blog146_redflagssalesprocessOnly weeks ago, a major supplier of information systems prepared to close a crucial sale to a large hospital network. Sam, the account salesperson, believed all that remained was contract signing and a celebration.

Sam knew he had covered all of the concerns of hospital’s top management; he’d been meeting with the group for months. The head of IT, central to implementation; the head of procurement, signatory to the purchase order; and the nursing and physician staff, primary beneficiaries of the new technology, were all onboard with his proposal.

For added insurance, Sam met the hospital’s CEO who said he was behind the deal, too. With a large commission check firmly in his reach, Sam sat back confidently.

But wait. Sam did face a little competition. A consulting firm in the technology space had also presented a solution. Though quite smaller and with few hospital clients, the consulting firm had not met with the CEO, nor was the CEO aware of its existence, Sam learned. Still confident, he patiently waited for the purchase order.

A red flag unfurled in the background. And Sam didn’t see it. The smaller firm had gained training in the Strategic Selling® sales methodology a year ago, and this level of training brought a fresh perspective to the firm, changing the nature of how it sells.

Through the Strategic Selling process, the competing firm learned to identify the critical buying influences in a sale; how to minimize uncertainties over a prospect’s receptivity; how to avoid internal sabotage; and how to leverage its strengths to maximize its competitive advantage.

Having not met with the CEO, the competitor faced a major disadvantage and seemed destined to fail. However, Strategic Selling® taught it to search out the real decision-maker, specifically, who would give final approval for the coveted sale.

The competitor uncovered a powerful fact: the management group was working with an outside consultant, a former employee, who once led the hospital’s IT efforts. Sam had completely overlooked this person.

The consulting firm, through contact with this former employee, secured two valuable pieces of information. First, the final decision was not coming from the CEO; it was coming from the hospital’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), overseeing this project. In meeting with the CEO, Sam had traveled down the wrong road.

Second, if Sam hoped to close this opportunity, he needed to invest time with the outside consultant who had been a valued senior manager at the hospital. The CAO continued to rely on him for information and decisions on technology because he was a trusted advisor with considerable knowledge and credibility.

The competing consulting firm succeeded in demonstrating to the outside consultant the match between the hospital’s needs and its products and services.

Sam’s surefire deal just fell apart.

As you read Sam’s story, did you recall a time when a critical oversight sunk you? Red flags waved all around Sam. Missing information. Overlooked buying influencers. No clear indication of the final decision maker.

Seeing RED

During your sales process, it’s essential to identify and deal with potential issues that can jeopardize closing the sale. Remember, every sales opportunity contains risk. Sam’s story shows us that even an experienced salesperson can make fatal mistakes in the sales process.

When salespeople fail to spot red flags in time, or spot them at all; when they fail to understand the why behind the red flags; when they don’t take them seriously, it is disastrous to the sale.

By learning to recognize red flags, you can overcome most obstacles in the sales process because they warn of potential risks or problems that can sabotage your sale.

Five Red Flags

Red flags symbolize possible danger. Identify them early in the sales process, which is the best time to neutralize them. Red flags highlight areas that demand attention or you lose the sale. Don’t let them negatively influence your sales opportunities.

Here are five red flags common to lost sales:

1. Lack of Communication

You cannot be assured of your position in the sale if questions remain unanswered about:

    • the impact of your solution on influencers in the buyer company;
    • their role in the buying process and their preferences;
    • the results they seek and their personal win.

In our hospital example, Sam failed to uncover the decision-making process and identify all of the buying influences. Not knowing this information can sabotage your next sale. Work to eliminate this red flag.

2. Uncertainty about Information

If you do not eliminate uncertainties surrounding your buyer company, and simply assume unchecked information is correct, you will stumble on the wrong sales tactics. Sam assumed the CEO was the final decision maker and never probed further to pinpoint the real decision maker. He could have leveraged the good rapport he built with other buying influences and easily learned what he needed to know.

3. Absent Influencers or Decision Makers

If you’ve been unable to contact certain decision makers or influencers, you risk losing the sale. Any buying influence not involved in the buying process has the motive to sink the sale. Sam knew an outside consultant existed; one of the buying influencers told him. He should have thrown a red flag on that knowledge, then built a strategy to meet the consultant.

 4. Buying Influencers New to the Organization

Any influencer new to the buyer organization, or to their role, must be approached the same way as other stakeholders, but with slightly more caution. Their role in the sales process may increase or diminish as new responsibilities or projects arise, and they settle in to their position. To eliminate the instability of these influencers, continue close focus on all the decision makers, watch for changing roles, then red flag the changes.

 5. Reorganization of Buyer Company

Corporate reorganizations routinely terminate or delay buying/selling processes. What’s more, if key buying influencers sense imminent change to their position, they’re likely to focus or obsess on organizational politics over performing their work. Even a C-level reorganization may impact your sales behind the scenes due to the realignment of decision responsibilities and budgets.

During one of my high-value client engagements, the key decision maker announced his retirement. This news became a red flag for me, and I had to re-strategize the sale.

One cautionary step in your sales process─always identify red flags before they snap you in the face. See them as obstacles and remove them from the sale opportunity. Even more important, treat your sales process with the total attention it deserves. When you follow a well-developed sales process, your sales opportunities transform into closed deals.

blog146_redflagssalesprocess2If you wish to become an enlightened student of the world-class sales process, I urge you to take the time to read and absorb CSO Insights’, Sales Management 2.0, The CSO’s Guide to Transforming Sales. This valuable compendium is a treasure trove of sales initiatives used by world-class teams to produce phenomenal sales results. Read and enjoy.

See you on the upside,


For more information, go to
Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700

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