So here's the scenario: Your customer has given a verbal go-ahead, but there's still one final step–approval from a boss (who's out of the office), paperwork from the finance group, something like that.

Time is passing, but if you ping the customer too many times, you'll come across as desperate or pushy.  On the other hand, if you don't do something, suddenly two months will have passed and you find out the deal is dead.

How do you keep the deal alive?

That scenario comes from entrepreneur Travis Van, founder of ITDatabase, and a longtime reader of my blog.  It's a common problem, but fortunately one that is easily addressed.

Meet the Zombie

What you've probably got is a zombie customer: a deal that looks alive, but in reality is already dead.  Zombie customers are always the result of sloppy selling.  You created a zombie by:

  • Failing to qualify the lead. You got so excited at the size of the deal and the possibility of making some big money that you didn't bother to find out whether the customer really needed your offering and had the budget to purchase it.
  • Failing to document the buying process. After you've qualified a lead, your most essential job is to discover how the customer purchases (or will purchase) the kind of product you're selling.  That way you're not blindsided.
  • Failing to cultivate the real decision-makers. You wanted the deal to close so badly that you didn't set up meetings with the people who actually make the decision.  Instead, you hoped your customer contact would do your selling for you.
  • Failing to neutralize competitors. You never bothered to find out who else was developing the account and what approach they were taking–so you didn't position your offering as more appropriate than the competition's.
  • Failing to make a compelling case.  The mere fact that you think the deal might die shows that you're not convinced that the customer really needs what you're offering.  And if you're not convinced, the customer sure as hell won't be.

The way to avoid zombie customers is to not make these mistakes.  Fully qualify your leads so that you don't follow up on dead ends, figure out the buying process and who's got go/no-go approval, and position your products so buying them is the only viable strategy.

How Dead Is That Deal?

However, that doesn't really answer the question, which is what to do when you think you've got a zombie.  The answer: Poke it to see if it's really alive. Here's how.

Craft an email emphasizes the lost revenue and profit that will result if the customer doesn't buy.  Describe any circumstances that might make your offering more difficult to obtain in the future, and (optionally) offer a discount or more product if a decision is made quickly.

Here's an example:

Fred: I wanted to give you a heads up about some changes in our delivery schedule.  We've gotten a lot of orders lately, but I've managed to keep your place in the queue.  However, I'm unsure if I can do so for too much longer, and that worries me, because if you lose your place, your firm (according to the estimates we made) might end up losing as much as $100,000 in cost savings. Also, I just found out that we're temporarily including two months of support with purchase, but that program is about to end.  Is there any way we can push this to completion quickly? Jim

Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that you make stuff up in order to manipulate the customer.  However, I am recommending that you find reasons for the customer to make a decision now.

If that email doesn't work, the customer was a zombie.  It's a "live and learn" moment; next time, lay your groundwork better.  If the email does work, however, it's still a "live and learn" moment: "Poking" a customer inevitably irritates the live ones, so it's better to lay your groundwork so that you don't have to "poke" in the future.

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