By Jeff Molander,  Communication Coach, Speaker & Founder at Communications Edge Inc.
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  • A surprising way to avoid ‘no decision’ in sales

"I don’t believe in closed-lost due to no decision. To me, it’s a misnomer," says Lucy Ventresca, a fractional CMO who insists opportunities do frequently get closed without winning the deal, get marked as lost in CRMs. 

But a decision was made.

She says there are 5 reasons why sales prospects DO (always) make a decision -- to stick with their status quo. 

Dale Harrison of Inforda Life Sciences disagrees. There is only one, surprising (overlooked) reason.


Dale agrees when Lucy says, "They decided to do things the way they’ve always done them -- instead of changing to your solution or to any other solution. With a twist.

Dale Harrison

Let's explore Lucy's five reasons and challenge their validity -- with closing more clients in mind.

Why sales deals end in 'no decision'

Before discussing how to prevent or avoid losing to 'no decision' let's understand why deals end up this way. This happens because the client...

  1. didn’t believe they’d get value from making a change,
  2. didn’t see the need to change -- now,
  3. couldn’t picture a better world using your solution,
  4. weren’t convinced that your solution could make a difference,
  5. believed it was less risky to do things the way they’ve always done them.

Lucy says these reasons boil down to prospects' fear of making the wrong decision.

"While a prospect’s status quo (tools, processes, etc.) is always your main competition, you have to recognize why they chose to stay their course, and launch a win-back program based on this," she says.

But Dale Harrison disagrees.

Fear of F'ing up

Consider the reality of our B2B, group buying business world: Everyone is trying to cover their asses. Dale goes as far as suggesting private discussions rarely focus on "the value delivered" by various options. 

Dale says most sales and marketing pros miss the point: Buying is mostly about risk-adjusted value. Not value delivered.

He says most marketers obsess over "value" and never address risk.

"It's entirely about FOFU (Fear of F'ing Up)," he says. (Lucy's #5 above) But here's the problem.

"In larger organizations, every person on the decision committee assumes it will be better than the status quo. But nobody believes a single word coming out of a marketer or salesperson's mouth," says Dale.

So what DO exploratory committees of problem-solvers talk about behind closed doors? What do they discuss when achieving consensus?

They gab about, "all the ways the deal can go south -- most of which neither they nor the vendor have any control over. Then discuss what they'll do to CYA themselves if things blow," says Dale. 

Risk. Managing it. Controlling the pace of change. Politics!

"In the business-to-consumer segment, buyers buy to avoid regret. In business-to-business, buyers buy to avoid blame," says Dale.

So then, why aren't you spending more time and money on messaging confidence rather than value?

Buyers don't buy value

"I even recall when many vendors leaned towards a FUD (fear, uncertainty & doubt) strategy -- in an attempt to address losing deals to the status quo," agrees Lucy Ventresca. This just added more fear into the mix -- in addition to the fear of change overall, fear of making a mistake.

Dale agrees -- the big tech companies still practice FUD.

"I've sat in meetings where someone from the Microsoft vendor office was there to 'help' and watch them comment when another vendor's product was mentioned about their uncertainty of being able to integrate the two solutions.

And these were not buying committees; these were operational meetings.

The selling is going on months or years before anyone inside the company decides to look at buying a particular solution."

Dale says this is why small companies get killed when trying to sell into large accounts. Risk must be addressed as part of the sales process. 

"The smaller companies walk in like clueless newbies with NO idea how the grownups play the game!"

Dale says sometimes "members" of the buying committee won't even be real decision-makers.

"They're sock-puppets for higher-ups who are unseen, and either don't have the time or don't want their fingerprints on the decision. Many times, those are the people deciding the fate of the deal," he says. 

Bottom line, he says "Buyers never buy on value. If they did, we would never see a deal lost to no-decision."

B2B customers buy on "risk-adjusted value,"... NOT "value." 

"Choosing the status quo is entirely about the relative risk levels between the choices," he says.

"In the end, the risk of messing up is simply the cost of getting the sale," says Flyn Penoyer. "Zig Ziglar is right. If the prospect doesn't buy, it's because your stack of benefits is smaller than their stack of money. The 'solution failure risk' is a discount against your stack of benefits."

