Ever encounter a situation where the sale was progressing and it looked like a deal was going to happen only to have it come screeching to a grinding halt?

I think it’s safe to say that everyone in sales has experienced a situation like this from time-to-time.

In many cases, it was a hidden issue that prevented your prospect from moving forward with the sale. A hidden issue is an unexpressed concern or unknown circumstance that influences the other person’s decision.

Here is an example:
My wife and I were looking for a washer and dryer and we were considering buying a particular brand. We had seen the advertising for them and believed they offered good value for the money. However, before we actually went shopping, a family member warned us that that brand no longer gave as much priority to their products’ quality as they had in the past. Because our relative owned that manufacturer’s products herself, we considered her statement valid.

When we went shopping we had this opinion in our minds, and although we never did ask a salesperson for validation or clarification, the comment influenced our final buying decision and we avoided that particular brand.
Hidden issues are commonplace and frustrating to deal with. However, you can often uncover the issues that may influence the outcome of the sale by probing.

That means you should ask questions like:

  • What might prevent this purchase from happening?”
  • “What concerns do you have about moving forward?”

However, just because you ask the right question(s) does not mean you will hear the right answer. And not because your prospect is deliberately misleading you, either.

In many cases, your contact person may not be aware of the circumstances that could derail the project.

I once spoke with a prospect about introducing sales training into their company. My contact gave me the necessary information, I sent him a proposal, and he appeared ready to move ahead with the initiative.  However, unbeknownst to us, a colleague (who had more influence on the final decision) was against using an outsider to train the company’s sales force. Internal politics ended up affecting the outcome of that sale and there was not much that my contact could do to change the end result.

In another situation, a company was fully prepared to embark on a sales training program. However, my contact was encountering difficulty receiving final approval from the President.  A few months later the company announced that they had been bought by a larger organization. That announcement made it clear why my prospect had not been able to gain approval for the program.

Ultimately, this means you need to ask additional questions that delve deeper into the internal workings of the organization.

You may need to ask questions such as:

  • “What internal challenges are you facing that could affect the outcome of this sale?”
  • “Who else is involved in this decision and what is their level of commitment?”
  • “What needs to happen internally to ensure that you can move forward with this initiative?”

As I mentioned a few moments ago, your prospect may not know what hidden issues or factors could affect her decision so you need to be prepared to give her some examples.

You can phrase that conversation in this manner:
“Mrs. Jones, my experience has taught me that other factors often influence the outcome of a decision like this. I once spoke to a company about a similar initiative and my contact was eager to move ahead. Unfortunately, the project did not get off the ground because the CFO had competing objectives and was unwilling to sign off on the expenditure. What internal issues do you think could prevent you from launching this project?”

The more complex (and costly) your solution, the greater the likelihood you will encounter resistance or hidden issues from other departments, stakeholders or decision makers.

Your goal is to work with your prospect to identify the potential roadblocks and to help them navigate their way around those obstacles. Failure to take this extra step could cost you business and affect your top-line revenues as well as your bottom-line profits.