Your company's first big deal can be just the propellant that boosts your company to the next phase. You worked oh so smartly to get the meeting with this targeted partner by researching both the company and your intended champion. You followed that up with an exhaustive internal, "all hands on deck" proposal writing exercise that resulted in a perfect offer. You even delivered the proposal in person and just for luck wore your lucky underwear.

I had a long conversation with a good friend who is the CTO of an emerging, high-growth company with a hefty price tag for their platform. The good news is that they are selling into an industry with equally high dollar volume. For months they have been sweating every technical detail for their version 1.0 with the notion that they had their first big customer ready to sign and take product once the product was ready.

You know the rest of the story already, right? This week the customer told them that they were going to build the solution in-house for 1/10th of their cost. They were surprised. Who saw this coming? So I asked my friend a series of questions and by the end understood that their sales lead had not done their homework.

Here are 5 signs that your first big sale won't close:

You overestimated your value. You and your team cannot be blamed for this one. Let's think about where all of your brains have been for the last months/years. Every fiber of your being has been heads done building out the product. Your sales and business development folks have had multiple discussions with prospective clients. The more they talk--the more everyone nods their head up & down. We are da bomb! Or are you?

You did not probe for alternative solutions. My favorite stupid answer to the "who are your competitors" question is the one that so narrowly defines the solution set that your product naturally sits alone as the only possible solution. I am here to tell you that for many businesses today, a spreadsheet and email is the incumbent solution and thus your largest competitor. Ask yourself this simple question, "if they had no money, how would they solve this problem today"? Then figure out how much value your solution as compared to that answer.

Your champion has limited standing. Every deal has an internal champion that much you do know. Someone has to carry your proposal around to get her peers to sign on. But, how much weight does your champion have? Are they able to manage the adversarial questions from within? Do they have signing authority at a level that covers your proposal?

You did not find the blocker. Every deal and I mean every deal has a blocker out there. In my early days of selling B2B software, it was almost always the highest-level technical person (CTO, CIO). I would have the CEO or the VP of the wackerdoodle division on board ready to go and then she asks for the CIO to review the proposal. You cannot wait for that to happen. Every deal has a potential blocker and your job is to find out who that will be.

You blindly followed and did not lead. This is what separates the proverbial sales men from the sales boys. The old solution selling methodology of the past assumed that you could help your client craft the best solution using your product. If you asked enough questions and probed deep enough to uncover their real goals and magically aligned your solution to those goals--you were in! Today, potential clients are armed with a lot more internal and external information around their purchasing decision. Their need for a solutions coach has left just like 80's hair bands. You must lead the discussion, not blindly follow them down this question/answer path.

Selling is difficult; selling large deals even harder. Make sure you or your selling teams have approached your first big client smartly before assuming that deal is in the bag.

Published on: Jun 18, 2015