Risk adjusted value

Dale says Microsoft, Salesforce, Oracle, Adobe, etc. fully understand this and provide upfront risk guarantees in the form of "vendor offices." This is why they win most Enterprise B2B deals! It's certainly not based on the quality of their products or the "value" they're delivering.

Risk-adjusted value.

"Most of the risk doesn't come from the vendor or the product; it comes from internal execution and political acceptance of the solution," says Dale who reminds us... "For purchases in large organizations, most of the risk elements are entirely outside the control of those making the buying decision."

"Before people self-identify as buyers, they must first understand the risk of change is less than the risk of the status quo," says Sharon Drew Morgen, inventor of Buying Facilitation®.

"A buying decision is a risk management problem before it’s a solution choice issue," she says.

"The last thing buyers want is to buy. Literally: the last thing. People don’t want to make a purchase. They merely want to resolve a problem with the least disruption/cost... and try everything they can to first fix the problem themselves."

Risk must be addressed as part of the sales process. Even with small businesses in non-group buying settings. People like Singapore based Alex Ko of KooBits agrees.

Alex agreed to a deal with his new website vendor... "to send one designer and one front end developer to sit in my office for one month to complete the project," he says.

"This does ease the anxiety of them not getting the work done. Also they present their credit score, outstanding debts and ongoing projects... to help me believe they will not mess up the project and I have to answer all the questions later."

avoid no decision with risk adjusted value

Interpersonal communication genius, Sharon Drew Morgen insists buyers literally cannot buy until they understand (and agree) they cannot resolve the problem themselves, they need to bring in something new, they accept the risk of change, and they know how to avoid disruption new solutions invariably bring. 

Sharon Drew says companies maintain models that demonstrably fail because they:

  • Prefer the known failure as there’s a buy-in for it.
  • Don’t know what’s worth taking a risk on (and don’t discuss alternative possibilities with the team).
  • Build in or hide the fallout (Sales operations record real costs – outsourced lead gen, for example – in the cost center and closed sales in the profit center) so the success ratio appears larger than it really is.
  • Don’t know who or what to trust.  
  • Assume what they’re doing is the best possible. 
  • Don’t know how to strategize using a different model.
  • Assume the failure is an accurate version of what’s possible. 
  • Assume since the model is the standard used in the field, it must be the best option. (And they consider the risk of change higher than the risk of success.)

"They don’t need help if they don’t know how serious the problem is. They don’t need help buying what you sell. They need guidance from the perspective of a decision to change -- and the ripple effects driven by the change," says sales veteran and team leader, Vin Messina.

Create a win-back program

Lucy recommends creating a win-back program -- to regain the conversation with "no decision" deals. However, "don’t stick them into an old email nurturing program that tells them things they already know."

Instead, create a win-back program where you... 

  • prioritize and segment these accounts
  • use a very tailored and personalized approach (eg. ABM)
  • focus on the 5 reasons they decided to stick with their status quo
  • address their fear of making the wrong decision
  • mitigate the perceived risks of choosing you

Lucy recommends showcasing how the pain of their status quo is greater than the pain of making a change.

Sounds like Challenger Selling to me! Nice.

Remember, you did a lot of things right with such opportunities, says Lucy.

"You attracted their attention, educated them, know their problems, likely had a couple of calls, meetings & demos... you know their buying committee and how they buy.

Now, it’s time to build on that."

Bottom line, bottom line: "Marketing has a far bigger role to play in this than sales does," says Dale Harrison. "Most of the risk-drivers are already locked into place well before Sales even knows there's an opportunity."

How do you react? How are you managing the perception of risk when communicating with customers?

How would you describe your ability to manage? See you in comments.

About the Author

In 1999, I co-founded what became the Google Affiliate Network and Performics Inc. where I helped secure 2 rounds of funding and built the sales team. I've been selling for over 2 decades.

After this stint, I returned to what was then Molander & Associates Inc. In recent years we re-branded to Communications Edge Inc., a member-driven laboratory of sorts. We study, invent and test better ways to communicate -- specializing in serving sales and marketing professionals.

I'm a coach and creator of the Spark Selling™ communication methodology—a curiosity-driven way to start and advance conversations. When I'm not working you'll find me hiking, fishing, gardening and investing time in my family.

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