How to Kill a Sale

John Tabita

Last week, in Be Convincing and Win More Clients, I said that top sales people engage in three specific selling behaviors that set them apart:

  1. They connect
  2. They convince
  3. They collaborate

Years ago, connecting was what it took to win at sales. Today, it’s the price of entry. To win, you must do more. You must both convince and collaborate.

That study, based on research conducted by RAIN Group, says that through collaboration “the buyer becomes a partner in the process, and owns moving the sale forward as much as the seller.”

What Keeps a Sale from Moving Forward?

I’ve said many times that, when selling your services, “yes” and “no” are the two best answers you can hear. Yes means you can move forward. No means you can move on. But maybe traps you between the two. And one way a sale can become relegated to that dreaded no-man’s-land is when your prospect asks for a proposal.

First of all, you should never volunteer to write a proposal as the next step in your sales process. But when your prospect requests one, it can be for any number of reasons—

  1. To stall
  2. To avoid
  3. To compare
  4. To convince
  5. To confirm

—most of which, when not handled correctly, can kill a new sale.


A true stalls occurs when you engage a client too soon in the buying process. But a false stall is when a prospect masks the real reason for his hesitation. He’s either not convinced that your solution will make him money rather than cost him money; or that you’re the best choice. Either way, throwing a proposal into the mix is not likely to change that.

The best way to deal with a true stall it to avoid it in the first place, by not going too far into the sales process with clients who are not serious or not ready. A false stalls hidden behind a request for proposal is dealt with by asking hard questions that will draw out the real reason for the stall. But that only happens if you’ve successfully connected with and convinced your client. And chances are, if you’ve already done so, false stalls will not enter the picture.


Strange as it may seem, people will go to great lengths to avoid saying “no” to your face—like agreeing to a meeting when they have no intention of buying, and hoping you won’t show up.

Not long ago, I was force to say “no” to a potential vendor. It was great product, and he took the time to explain it. What’s more, I had a great deal of admiration and respect for the man. He’d started the company from scratch and we spoke the same marketing language. It just wasn’t a good fit and, despite the disappointment in his voice, it was the most honest thing I could do. If only all prospects did the same.


Legitimate prospects may want to compare your proposal to a competitor’s. Unethical ones may plan to use it as pricing leverage against a vendor of choice, perhaps even handing it off to that vendor for ideas and inspiration. So don’t be too anxious to write one without knowing all the facts.


Your prospect may want a proposal to convince himself—or worse, another decision-maker. There’s no surer way to kill a sale that having your prospect present your idea to a spouse or business partner who wasn’t present at the first meeting.

Remember, Level Two? If you haven’t convinced all the decision-makers in a face-to-face meeting that you can achieve the results they’re after, that the return on investment is worth the risk, and that you’re the best option, what makes you think a piece of paper—or ten pieces of paper—will get the job done?


The only reason you ought to provide a proposal is to confirm what you’ve discussed and formalize the agreement. Writing a proposal for any other reason is less likely to move the sale forward.

If you’ve truly developed a collaborative relationship with your client, then it’s as much your responsibility as his to move the process forward. Never end a meeting or agree to a proposal without also getting an agreement on the next step and what the anticipated outcome of that next step should be.

Be sure that next step is on your prospect’s calendar as well as yours. If your prospect won’t make that commitment, it means his proposal request is most likely an attempt to stall, to avoid, to compare, or to convince … rather than to confirm and commit. When this happens, consider withdrawing your agreement to provide a proposal—unless you enjoy being a provider of free information. If that’s the case, you can always switch to blogging as a full-time career.

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