There is a video making the rounds lately of a runner who, finding himself well out in front in the final bit of the race, decides to ham it up a little with the crowd and, you guessed it, fails to notice the competitor who sneaks up and crosses the finish line first. If you love the smell of schadenfreude in the morning, here is the video.

Being dazzled by the finish line is not limited athletes: Sales Squirrels and marketers do it all the time. They spy that giant nut, unattended and ready for the taking and are so busy planning what to do with their commission, they miss the bit where some other squirrel snags it or the nut simply rolls off the table and gets lost or refuses to cooperate and becomes a little tougher to crack than anyone had supposed. Welcome to commitment, the penultimate stop on our Journey of Unreciprocated Love.

This is the most heart-breaking of phases, I think. After months or years of building something someone gives a sh*t about, and more months and many marketing calories convincing them to give it a look, and the scary bit where we have to out-skate the competition and our own incompetence, we come to this. The place where all we need to do is get the customer to say yes or click the Buy Now button. Then money is shifted, things are put in bags with tissue paper or stuffed into shipping boxes, contracts are signed, hands are shaken, bottles uncorked, production lines started up. Ah. Happy day.

So why do so many perfectly good deals go to hell here? That would be the word, No.

80% of prospects will say no the first time we ask them for the business. They just will. Even if we are the preferred solution to their problem. Even if the problem is existential. Even if we are the only game in town.

According to Marketing Wizdom, prospects say no five times before they say yes. But wait, there’s more, the same study shows that 44% of sales people give up on the first no. Another 22% find a new tree after the second refusal; 14% after the third and 12% after the fourth. If this is correct, only a handful (relax, I’ll do the math: 8%) of squirrels are still working on the deal by the time the buyer has finished exercising their right to say no.

Now if you are the marketer who brought this sucker in for your Squirrels, this is a heart-breaking day indeed and it would be tempting to go back to the safer world of awareness and consideration noises or to become a librarian like your mother always secretly hoped you would. But I think this is where it gets very fun indeed. This is where we get to hand the really special tools to our very best squirrels. In B2B Land this sounds like “Quick, break out the Magic Discount Wand, blow the dust off some executives and for God’s sake find a frigging hockey ticket.” On the consumer side of the house, it reeks of free shipping, limited quantities and 15% off today only.

This is selling at its most primal, and marketing needs to be heard but not seen at this particular table. Great sales people live for this stuff, and properly equipped, will bring in the deal.

Our job is to have just the right tools ready to hand them as they work through the discussion. Too often, I think, we are focused on the tissue paper and the bag and the press release and not paying nearly enough attention to discount rules, flexible terms, waived fees, simplified agreements and so on. These are all things we can and should figure out before the sales team reaches for them. Yet time and again, sales people are sent scurrying from marketing to Hand-Wringers to Customer Abuse and back again trying to put these things together to get past the current No.

Other helpful things we can have waaay ahead of time include closing scripts for inside sales people, behavior-driven offers for consumers who are waffling about their shopping carts, point-of-sale stuff and beacons to push retail customers to the checkout, presentable executives who are available for a chummy lunch, heavily sedated customers who will give one last reference and subject matter experts who are on standby for those tricky technical objections.

Lords and Ladies of the Spin Cycle, we need to spend a lot less time thinking about our victory laps and a lot more time coming up with strategies for the final ten metres.

Next week, we’ll take a look at that victory lap and why, despite our very best efforts, so many B2B deals fail in the first year.