when to walk

“Know When to Fold ‘em”

Yes, yes, it’s a corny line from a corny song, but it was soooo appropriate that I just couldn’t help myself. Knowing when to walk is an extremely important but infrequently taught skill. I used to work with this guy who took great pride in being the ‘pitbull’ that would never give up on a prospect, never move on, never ‘lose’ as he mistakenly put it. He firmly believed that persistence was the Golden Chalice of Sales, and nobody could tell him otherwise. But the thing that somehow never occurred to this guy was that his ratio of time to dollars sucked. He was spending so much time being ‘that guy’ that he lost his ability to discriminate between efforts that would net signed deals, and efforts that amounted to nothing bashing his head against a brick wall. He wasn’t paying attention to the time/money equation and the ROI on his time invested was lousy…really lousy.
Here’s my quick-and-dirty version of ‘walk-away training’;

  • Ask whom the decision-makers are- Too often salespeople assume they are tuned into the pecking order within their client’s establishment. Never assume, always ask. Ask if more than one person will be making the decision, and if so; ask to bring that person(s) into the discussion immediately. If you encounter resistance to bringing the other decision makers in, that’s a huge red flag. You may be dealing with the junior person on this project who’s digging the attention and is just trying to keep it for as long as possible. Ask direct and specific questions, and keep asking them until you have satisfactory answers. Questions like,”what’s our next step?”, “When can we get all the decision makers together and address any outstanding issues?” and “What do we need to do to get a decision this week?” If the answers are not forthcoming, or nobody really knows who has the final say, it may be time to excuse yourself from the table.
  • Learn the difference between persistence and wasted efforts- The value of persistence should not be underestimated, but if you’ve tried and tried and just can’t establish a relationship or connection with a prospect, or if they just don’t seem to understand the value of your product or service, or you can only reach them sporadically….it’s time to cut your losses.
  • Get feedback from your Manager- Don’t approach it as though you’re struggling and are doubting your abilities to close, but have an informal chat with your manager about the amount of time you’ve spent with that pesky prospect, and what the potential revenue would be if they could ever get off the stick. It’s always smart to understand your company’s (and boss’) strategy, and what is considered a strong work ethic versus wasting your (and the company’s) time since the breakeven point is relative and fluid based upon industry, sales cycle, and market share. It never hurts to ask.
  • Know how to excuse yourself politely- Never say ‘never’ to a prospect. Always leave the door open for future contact. It is perfectly acceptable for the salesperson to be the one to say “perhaps this just isn’t the right time for us to be working together. May I check in with you in 6 months?” In fact it may even be a relief to the inexperienced prospect who may not know how to say ‘No’ to you after all the time you’ve invested.