Cost of staying in the Campaign too long

In the chart below, you can see graphically the ‘cost’ of sales campaigns that have drawn on too long for a client of ours. Their average sales cycle across winning deals was 8.9 months and that was normal enough for their industry. However, when we unpacked their winning and losing campaigns and plotted their lengths on a simple line graph, the result was stunning.  What we saw was that there were a large number of long but losing campaigns, more so than winning ones. The blue shading underneath the Loss line represents the ‘lost effort’ in terms of precious sales team time, effort, and money.


Wasted Effort resized 600


When we further investigated each of these long but losing campaigns we found they shared several features:

  • The prospect did not increase the level of trust and permission they gave the sales team no matter how much effort was put forward
  • The prospect indicated in almost all cases that the chances were slim to win the business
  • Prospect buying behaviors were not mapped or accommodated in the sales process
  • Large expenditures of effort by the sales team were not matched with effort and commitment and interest from the prospect  organization


It is easy to say in hindsight, “of course we had no chance, anyone could have seen that”. However, when the deal is in the forecast and there is clearly money that is going to be spent it is difficult to declare a deal to be unwinnable.


Fast Failing

At the end of one of these failed sales cycles, the inevitable question arises, “could I have avoided all of this suffering and unfruitful expense?”


The answer in many cases is ‘yes’.


The key in these ‘hard luck’ cases is not to throw in the towel but instead to radically cut back selling efforts until and unless the buyer responds with behaviors that indicate some level of trust and permission will be granted. Other approaches include “firing the prospect” by moving them back to the Marketing organization fur further demand generation nurturing but not for active sales team engagement.


Another name for this is ‘fast failing’ or ‘losing early’. Fast failing is the technique of ensuring, whenever possible that a sales campaign that is not oriented for success at the outset does not receive the same commitment of resources and effort as one that is destined for success.  


This concept of “fail early and fail often” was first patterned in the software development field, as can be seen here or here.


Many sales old salts will be able to recall the time that they pulled out all the stops and won an impossible deal against all the odds. Though rare, such efforts do happen but they are not a repeatable process and do not “add up” to a sales strategy. Since the plural of an anecdote is not data do not build a sales process around these such apocryphl successes in low-probability campaigns. Instead if a company believes it still must pursue this type of business, it should create a sales patch devoted to competitive swaps or hard luck prospecting. The majority of the sales force, though, should be focused on winning winnable deals.


No one likes failure but those who excel in Sales learn from it and can identify when it is necessary to lose early.


Anyone have any other ideas on how to ‘treat’ prospects in these long but unwinnable sales campaigns?


Mike Drapeau

Makes data and analysis come alive so clients can understand the “what” and “why” and design solutions that fit the environment.
Mike has led every function at SBI – Delivery, Sales, Talent, and Technology. Now he is a leader for Account Management, Private Equity Partnership, and long-term business development at SBI.


He has personally led over 100 projects for SBI over his decade+ time since its founding in 2006.


This starts by earning trust – of clients, of PE firms, of prospects. Mike obtains this by leveraging deep domain expertise, with more than 25 years in sales, competitive intelligence, sales management, marketing enablement, product management, pre-sales and sales operations. Mike relishes the idea of living in the field. So he does.


As a founding partner, Mike built out SBI’s library of emerging best practices for sales and marketing, which leads to evidence-based solutions, custom-fit to each client. Mike built himself many of the solutions now part of the Revenue Growth Methodology. And whatever he touches gets adopted. This is part of his commitment to making it happen in the field.
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