It’s all too common for sales to fall apart at the last minute because the salesperson doesn’t know how to manage the process at this critical stage.
The top of the sales funnel gets a lot of attention and free advice from sales and marketing experts, but the bottom of the funnel—the final steps toward closing the deal—could be viewed as even more important. Losing a deal at the closing stage means not only a lost revenue opportunity, but months of time-consuming, costly legwork, meetings and travel thrown away.
I’ve worked in sales leadership for more than 20 years, and much of that time has been spent selling “nice to have” products that require tireless efforts to get across the finish line. In this article, I’ll share the top five issues that cause deals to stall at the closing stage and the methods I use to avoid them.
1. You were “waiting for a signature.”
Never accept “it’s just waiting for a signature” as a valid update on a nearly-complete deal. Your sales reps must be able to tell you exactly why the contract hasn’t been signed, because when they know the answer, they can use that information to move the process forward. Remember, time is the enemy. Every day the contract sits on someone’s desk, the chances of closing diminish, and a contract that’s been waiting for a signature for longer than a week or two is almost guaranteed to become a lost deal.
Whatever the “why” behind the failure to sign, it’s something that your sales rep should be actively addressing.
Maybe the initiator needs to convince the executive decision maker. Maybe an influencer has suggested that the company check out a different option. Or maybe the boss is on vacation. Whatever the “why” behind the failure to sign, it’s something that your sales rep should be actively addressing.
For example, my team was waiting for a signature on a big deal recently and pushed for a reason behind the delay. The buyer told us they were holding off until one of their vendors could confirm that our product integrated with their platform. That information enabled us to reach out to the CEO of that vendor firm and give them what they needed to complete their due diligence, which ensured the deal got signed before it lost momentum.
2. You didn’t “camp out.”
When I bring up “camping out,” most people have no idea what I’m talking about, but it’s an essential tactic at the close of a sale. It involves letting the prospect know that you’ll be at their office or in their building and then showing up and staying there until the deal moves forward. Ask the prospect whether they’d like to grab a drink or a coffee. Sit in their waiting room or lobby until they have time to meet. Being in the same city isn’t enough; you need to be in the same building and hopefully in the same room with them. If it’s a big enough deal, it’s well worth hopping on a flight to put this tactic into play.
Most salespeople feel uncomfortable with the idea of camping out, but I can assure you that it’s not about harassing the prospect; it’s about helping them. Remember, when you’re in the closing stage, the prospect has already chosen you. You’re doing them a favor by making the signing process as swift and easy as possible. Camping out on site shows them you care about the relationship, gives them powerful motivation to address issues swiftly and ensures that you’re there to lend your support, answer questions and help them solve problems.
Being in the same city isn’t enough; you need to be in the same building and hopefully in the same room with them.
3. You didn’t engage the right people.
It’s easy to get lost in multi-level selling, especially in a software business. If your solution touches multiple people in an organization, you need to reach every single one of them, not just the ultimate decision maker.
At INTELITY, for example, we sell an enterprise platform for guest engagement and staff management to the hospitality industry, so it touches the CEO, the Assistant General Manager, the food and beverage department, housekeeping, the front desk, IT, advertising and sales. Getting the CEO on board is great, but if that person is surrounded by stakeholders who aren’t sold on the solution, they won’t pull the trigger.
This is where networking with your sales peers can pay off. Reach out to the salespeople at companies who have sold to this prospect in the past and ask them how the process went for them. What were the stalling points? Did they have a formal signing process or was it ad hoc? Who was part of the decision, and which part of it did they own? When you can anticipate the process, you can be ahead of potential issues and ensure that everyone is on the same page at that ultimate decision point.
Networking with your sales peers can pay off. Reach out to those who have sold to your prospect in the past and ask them about the process.
4. You didn’t bring in the right people.
Every salesperson wants to be the one to score the touchdown, but if they can’t let go of their egos and pass the ball to someone else, it will destroy the deal. It’s hard for someone who has spent months taking red-eye flights, working on Saturday mornings and taking clients out for drinks late at night to let someone else run the deal across the finish line. But bringing in the right people—people with the right credentials, expertise and prestige—can mean the difference between fumbling the sale or closing it.
Salespeople need to understand that it’s very rare for a deal to close without the involvement of additional influencers and players. More frequently, the prospect will want to know who they’re dealing with on a senior level, or they’ll have advanced questions that a salesperson doesn’t have the expertise to answer. That’s when I tell my salespeople to ditch the ego and get creative. If your prospect has questions about ROI or the cost of ownership, maybe your CFO needs to meet the company’s CFO. If they have technical questions and concerns, bring in your company’s technical sales manager. Sometimes it even requires your CEO to fly out, shake hands and show that the whole company is behind the product. None of this takes anything away from the salesperson’s accomplishments, and it all helps to facilitate the close.
5. You didn’t read the fine print.
Second only to “it’s waiting for a signature,” “it’s stuck in legal review” is the phrase that’s most likely to indicate that the deal won’t go through. That’s why an ability to understand and troubleshoot legal issues is one of the most essential—but underutilized—skills in a sales rep’s toolkit. They don’t have to earn a law degree, but they do need to understand the key terms and issues that relate to their product and industry.
An ability to understand and troubleshoot legal issues is one of the most essential—but underutilized—skills in a sales rep’s toolkit.
A sales rep should never toss a red-line contract over to their legal department where it will sit for weeks. Instead, they need to take an active role in sorting it out for legal. Remember, the lawyers are there to protect their respective companies, not to be flexible, find compromises and facilitate a deal. As the sales rep, you need to manage the process, figure out what those sticking points are and find ways to unstick them. Get everyone in the same room. Get them on a call. Be the voice of reason and the voice of compromise. Setting up the attorneys on both sides of the table to be successful is crucial in getting the deal done.
Here’s the bottom line.
A deal falling apart at the closing stage is devastating for a sales rep and their company, and it happens all too often. By recognizing the issues that are most likely to sabotage the sale at this point, and by equipping your salespeople with the knowledge and tactics they need to overcome them, you can dramatically improve your close rate as well as the efficiency of your sales process.