Marla Kaye could not afford to lose this deal. She had watched sales at You Name It Promotions, her Oakland, Calif.-based promotional products company, drop by more than half since the start of the recession--from $3.5 million in 2007 to $1.5 million last year. When a six-figure sale to a new client seemed about to fall through this spring, she had to act fast.
The technology company Kaye was courting wanted a customized USB drive with its brand name on it to hand out at trade shows. When Kaye, 58, found out the client was planning to go with a cheaper bid from a competitor, she stepped her offering up a few notches--shaping the device like the company's logo and loading it with files about its product. "I said, 'Give me a chance to show you why what we do will stand out,'" she says. "We saved it by doing more work than just answering a bid."
Related: How to Adopt a Sales Mindset
Having a keen eye for when a sale is going sour takes savvy. Here are five red flags and strategies for saving the sale:
No. 1: If a Potential Client Seems Indifferent
A client who is interested in doing business with you should have questions and concerns. If they don't outright reject you but don't have any questions either, be on the alert, warns Victor Cheng, author of the book Extreme Revenue Growth (Innovation Press, 2007).
To resolve this problem, he suggests creating more of an advisory relationship with clients. You can let them know that you'll help either to solve their problem or point them in the direction of another business that might be a better fit. Offering to help people find other vendors might seem counterintuitive, but it can go a long way to earn the trust you may need to win over a client, Cheng says. "People will share more with an advisor than a salesperson. It's more of a dialogue than a broadcast."
No. 2: If There's No Hard Deadline For a Decision
Having urgency around a sale is important, Cheng believes. Early in the process, ask potential clients about their timeframe. You want to prioritize those companies that have a hard deadline.
You can find ways to firm up deadlines, says Rich Sloan, co-founder of StartupNation.com, a Birmingham, Mich.-based business-advice website. He suggests limited-time offers or discounts to create urgency around a sale. "The only way you get someone engaged is to find their buttons," Sloan says. Perhaps point out what the competition is doing, or identify the financial risk involved in not acting quickly on the sale.
No. 3: If You Aren't Dealing With the Decision Maker
You may start out talking with a junior-level employee who is vetting options, but beware if you aren't put in touch with the decision maker after a few conversations. It's probably a sign the company isn't serious about buying, Cheng says.
Getting past that roadblock can be challenging. The bigger the organization you are dealing with, the more layers of management you likely will have to penetrate, Sloan says. He recommends creating a presentation that your initial contact can easily show to upper management. You also might request a quick conference call with the senior-level person involved. "It's a sticky situation because you need to be respectful of the person you are talking to and not undermine them," Sloan says.
No. 4: If Your Price is Too High
People generally object to a price because they believe they can find the same product or service for less or because you're trying to sell more than they need, Cheng says.
If your competitors are offering a lower price, focus on how you can provide added value, as Kaye did with her customized USB. But if you're offering more than a client needs, you may need to scale back the initial proposal, Cheng says. You also could offer creative payment alternatives, Sloan suggests, such as incentives on the first purchase if the customer continues to buy more.
No. 5: If You're Asked For a Proposal Instead of a Conversation
When potential clients ask for a proposal before agreeing to talk with you, it's usually a sign they're simply gathering price quotes from vendors, Cheng says.
Before submitting a proposal, ask what the client is looking for and what criteria will be used to make the decision. Reaching a verbal understanding on those issues increases the likelihood that you'll get the sale. "The problem with a proposal is there is no chance for them to tell you what is wrong with it," Cheng says, "as opposed to working through all the nuances verbally."