Perhaps no other question is more important to answer when it comes to closing must-win deals. And yet, too often I find (especially with organizations that have an anemic sales funnel), this is the one question account teams really don’t want to ask. Does that make sense? The best salespeople are quick to qualify out, because if they can’t win, they want to spend their precious time on more productive pursuits—that can lead to a deal!—rather than spending it on “activities” that will ultimately prove fruitless.

In the previous blog, we continued our discussion of the critical questions sales management should ask when it comes to closing must-win deals and explored “Are we aiming at the right target?”. In this blog, we’ll explore how to assess if we can win the deal as well as several other key insights that come from this question.

To determine if we can actually win a deal, we must understand what it is we are really competing against. While this sounds simple enough, in practice it takes a bit of thought and digging. We first must imagine that no deal will happen with us. If so, what is the most likely alternative the customer must accept and what must we accept? For us, our alternative is always “lose the deal.” In theory, our B2B customers have three potential alternatives: 1) Go with a competitor; 2) Do nothing (status quo); or 3) Do it themselves (for some products or services). Early in the sales cycle it may not be readily apparent which one we are up against, but with persistent probing one of these will emerge.

It is important to note that each of these alternatives requires very different sales strategies. They will often result in very different value propositions and they ultimately drive significantly different negotiations. One of the biggest mistakes I see account teams make is to approach these different alternatives with the exact same selling motion. Consider the “do it yourself” alternative.  There are typically a lot of political and personal issues that must be dealt with before the customer is interested in hearing about our solution – not to mention the personal “wins” for those that will no longer be “doing it.”

The “do nothing” alternative is primarily saddled with risk avoidance and sometimes sheer corporate inertia. Those must be addressed in the selling motion long before the customer is really interested in considering the merits of our solutions. This is one of the reasons that way too many losses are to the “do nothing” alternative. It’s a very different sale than one where the alternative is a competitor – which most selling motions are designed for.

Knowing which alternative just tells us what we are up against. It doesn’t tell us what that alternative actually means to the customer. Therefore, looking through the lens of the outcomes important to the customer, we must analyze the impacts of that alternative. What is positive and what is negative relative to the desired outcomes? Meaning, what is working in our favor and what is working against us? We must leverage the former and find ways to neutralize the latter (which should inform our sale strategy). The table below gives examples of potential impacts that may be relevant to a particular sales situation.

By analyzing the important tangible impacts (can be measured) as well as the intangible impacts (real but can’t be quantified) of no deal, we will gain an understanding of what the customer’s alternative really means to them. In effect, we are determining the value of that alternative to the customer. That’s what we are truly competing against. Now we can answer the question “Can we win?” We can win if we can provide more value in the customer’s mind than their most likely alternative. It’s as simple as that. If we determine we can’t beat that alternative we should either walk away or find some way to significantly “change the game”—meaning change the customer’s success and decision criteria.

As a side note, we will also gain other critical insights from asking this question and performing this analysis, which we’ll explore further in future blogs.

  • Which side will have the power in the sale and negotiation (the side that can walk away from a deal with the least pain)
  • Which side(s) needs this deal (the more painful the alternative, the more that particular side needs a deal)
  • Identify specific relevant negative impacts of the customer’s alternative to target in our value proposition

That’s a lot of valuable insights and why I say it is one of the most important questions sales management should ask. In the next blog in this series, we will explore perhaps the second most important question for sales management “Why will the customer want to choose us Right Now?”

Good Selling!