By: Michael Wolf
It may be a simple question, but in my more than 20 years of executive level sales management experience I have heard too many times how sales people answer this initially with a “yes”, only to change it to a “I guess not” after they have lost the sale. This especially amazes me in today’s business environment where winning every deal can be critical to the survival of a business.
Several years ago I was VP Sales for a company in the semiconductor equipment business. We had a very large opportunity at a new account in Asia, and the Regional Sales Manager (RSM) had been assuring me for the past several weeks that his Account Manager had things under control, that we were going to win this very competitive order worth well over $5M, and that the order would be received by the end of the month, just a week from then. Having learned from experience, I never accepted these status updates as fact until the order was approved, signed off, and booked, and I never counted on the revenue until the equipment was delivered, installed, accepted, and paid for. But for some reason, this time I had a “bad feeling” that something was wrong, so I decided to call the Account Manager (AM) in Singapore directly, so I could ask him some questions about this opportunity.
By the time I reached him, his RSM had alerted him that I would be calling regarding this opportunity, so he was prepared for me. I asked him to tell me about the sale’s progress and current status, and to tell me whom he had been dealing with at the account. After listening to him for about 5 minutes, I became extremely concerned for the following reasons:
- He had been dealing mostly with the Production Manager. Not very high up for a $5M deal.
- The Production Manager had introduced him to the Plant Manager who claimed to be the decision maker. When my AM had suggested that the Plant Manager introduce him to the Operations VP, the Plant Manager had said there was no need to meet the Operations VP, because he was “just a rubber stamp” once he, the Plant Manager had made the decision. My Account Manager had accepted that, and moved on.
- We had already invested a lot into this sale, with a demo system installed and operating there, so I asked my AM what decision process the Plant Manager would use to make his decision. He didn’t know. He had not asked since he didn’t want to upset the Plant Manager.
- When I then asked the AM who had to sign off and approve this order he told me that it was the VP of Finance, the CFO, who reported to the President. None of us had ever met either person!
By this point I realized that we were at serious risk of losing this order because:
- the Account Manager was calling too low in the account;
- he had allowed the Production Manager to block him from going higher;
- he did not understand the decision process that would be used;
- he was assuming that the Plant Manager was the decision maker; and
- he did not know, for sure, who the real decision maker was, and had not even met with either of the two possible decision makers.
And, there was less than one week to correct all of this.
Unfortunately, this true story had a bad ending - we lost the order. It turned out, following our lost order analysis, that the Operations VP was the real Decision Maker; the CFO was a Gate Keeper in that the total purchase allocation was capped at $5M, and because of the size of the order, the President had to approve it and sign off. We had never met the really important people: the Operations VP, the CFO or the President!