Written by GrowthX Academy mentor, Steve Crepeau
In virtually every enterprise sales cycle, there is a moment when the prospect goes radio silent or off the grid. How many times has it happened to you and your sales team? It is a very uncomfortable situation for the sales team that has been forecasting that deal to upper management.
Most sales teams have done all the right things from a basic sales “blocking and tackling” perspective. They’ve asked for concurrence throughout the process and mutually agreed to all the steps to a closure plan. Their prospect has consistently provided strong assurances that they fully intended to move forward and buy their solution.
And then after many long months working together and collaborating on a solution, the prospect stops returning your calls and emails. Hell these days, you probably have forged a relationship where you have been texting regularly with your Champion at the prospect company and vice versa. And then nothing…. At first, you tell yourself they’re busy with some other burning business priority that cropped up and needed immediate attention. Then you think that they are on extended business travel or International travel and not available to get back to you. Then you worry that they or one of their family members may be really sick or ill.
You start calling, emailing and texting other stakeholders in the company that you have met and worked with during your sales cycle. No one responds… Now the pit of your stomach turns acidic and no amount of maximum strength antacids will help quell the fire that is burning in your belly. You start waking up at 1am or 2am in the morning stressed and can’t fall back asleep. As a sales team, you committed this deal to come in this quarter. It’s a huge deal and it will either make or break the quarter for the company.
Hell, this deal might make or break the year for you and your company! What do you do?
There isn’t a sales playbook or script that can help you figure out how to pull this deal out of the fire and get it back on track. Many sales reps panic and get desperate. Others simply shut down and go into full denial mode by refusing to share what is really happening or not happening with upper management on the forecast calls. They maintain that everything is still on track for quarter end close.
These situations are what define and separate great sales reps from good and marginal sales reps. If you’ve been in enterprise sales for more than a few years, then this has absolutely happened to you and your sales teams.
So the question remains, when faced with this dire sales situation, how do you pull it back from the flames and precipice of disaster, and recover?
I’ll share a personal anecdote about how I handled this type of a sales situation many years ago. It was the final quarter of our fiscal year (which ended at the end of September, not calendar year end) and my sales team was working an enterprise deal with a huge F500 Bank. It was one of the first seven figure deals ($1M+) in our company’s history. We had been working on the deal complete with several starts, stops, and restarts for approx. 18 months.
While we had built a very strong rapport with our champion (who was a SVP) and his team, it turned out the Economic Buyer was the CFO. We were never granted access to him during the sales cycle. Then after an extended Proof of Concept (POCs) and many technical vetting meetings, they “selected” us as the vendor that they want to move forward with. I’ll share with you that as a long time VP of Sales, one of my least favorite phrases to hear from one of my sales reps is “We’ve been selected!”. Now you know why:-)
The negotiations and legal/procurement process was textbook F500 nasty. They dictated all of the terms and conditions for us having the pleasure/honor bestowed upon us as a startup that the great and mighty Large Bank would actually deign to work with us and use our software. If we wanted to work with them, we have to do the deal on their “paper” or contract. As one would expect their “paper” was onerous, one sided, filled with penalty language and had superfluous pages upon pages of legalese that had absolutely nothing to do with how our software worked and how we were going to collaborate with them.
I’ve always found great irony and humor in large companies dictating to the vendor/supplier that in order to do business with us, you have to use our paper. It would be analogous to you showing up at a new car dealership and saying I’d like to buy a new car from you. But, in order for you to sell your car to me, you are going to have to use my contract. Perhaps my contract was designed for buying lawn mowers, not cars, but you are going to have to agree to use it regardless. Pretty silly premise, right?
But as a startup, you have zero leverage when it comes to these types of negotiations.
Their legal team and procurement team created a highly condescending and contentious environment for the negotiations. We agreed on some basic ground rules for the negotiation process. Large Bank subsequently ignored our “agreed upon rules” for the next 6-8 weeks. Their legal/procurement team actually hung up on us on several negotiating calls because we wouldn’t agree to things that were very unreasonable.
