Long Sales Cycles: How to Handle Prospects Who Won’t Agree to Move Forward

Andrew Neitlich
Andrew Neitlich

Recently a reader expressed his frustration about prospects who won’t agree to move forward. They delay, make excuses, say they are still thinking about it, etc. What can he do to make progress with these prospects?

Here are some thoughts:

First, this problem happens due to poor set up in the beginning. One of your jobs as a salesperson/marketer is to ask the client what their decision making process and timeframe is. If they don’t have one, give them one (e.g. “What I propose is that we take a day or two to assess your needs, and then I respond with a brief summary of what an engagement might look like. If you like it and want to move forward, I’ll draft a proposal by the end of the week. How long do you and other decision makers need to review this?….”)

Once you have a process and timeline in place, you know whether your prospect is serious about moving forward or not. Also, you have an agreement you can use to “call them” on their behavior and set new agreements.

Second, a “maybe” is worse than a “no.” Many prospects don’t want to say no to you, or want to work you for as much free advice as they can get. Meanwhile, you waste time, energy and even money. If a prospect does not keep their word during the sales process, then I’m not so sure I want them as a client. I tell them straight out that I’d prefer them to say no than to keep delaying, and listen to their answer. If they have a real reason for delaying, we agree on a new timeline for a final decision.

Third, go through the basic qualifiers and make sure you haven’t forgotten any:

– Is there a budget?

– Are you talking to the right decision maker(s)?

– Does the prospect have a compelling reason to move forward (e.g. a real event or situation that demands your services)?

– Have you shown that you are uniquely qualified to do the job?

– Have you shown that the VALUE of the job far exceeds your fees?

If any of the above are missing, you don’t have a real opportunity and should move on.

Finally, think about how you can create a sense of urgency to persuade the prospect to move forward. For instance, show what they are giving up by not saying yes to you right now (e.g. “The sooner we get started, the sooner you can start attracting prospects to your web site…”).

What else?