- Ken Prince
So you found yourself in front of a prospect that is the perfect fit for your product or service.
You've qualified the prospect. They have the budget and the authority to make decisions. You spend time to understand their motivation and carefully diagnose their problems. You think you've lined up a winning deal.
But not so fast...
...You sense some hesitation in your prospect.
When you ask for the deal they won't commit. When you're more assertive they side step you without giving a direct "no." You're puzzled. You replay the sales process in your mind and everything seems perfect. Except one little detail.
You're unsure about the political obstacles that might prevent the deal from closing.
No matter how good your relationship is with a prospect there's always the potential for internal (and unseen) political issues to derail your deal. The reality is: you can't close deals (or implement innovative solutions) without having a deep understanding of the political landscape.
So what do common political issues look like?
- The tool or service provider that you're replacing—the buyer purchased that and it's failing. Replacing it would be an admission of failure and poor judgement. The prospect needs a way to save face.
- The prospect used something similar in the past that didn't work—if that happens again they could get fired so they need to be 100% certain this time will yield the results they need.
- The problem you're solving—the client created it, and they need a way save face, shift the blame, and solve the problem at the same time.
- There's too much implementation required and the success of the implementation ultimately falls upon your prospect or they'll look bad. The prospect doesn't want the additional time committment and resposibility of project managing the entire implementation and everyone who needs to adopt the product/service.
- The buyer's team wants to go a different direction or purchase a different tool—so if they make this purchase they are communicating a lack of trust in their team.
- The CEO's second cousin submitted a proposal for the exact same product/service and your buyer needs to play ball or risk the consequences.
Uncover Obstacles Before They Arise
The good news is you can talk to your prospect and get an idea about the potential obstacles before you've wasted countless hours of your time.
There's two open ended questions that can give your prospect the opportunity to come clean:
- Is there anything that might prevent you from buying?
- What's your biggest fear about purchasing this product?
But we all know buyers are liars and sometimes they just won't give you the direct truth. In that case you can use some of the questions below to get a better feel for their true motivation.
Here's some questions you can ask to understand what's going on:
- Who purchased the current solution to this problem ?
- Who else is responsible for the outcomes of this department/process/experience/etc?
- Who else should I be talking to?
- What other teams or people will be affected by this decision?
- Where does the budget for this product/service come from? How is it approved/disapproved?
- Why are you thinking about buying "x" now? Why not one year ago? Why not next year?
Implementation Issues After the Sale
Political issues don't just threaten your deal from closing. They can also threanten the successful implementation of your product or service.
I've experienced this many times while consulting for clients. The clients are excited during the sales process and onboarding—but once it comes time to implement some difficult changes things slow to a crawl.
I experienced this in a recent project for a healthcare company. I had an existing relationship with the client so we quickly inked a deal to help them work out some marketing and technology problems that were stifliing growth and threatening the financial wellness of the company.
I diagnosed their problems and made a handful of recommendations. For weeks the CEO and CFO ignored my recommendations, even as the problems persisted.
In this case I couldn't understand the inconsistent and irrational behavior of my buyer. Their business was in trouble, they were laying people off and the solution to their problems was, in my eyes, straightforward.
What I found out later made a lot more sense—the CEO and CFO—whom I assumed were the sole owners of the company—were not. They had other people on the cap table they needed to serve and it was their previous decisions and mistakes that lead to the current problems. Reversing those decisions and changing course would be an admission of guilt.
The lesson: never underestimate the impact of ego and internal politics.