Looking back now, one of the mistakes that we made was sharing with Large Bank that it was our fiscal year end. Enterprise sales teams have no else to blame other than ourselves for conditioning large companies to wait until the last second to extract that extra pound of flesh in the negotiations when they know you/your company are counting on getting the deal closed.
So it happened… After many rounds of brutal negotiations and several agreements reached on all pricing, terms and conditions for the deal, only to have Large Bank come back and ask for more on three separate occasions… They went radio silent on us.
We tried everything we knew. We called/emailed everyone that we had bonded with, including our Champion. It was clear that they all had received instruction to ignore us and not reply. We attempted executive to executive resolution to no avail. We didn’t have any Board level connections and my meager stock holdings in Large Bank at the time apparently didn’t carry any clout either.
I experienced the aforementioned stomach and insomnia issues. It was the final day of our fiscal year and did I happen to mention that we had filed to go public (an IPO)? This really was a make or break deal for my sales team and the company. I called the CFO and left a very simple message that I looked forward to finalizing the deal that we had all worked very hard on over the past year and a half. And most importantly, we were excited to partner with them on addressing their business problem that we had been determined to be the best solution through their thorough evaluation process. I closed by saying that the mutually negotiated and agreed upon deal was “off the table” at 5:01 pm Pacific Time that day if we did not receive a signed Agreement and Purchase Order (PO) from them.
I’ll never forget that I was interviewing a new sales rep candidate for my team when our office manager burst into my office and alerted me that the CFO from Large Bank was on the line and wanted to speak with me. He put the call through to me. He was immediately aggressive with me and said that he needed to go into a meeting in 5 minutes to get final approval for our project. He said that they needed an additional 10% concession on the pricing to get the deal done. I said “you have our best and final offer”. He screamed through the telephone and asked; “Are you really willing to walk away from this deal over this small amount of money in the whole scheme of things? Don’t you know what having Large Bank as customer will mean to your business?
I was radio silent in response to his questions because I didn’t feel that it deserved a response. He asked: “Did you hear me? Are you really willing to walk away from this deal over such a small amount of money relative to what you will make over the lifetime of working with us?”
This time I responded. I said; “Actually, we are not walking away from the deal. You would be the one choosing to walk away from the deal, not us. We’ve negotiated in good faith with you and your team for over two months. On three prior occasions, we’ve supposedly reached a final mutual deal only to have Large Bank come back and ask for more concessions. You have our best and final deal. I sincerely hope you take advantage of it because it’s a great deal for you and Large Bank.
Let me remind you that we need a signed Agreement and PO from Large Bank by end of day today. That means 5:00 pm Pacific Time. At 5:01 pm Pacific Time today, the agreed upon deal that is on the table goes away. And the only thing that I can assure you of is that you will not get the same terms and concessions because as of 5:01 today PT, the deal is not nearly as valuable to us.”
He dropped a few choice “F” bombs on me and proceeded to hang up on me. I was at my desk and was literally shaking with adrenaline. I had drawn that proverbial sales negotiating line in the sand and was committed to backing it up. I left the office and turned off my phone. I stopped checking my emails that I obsessively check, particularly at the end of a fiscal year. This was the last (and by far the largest) deal that my team had left to close this fiscal year end. I went for a run until I couldn’t take one more step as all my muscles were locking up.
I took probably the longest, hottest shower in my life. Then I went back to the office at 4pm. I didn’t talk to anyone when I walked in but everyone gave my concerned and empathetic looks because they knew what was on the line. This was back in the days when there were fax machines. The fax machine for all sales orders was in my office. So I waited and stared at that fax machine… I waited for that annoying ring and facsimile machine handshake noise. And I waited. And I waited. At 4:59pm, the fax machine started ringing and the handshake was completed. The fax started coming through with the cover page… It was the signed Agreement and PO from Large Bank.
I know that the CFO waited until the last possible second just to bust my chops and make me sweat it out. The irony was that when ended up building a long lasting, successful relationship with him and Large Bank. It was never mentioned again by either party…that is until now:-)
This was a true story. The names have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty. What fun enterprise sales firestorm stories do you have to share?