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  • Writer's pictureBlaž Mertelj

In complex sales, your fiercest competitor is often “do nothing”

The Problem

It’s bad enough when, after a long, complex and resource-intensive sales campaign, you end up losing to the competition. But at least you’ve got the satisfaction of knowing that somewhere in the process you were probably outsold, or failed to acknowledge a competitor’s advantage that was always going to be difficult to defeat.

But what about the growing number of apparently well-qualified sales opportunities that fade away with the prospect deciding to “do nothing” at the end of the day? You might attempt to derive some comfort from the fact that at least you weren’t beaten by anyone else. However, that’s a pretty unsatisfying conclusion.

The 3 most common reasons for this failure in the sales process are:

  • The issues was never important enough - The client does not feel (or know yet) that their problems have large, tangible, real-life consequences for the whole company.

  • Your "Champion" was never influential enough - The person in the client organisation supporting you cannot influence or does not have the tools to influence leadership to change.

  • Your Salespeople weren't smart enough - This one is quite harsh and we do not agree with it completely. It is very easy to blame sellers for their poor performance, when it is most likely that they would be able to close the deal with the right tools.


The author excellently points out that the main problem in B2B solution sales is in fact the Change that we are bringing into the organization and the natural resistance to change that we, as humans, have. i.e. Status Quo is our biggest enemy. Meaning it often happens that no one wins the customer - neither us, nor the competition.

Furthermore, the author points out 2 common reasons for a breakdown in the sales process - The issue not being important enough (or they were never able to properly name it) and the Champion being unable to influence decision-makers. However, the article ends at that - we are only given reasons, but not solutions - and we, as problem-solvers, do not like that! This is why we would add two short recommendations to mitigate the reasons for failure:

  • The issue is not important enough - make sure your salespeople use first sales meetings to find what the true underlying problem is, which is driving the need for improvement. It is important this is not only a technical issue, but a business problem. Use it to derive specific business damage caused i.e. financial gain that the right solution will bring. Another good tip is to get a time component to the issue (how much is this costing us per month/year?) and a date by when the client should act.

  • Our Champion is not influential enough - If we are able to uncover the client's business problem and its specific financial ramifications, we can write them in the meeting minutes and fill in what capabilities we will bring to the customer with our solution. This log is very important, not just for us, but for our Champion as well. They can use it to easily defend their arguments for why change is necessary in front of their superiors at any time.

If you cannot dedicate to a whole expert-led workshop, we leave you with 5 key questions that, if used correctly in meetings, will help your sellers to get valuable information and answers:

  • (After the other person tells us what they would like to improve) What does it mean for your day-to-day business if things stay the way they are?

  • Is that important / Why is that important? Does it have financial consequences?

  • How does the leadership view this issue? Do they expect you to solve this problem?

These are merely general questions that lead you in the right direction. Further questions have to be tailored to your specific case.

Based on Bob Apollo's 2013:

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