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Managing Expectations In Sales: Sometimes the Answer Has To Be 'No'

Nurturing campaigns

The business of sales is ruthless. According to InsideSales, "Research show us that 35-50% of sales go to the vendor that responds first." So that means we are all pushing to be at the front of the line. The problem with that mentality is that it doesn't leave a lot of room for opportunity qualification. A salesman quickly becomes too busy focusing on whether we can get there first that he stops asking himself if he should be getting there first. 

When it comes to sales, we are all motivated by our bottom lines. Yes, we want to bring on only the best clients, but sometimes when things slow down, it becomes common to want to compromise parts of our qualification process to help a deal move along. According to MarketingSherpa, "Just 56% of B2B organizations verify valid business leads before they are passed to Sales." I know I am guilty of this, and I know that because I have experienced it many times. Early on, I actually made the mistake of signing a couple of these types of clients, and I (and especially the marketing team that had to work with them) regretted my decision.

Simply put, sales people want to close deals. That’s our goal. That is how we get paid. That is how we secure our job. But just because the month is almost over and I'm yet to hit my goal doesn’t mean I should compromise my process to rush one through. There is a reason we try to qualify an opportunity through the sales cycle. Yes, I could possibly sell more deals if I didn’t qualify the opportunity, but taking on a "bad client" won’t help our business be any more profitable, and thus it won’t help our company grow.

When To Say "No"

There are many reasons to say no during a sales cycle, but the most common of which revolved around scope of work. Often when speaking with a lead, the conversation goes something like this:

  1. A lead expresses interest in our company and services
  2. I reach out to the lead and start learning about their business and goals to determine if and how we could help
  3. I build an assessment of their marketing efforts and outline opportunities for improvement
  4. I then review that diagnostic with the lead and build out a marketing plan based on their needs and customize the scope of activity to the size of budget we have discussed.
This is usually where the problems begin...

Attention: Warning Signs Ahead

Often I spend the majority of the sales cycle communicating with someone other than the final decision maker, and as Forrester Research tells us, "Nearly 2/3 of B2B marketers identified engaging key decision makers as their top challenge." Sometimes it is a marketing executive, and other times it might be the head of sales. Either way, the situation often unfolds like this. I take my contact through the entire process only to find out they aren’t as qualified as I’d hoped. I usually figure this out after the proposal review meeting when the tone starts to change. “Everything looks great.” “I can’t wait to show this to my boss.” These excited phrases quickly get replaced with “Yeah, we’re now wondering what a campaign would look like at half this price.” “We really only need help with SEO and email.” Then the person holding the purse strings who hasn’t been in contact with me lacks the understanding, interest, and urgency required to pull the trigger, so they propose a smaller budget at a level that makes them feel less concerned because they will, in fact, be less invested. 

This is where I have made the mistake in the past. What I should have done was understand that any trepidation at this point in the sales cycle was a big concern. In theory, by the time your lead sees the proposal, they should be already bought into the process and the scope of work. In other words, the price should never be a surprise. It should merely be a formality. So when the owner pushed for reducing the level of activity by half, I should have pushed back and said “no.” On one hand I may have just walked away from a small retainer for our company. On the other hand, it is highly likely that client would have gotten cold feet after only two or three months of the campaign. If a potential customer isn’t going into this relationship with long-term success in mind, there is very little chance you can actually help them.

One Uncomfortable Conversation > Months Of Them With A Client

To a relatively new sales guy, saying “no” to a lead can feel very wrong, but sometimes it is the best thing you can do. Sometimes it can make the difference between the lead respecting you or not. It can also help you avoid starting a partnership with a problematic client. Some leads will push you at first just to see how far you will bend. Sure, every deal sounds great at first, but when you see that problematic client start to take hold of your marketing team’s time and job satisfaction, that deal becomes a lot less attractive.

By going negative, i.e. by not giving in to absurd requests or by challenging the lead about the implications of not investing in their company's growth, you will do one of two things. Either your lead will reject the proposal and you will be right where you started, or that lead will respect the fact that you stuck to your guns and understand that you are the professional in your industry and will accept your recommendation. You will gain respect or forfeit the opportunity to bring on a bad client. Either way, you win.

Whether the objection is budget-based or whether the lead is simply asking you to do something you don’t feel comfortable doing, sometimes the best choice is to simply say “no.” Some people like to test a vendor and see how much they can get away with. Giving in sets up bad expectations right from the start. Maintain your qualification process and establish a healthy relationship that can benefit both of you for years to come. Every marketing agency has been through this. They will all agree that having that uncomfortable conversation with leads in nurturing campaigns on the front-end is much better than having to have many of those conversations during the course of a campaign.

Should you want to learn more about qualifying your leads or understanding when it is appropriate to say “no” to a prospect, please feel free to reach out to us at any time.I’d be happy to talk to you personally and help work through any problems you may have.

The Age of the Customer