather than start at zero every year, you should have multiple qualified “balls” in the air to ensure that if a big deal drops off your forecast, you are not behind the eight ball. Take a look at your pipeline. Do you have enough deals in your pipeline for your next fiscal year? Subsequent year? If yes, fantastic. Keep up the great work. But, if no, what are you going to do differently to ensure you minimize the impact of sudden change?