How I Blew a Sales Layup

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A layup is the easiest shot in basketball, if you’re not able to dunk. But it’s not unusual for a player to miss a layup. Why is that?

Most likely because they overlook fundamentals and fail to concentrate.

We recently had a sale not close — neither lost nor won, just won’t close. The customer has a significant and recognized need, high interest in our service, and our sales person has known and worked with the company previously. There was significant and acknowledged potential value from the service. The deal was a “no brainer.”

So what happened?

We followed most, but not all elements of our sales process. As we performed our opportunity review post mortem I remembered something we had overlooked. We had neglected to perform an Opportunity Flight Check prior to submitting our proposal.

Our colleague, Rob Scanlon ( has developed a unique and insightful program that assesses sales opportunity risk and makes recommendations for improving the odds of success.

In just 10 minutes, answering sequenced questions in five key selling dimensions, we receive a visual Flight Check of our strength and weakness within the opportunity.

Without any further information, look at our Flight Check and see if you can determine our areas of risk, and what ultimately did us in.

Flight Check

The Flight Check also provides written advice to help the sales team understand the implications of their status in each dimension, and to provide actionable recommendations. Here were ours.

Fit Advice

Since we have assessed that the prospect recognizes their problems, next we need to find out about their level of awareness concerning the solutions that solve those problems.

We can ask ourselves the following question: If the target prospect group were a patient seeing a physician, – on the standard pain scale of 1-to-10 – how would the prospect rate their pain?

“Mr. Prospect, you have indicated that X isn’t working as well as you would like. Not all imperfections are worth addressing. So we have found organizations at this point take one of two paths:

1. They examine the market and start looking for solutions to remedy the issue or
2. They just decide to live with it.

Where are you?”

People Advice

Having written down everyone who will decide and influence which company gets the sale, categorize each person on the list into one of three categories.
1. Supporter
2. Uncertain
3. Blocker

Urgency Advice

We need to use the platform of ‘educating’ them about the market to create an organizational vision for the impact of the solution.

The prospect needs to visualize the impact of the solution if there is to be any Organic Urgency.
• Organic Urgency is the organizational energy, focus, and will to act, generated because the organization visualizes the results. This is different and more powerful than Synthetic Urgency which is created by discounts, favorable terms, etc.

The potential impact is uncovered by asking the question, “What will this mean to the organization if X solution is implemented by mm/dd/yy with us or with someone else?”

Caution: It is important to include the phrase “with us or with someone else”. This phrase keeps the discussion on their needs and avoids to use of a Barrier Selling technique often employed by sales people who try to manipulate prospects rather than help them.

Selection Criteria Advice

It appears that the targeted prospect group does not have a clearly articulated or documented set of buying selection criteria.

This is an opportunity to shape their selection criteria. We can use the platform of educating them about the market as a vehicle to shape their beliefs and selection criteria.

When a targeted prospect group has not yet established a set of selection criteria, many sales professionals will see this as an opportunity to ‘pitch’ their differentiators. The ‘pitch’ is typically a parochial and often self-centered explanation identifying the reasons why the targeted prospect group should select the ‘pitched’ solution.

A ‘pitch’ is rarely the most effective method of influencing targeted prospect groups. These groups usually have keen radar that tracks when sales professionals are ‘pitching’ a set of capabilities and trying to manipulate the selection. It is transparent to the targeted prospect group that the sales person’s ‘pitch’ is simply a manipulation and that the seller is working their own agenda. Consequently, the targeted prospect group often discounts the ‘pitching’ sales person’s arguments and admonitions.

In contrast, we can better leverage the targeted prospect group’s lack of firm selection criteria by taking a more the disciplined and consultative approach.

We can ask for the opportunity to provide a more objective education to the targeted prospect group.
“How helpful would it be if we sat down with your team and provided a brief overview of the market and the different approaches taken in this area?”

Once given the opportunity, we then provide a brief and objective overview of the market without using the names of competitors and without criticizing them.

“There are a number of valid approaches in the market.
One approach is to do X. Customers take this approach usually to ____ (the key benefit of X approach)
Some organizations choose not to go down that path because of _____ (the key drawback of X approach)”
“Still another approach is to do Y. Customers take this approach usually to ____ (the key benefit of Y approach).
Some organizations choose not to go down that path because of _____ (the key drawback of Y approach)”
“A third approach is to do Z. Customers take this approach usually to ____ (the key benefit of Z approach)
Some organizations choose not to go down that path because of _____ (the key drawback of Z approach)”

We need to be prepared to answer the spoken or unspoken question, “Why have customers been successful with our solution?”

We need to make sure our answers thoughtfully explain how our approach is in their best interest.

This objective consultative approach is consistently the most effective manner for establishing winning selection criteria.

Messages Advice

Our Banners are currently not strong. They might even be weak and ineffectual.
Determine why our Banners to-date have been ineffectual.
1. Do our messages need to be simplified?
2. Have we told crisp sales stories which support our Banners?
3. Have we provided appropriate supporting data?
4. Has our team contradicted itself?
5. Have we failed to develop sufficient trust with people so they will be open to our messages?
6. Have we used ineffectual advocates in the targeted prospect group to communicate our messages to others?

Develop a new messaging plan:
1. Write down clear, short, simple Banners.
2. Use Stories, facts, and images to support the Banners.
3. Pick articulate sponsors – informally practice and coach them on the messages.

“Thank you for your support. Some of the points about the solution are challenging to explain. How do you explain X,Y,Z to your colleagues? That is great. When we talk about X we usually add brief explanation how Account Y did this.”

Develop a ‘build trust plan’

If we believe that a lack of trust is hindering our ability to plant effective Banners, then we need to address the fundamental trust problem. If there are ‘trust’ issues, determine why they exist.

Develop a plan to win the trust of the people who do not trust us.
• Do we need to have some one-on-one meetings?
• Are there questions we have not addressed which are required for them to trust us?
• Is there a previous negative experience we need to address before we can move on?
• Have we done a good enough job demonstrating that we will put the prospect’s ‘best interest’ ahead of ours?


Had I conducted the Flight Check prior to submitting the proposal we would not have submitted a proposal until we had resolved issues in several areas:

  • The customer had not been looking for a solution in this area. Although she was somewhat familiar with the category, she was not totally comfortable she understood all the decision criteria and associated business elements;
  • While the problem and value was acknowledged, the decision to decide, to make this project a priority was not;
  • The primary decision maker with whom we were working would also be responsible for implementation. She was just a few months away from maternity leave and was clearly pre-occupied with getting things in place for her absence;
  • The beneficiaries of our services — sales and the business leaders (as well as our marketing customer) — had not been actively consulted and brought into the decision process.

It really comes down to fundamentals. Today’s B2B sales are as complex as flying an aircraft, especially with multiple stakeholders on the buying team, and multiple participants on the selling team. A Flight Check is a great way to quickly review fundamentals and make sure that nothing is missed, and execution is flawless.

From now on we are religious about conducting Flight Checks at strategic intervals in our sales opportunities. In another situation this helped us recognize that the trajectory of the deal was moving us away from a success path, in time for us to take action to get back on track.

It’s one thing to blow a layup, another to learn from it.

Resolving the number one unconsidered cause of low B2B sales and marketing performance, and revenue growth …
… the inability to deliver effective knowledge, conversations, and situation-specific information (content), in context, at scale
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