How Not to Lose a Prospect to the Devil’s Triangle

Blog86_LostinDevil-1Ever been engaged with a great prospect and, in the course of contact, he disappears for no good reason?  I call this the Bermuda Triangle stage of the sales process—a reference to a region (also known as the Devil’s Triangle) in the Atlantic Ocean, also known as the Devil’s Triangle, where aircraft and ships mysteriously disappear. Urban legend has it that it’s due to paranormal or extraterrestrial activity.

In my sales training business, I am naturally very interested in why prospects disappear. At most of my workshops, I ask salespeople and advisors; “Why do you lose sales opportunities?”  You can listen to what they say at

As you’ve just heard, there’s often no explanation why prospects stop interacting and interest fades away into that Devil’s Triangle. In reality, what happens is all too common. The salesman or saleswoman had a product performance advantage but tied to a costly ad hoc process for translating it into a go-to market strategy for business development. The biggest problem? The sales person’s company failed to define its ideal customer/client profile, let alone understand why they buy. Without that clarity, selling is ultimately a function of individual sales tactics in the field, which is not a scalable process for growth.

Factors in a Winning Strategy

MHI Global has studied at a deep level what makes certain sales organizations world class and others not. As a result of that work, we have been able to identify key factors that need to be in place to generate a winning strategy. At the core, we find understanding the prospect and why he/she buys critical.  Knowing them and understanding why they buy is critical. A successful sales strategy begins with how you as the salesperson interacts with your prospects and client/customers; how well you understand prospect issues; how effective you are at determining the prospect’s vision for his solution, and finally; how and when to connect your product or service to that vision.

You may believe you understand the difference between products and problems, but do you understand it  from the prospect’s perspective?

Overall Sales Experience

In a recent study by McKinsey & Co. of more than 1,200 company purchasing decision makers, buyers said price and product features were important, however, what actually drove their decisions about vendors was far different. When they examined what determined customers’ rating of a vendor’s overall performance, they concluded the most important factors were product or service features and the overall sales experience.

The upside of getting these two elements right is significant: a primary supplier seen as having a high-performing sales force can boost its share of a customer’s business by an average of  8 to 15 percentage points. This boost should not surprise anyone familiar with studies of buying behavior.

Consider consumer’s attitudes about green or eco-friendly products versus their actual purchasing behaviors. A solid strategy and questioning process is needed to really understand what buyers truly want and what their process will be for making a decision.

Of the many habits that undermine the sales experience, as mentioned in the McKinsey study, two that are relatively easy to fix accounted for 55 percent of the behavior customers described as “most destructive”: failing to have adequate product knowledge (20%) and contacting customers too frequently (35%). Only 3 percent said they weren’t contacted enough.  Take a moment to review findings from the survey below: (apologies for the fuzzy quality)

Where Sales Reps Go Wrong


The McKinsey study draws an overarching conclusion: The data suggest that customers are open to fewer but more meaningful interactions. People buy solutions to their problems and issues, not products per se. As Theodore Levitt has taught us, “people don’t buy two-inch drill bits; they buy two-inch holes.” Others have revived this distinction in emphasizing that customers “hire” products to get the job done.

This distinction underlines the difference between what a company sells (product features or experience) and what customers buy (the solutions to problems and issues). Not focusing on this distinction is why salespeople lose sales situations. Linking the product to the buying vision requires a well-organized process that helps the salesperson understand each of the buying influencer’s vision for a solution and how to link their product.

The sales process must engage the prospect in a genuine discussion about their business problems and desired outcomes in order to flesh out assumptions about how product features do or do not translate into customer-desired benefits. Then, the assumptions can be tested against other alternatives.

Avoid Status Quo

To avoid the status quo, the salesperson must get the prospect to connect the solution to his/her vision of the solution. New solutions require the prospect to “change” the status quo. Because prospects tend to overvalue the benefits of an entrenched usage system, it’s not enough that a new solution simply delivers better or more benefits.

Unless the gains significantly outweigh the perceived losses, prospects will not buy it.  So, how much better must a product solution be? Of course, this is a situation-specific issue. Research tells us that people overvalue losses by a factor of three. Many have risk aversion, which often keeps prospects in the status quo. For example, studies across cultures show that most people will not accept a bet with a 50 percent chance of winning or losing $100. Gains must outweigh potential losses by two or three times before people find the bet attractive.


The take away here is to develop a sales process that focuses on the prospect’s issues. Slow down and spend the time, in a collaborative process, to fully understand his issues and his vision for a solution. Then, and only then, show you move forward in connecting your solution, but only if you help the prospect to understand the alternatives, too. If you work in this collaborative process, your prospect will self-discover your solution at its best.

See you on the upside, Bill

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P.S.  With our partner MHI Global, we have expanded our services not only globally, but with additional support systems and methodologies to help you close the complex sale. Learn more here

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