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Even Heroes Need to Retreat

Knowing When to Walk Away from a Sale

Over the years, our company has worked very closely with a well-known enterprise systems management software company. This company is a formidable force in its space but often has to compete against the likes of larger, more powerful competitors. One of these competitors is known not only for its acquisitive nature but also for its very aggressive sales tactics. One of the sales tactics this software competitor uses when deadlocked in a highly competitive situation is to offer their software to the client for free. That’s right… free!? 

The thinking of this competitor is that they are willing to give away their software but will require a client to sign up for maintenance (customer support and updates) and professional services consulting for a specified period of time. They take the loss on the front end but then rope in the customer by tying them up with maintenance and having their consulting division “entrench” their product in the customer site. This makes replacement difficult and can lock down a customer. It can also lead to bad feelings between the supplier and the client.

What does all this mean to a sales professional such as you?  Think about it from the following perspective:

Customer: “I think your product is exactly what we’re looking for but your competitor offered to provide us the software at no charge so long as we buy maintenance.”

Salesman: “I understand.  Do you feel like their software will provide you the same functionality and will meet your team’s requirements?”

Customer: “No.  I honestly don’t but they’ve given me an offer I can’t refuse.  The only way I can get our CEO to approve your product instead is if you can match their price.  I can’t accept anything more.  Can you do it?”

Again, what is their price? They’re giving away the product for free!  Is this the way you run your business? What kind of effect will this have on your company’s long-term prospects? 

These are all questions you need to think about when faced with a difficult sales situation where a customer is looking for a price or terms that are so unreasonable that sometimes, what makes the most sense is to simply walk away. That’s right. You have to be prepared to walk away.  Some deals simply aren’t worth pursuing because the effects of the sale may be too damaging to your company – whether you’re having to discount too deeply, provide a shipping date that is physically impossible or delivering a specific grade of a product that may not exist. 

What is the best way to walk away from the table? Simply stated, you should walk away in a manner that does not damage your relationship with your customer. They may wish to work with you in some other capacity or may even walk away from the “other” competitor to work with you. Just because you perceive all is lost does not mean all is indeed lost. Therefore, the best way to walk away is with respect and dignity.

Sales Rep: “I wish there was a way we could match that offer.  As much as I want to establish a relationship with you (or continue to expand our relationship) we just can’t provide a similar arrangement. 

Customer: “I’m sorry to hear that, Kim.”

Sales Rep: I do want to thank you for all of the time you have spent with me and I do look forward to working with you in the future.  I am confident that we will eventually be able to help your team meet your requirements.

Customer: “I can appreciate that.  You know, there is another group who has a need for one of your other products that you may want to talk to.  If you have few moments…”

Walk away in an amicable manner. If you’ve built up a strong enough relationship, you may not leave empty-handed. There may be other groups within the company who can use your products or services. Your client may not provide you with the business you had forecasted but may point you in the right direction.

Once you’ve walked away, send a sincere thank you note and don’t lose touch. Be professional in every possible way so that your behavior and your communication reflects well upon you and your company. No one likes a sore loser.

Now that you’ve walked away from the business, remember the following:

1.       There are other customers out there. Just because you lost this particular deal, don’t feel like you’re out of opportunities. Take your licks and keep fighting.

2.       The customer may still call you back. They may not like the terms your competitor will dictate in order to get rock-bottom discounts.

3.       Learn from the situation. The extensive proposal you built for the client may help you in future opportunities. Take time to think about what else you’ve learned.

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