Stuck deals are a fact of life in  software sales. You’ve invested a lot of time and effort into building the relationship and you’re getting the right buying signals from the client, but then things suddenly ground to a halt and you can’t reach anyone on the phone. It seems that the deal is stuck and worse you can’t get any feedback as to why –the prospect has “gone dark”.

In my 30 years in software sales, this is a very common scenario. But just because it happens so often, doesn’t mean the situation should be accepted and just move on to another opportunity. The fact is, it’s entirely possible to get these moving again. Here’s how:

Look out for the signs                                                                                                        

As most medical professionals say, prevention is better than cure, and the same can be said for sales deals. By keeping an eye out for warning signs that things are going south, it’s possible to act before a deal grounds to a halt. In my view, there are a number of key things to watch out for:

  • Communication is becoming difficult. Emails are being ignored and voicemails unanswered
  • References you’ve supplied aren’t being contacted by the customer
  • Your main contact is preventing a meeting between managers to agree a deal
  • Deadlines are being missed despite being agreed in advance
  • Progress is slowing or you’re struggling to get past one stage of talks
  • New stakeholders enter the process at a late stage
  • Budget has been discussed at three or more internal meetings but approval has yet to be granted.

Know why it’s happening

All of the above are possible signs that a deal is becoming stuck and that action needs to be taken in order to land the sale. However, before jumping in and trying to get things back on track it’s important to understand why things are stalling. In my experience there are seven reasons why deals get stuck:

  • The key contact has new priorities. This could be due to a job change, new management or greater pressure from other projects.
  • A lack of responsibility within the client company. In this case I’ve often found that the customer hasn’t assigned an individual to manage the deal, making progress difficult.
  • The sales team is focussed on their sales process and not bothered to define the customer’s buying process, resulting in a mismatch and confusion
  • The customer’s executive team have different priorities that your deal isn’t linked to, leading to a lack of urgency.
  • Budget hasn’t been secured as the sales team has not given the main contact a “CFO grade” business case that demonstrates sufficient value that makes the C-suite stand up and take notice.
  • Those opposed to, or less involved in, the new solution have become more vocal and have slowed things down.
  • A competitor is now on the scene or an alternative in-house solution has appeared.

The three-step strategy to get things moving again

Obviously if the above threats can be prevented then it’s an ideal situation, but that’s not always the case – “events happen”. So how can you get things back on track?

  • Go back to the beginning: The first place to start is in the basic details. Look again at the initial proposal and ask if anything could have been changed: did you truly address the customer’s needs? Did your pitch demonstrate a full understanding of what they were after and what their internal processes were? Did you miss anything? A fresh set of eyes can often be useful here, so enlist help from across the team. If you can reach your contact, don’t be afraid to ask if there’s anything from the proposal that’s stalling things.
  • Reassess the value to the customer: Change is common and often rapid in the world of business today, so there’s a possibility that the client’s priorities or needs are now different. If this is the case, you’ll need to go back and either attach the value of the deal to the new priorities or even start again. Yes, this is likely to take a lot of work, but if the deal is really worth it, you will have to put the extra work in. Work with your main customer contact to develop a consensus amongst the stakeholders of how your solution meets their organisation’s most important, urgent operational objectives.
  • Strengthen the business case: You wouldn’t have submitted the proposal – or even contacted the customer – if you didn’t feel that your solution can add real value to their company. However, the customer rarely thinks in this way. As such, it’s often worth strengthening the business case. Remember that psychologically people are more worried about loss than the potential gain. So the benefit of a new solution needs to significantly outweigh the risks of change in order to win the order.

Sales professionals will face stuck deals on a regular basis, but it’s important not to become disheartened by this. It’s part of the sales process and it happens to the best of us. But if you can identify what’s preventing progress and are up for the challenge, it’s incredibly rewarding when you get things back on track and see the deal through to completion. Having experienced all of the above myself, I can say that the strategies do work, so give them a try before you move on to the next deal.

Authored and Contributed by: Richard Lowe, Managing Director, RBL Associates, the specialist search, recruitment and training consultancy focused on the technology sector.