End of sales cycle and a hot prospect turns cold?

by Steli Efti

Every sales rep has experienced this: You've got a deal in the pipeline, you're very confident that it'll close. The prospect and you have several positive sales conversations, he's qualified, has tried your product and expressed buying interest.

Just as you're getting ready to seal the deal, they start raising concerns, objections, and doubts. And slowly the realization creeps on you that this deal is not going to happen.

How do you react? What do you do next?

Most sales people fall in one of two categories when they encounter this scenario.

Defeat and depression

These sales reps throw the towel and give up on the deal. They probably still go through the whole "this deal won't happen but I'm a good sales rep"-ritual, but they don't put any real effort into this sales conversation anymore.

They're deflated, and their sales spirits are low. What do you think this reaction typically results in?

Nothing. Exactly.

Defiance and aggression

These sales reps get all worked up. They feel indignant that this prospect has led them on.

"You want to play it like this?! Here's what I got for you!" They go into brute-force sales mode and try to bully the prospect into the deal.

The harder they push, the more the prospect resists. The prospect will feel that the sales reps aggressive behavior only confirms he made the right choice but not going into business with this rep.

What's a better way of handling a hot prospect that turns cold?

Don't focus on why your prospect why your prospect suddenly changed his opinion, or maybe previously misled you. Instead, focus on yourself first.

1) State control

The first thing you should manage in this situation is your emotional response. Just take a deep breath and acknowledge that this isn't going the way you expected. Mentally tell yourself: "Okay, the circumstances have changed. Can I adapt my approach to this? I sure as hell can!"

2) Ask for help

You've been caught by surprise and are hurting. Just because this is a professional situation doesn't mean that you can't ask for help. In fact, it's one of the most effective things you can do.

3) Be disarmingly transparent and vulnerable

"Listen Pete, let's step back for a second. I want to be frank with you. I'm very surprised that you aren't ready to buy today. Based on our previous conversations, I was absolutely sure that you'd commit to this relationship and that we'd partner up, and you'd become a customer. I believe we as a company, and I personally, can provide real value to you and help you succeed. Now I find out you don't want this to happen. I'm a little disappointed and quite surprised."

4) Ask for their help

"Help me make sense of this. Where did I go wrong? What did I miss? I obviously didn't service you as good as I thought and didn't understand your needs as well as I assumed."

This often catches a prospect by surprise. They expect a sales rep to push back and talk over them if they get out of the deal. But you're doing the opposite, you're pulling, not pushing.

5) Let them do their polite spiel

At this point, the prospect will usually respond courteously. They'll try to ease your pain and tell you that it's not your fault, that you didn't do anything wrong.

Rather, they're pulling out of the deal because of some internal reason.

Most of the time, what they'll tell you at this point isn't the real reason. It's just them trying to be polite.

So you still need to do more sales detective work to uncover what really happened.

6) Insist it's your responsibility

"I don't accept that. It’s my job to answer all your questions, fulfill all your needs and get you to a point where you know if you want to buy and you’re able to actually with certainty make a decision. By this time, I should have done my job so well that you would be able to make a decision to buy today. I appreciate that you're being polite with me, but this is my responsibility, it means I messed up. I’m taking full responsibility for it, and I’m not letting you get away with trying to suggest that this was your fault in any way just so I feel better about this.”

Be very open, genuine and transparent. It's true that you're genuinely disappointed - you communicate that, but you don't blame them for it. You don't want them to feel bad or pressured about this, free them from any feelings of guilt or remorse they might have towards you. All you're asking for is that they help you to make sense of this.

7) Listen

At this point, most prospects will expose the real reason why they turned cold. They'll share much deeper intel with you, help you to gain better insights. You'll get a much better understanding of their viewpoint and real concerns.

8) Handle objections... and close!

The value of this information is that you know have a clear picture of the issues - and if you can resolve them, they'll be ready to buy.

I won't go into objection handling here - if you need help at this step, check out our objection handling primer and advice on handling various specific objections in our blog archive.

Respond constructively, not destructively

It's frustrating when a prospect has given you false positive buying signals, made you invest time and energy into what seemed like a hot opportunity but doesn't follow through when it's time to buy. While it may seem like this from your perspective, looking at it through the eyes of the prospect would probably paint a different picture.

As a sales rep, it's your responsibility to manage the sales process and engage the prospect in a genuine way. Take ownership of the fact that you failed to establish an authentic conversation. Demonstrate that you're committed to forthright communication, even if it's uncomfortable, and lead by example. Ask the prospect for help, find out what the roadblocks are, and if you can, get them out of the way so you can close the deal. 


Further reading:

How to sell to "Non Believers" - Turn doubt into trust
How to sell to non believers and people who have doubts and fears about buying your product. Tips on building trust in sales...

Trust trumps transactions
Nobody will ever buy your product if they don't trust you. Everybody gets that in theory - but few people know how to use that in the B2B sales process.

How to qualify prospects and leads
Before you sell to a prospect, you need to understand his wants and needs first. You need to know what he cares about so you can use that to close.