Three Painful Lessons Learned From Working With A Bad Sales Prospect

Posted by Chris Myers on May 1 2018

If an organization is a body, the sales team would undoubtedly be the heart. Sales not only keeps organizations alive, but they also represent the fundamental reality upon which everything else is based.

As entrepreneurs, the pursuit of sales is of such importance that we can allow ourselves to be blinded and pursue prospects who may not be a strategic fit.

In business, cash is king, and it’s nearly impossible for a fledgling company to pass up the chance to make a sale because the prospect might not work out in the long-run.

That was indeed my thinking for longer than I care to admit.

I try not to make the same mistake twice, but throughout my time as an entrepreneur, I’ve consistently allowed bad sales prospects to give me the runaround, all in the hope of closing a deal.

However, experience has shown me time and time again that I can (and often should) recognize bad actors for who they are and dare to walk away from bad deals, no matter how lucrative they might be in the short term.

My most recent experience with a bad sales prospect taught me three key lessons that I hope will be helpful to others.

Past performance does predict future returns

I’m the type of person who tries to see the best in others, despite all evidence to the contrary.  Unfortunately, this naive approach tends to get me into trouble from time to time.

The best example of this to-date began towards the end of last year. A sales prospect that my partner had worked with in the past suddenly reemerged and wanted to do a relatively large deal with us.

The trouble was that this individual had failed to live up to their end of the bargain in the past.

Years ago, this person signed a deal with my partner only to disappear at the eleventh hour without ever paying.

It was a crushing loss, but one from which my partner was able to recover. When the individual in question came back into our lives, I was the one who advocated giving him a second chance.

His excuses for his failure to follow through on the last deal seemed legitimate, and I felt that we could somehow shepherd this deal to a different conclusion.

On my direction, my team went out of their way to convince our client (the seller) to re-engage with the prospect.

I have a huge amount of personal respect for our client and gave a number of personal assurances that this time around would be different. After countless reassurances, our client relented, and we set about moving the deal forward.

Unfortunately, when it came time to consummate the transaction, the prospect began to falter yet again. Looking back, I should never have allowed us to do business with a person who had let us down in the past.

In choosing to work with him despite the warning signs, I squandered the time and resources of both my team and my trusted client.

Honesty is everything

Watching this deal collapse was like watching a ten car pile-up in slow motion. You can see the horror unfolding in front of you, but you’re powerless to stop it.

Our sales team did everything they could to set timelines, answer questions, and provide both funding and support. Unfortunately, every step we took was met with either silence or excuses.

Throughout all of the missed deadlines, however, the prospect assured me that the deal would, in fact, get done. I wanted to believe him because of what the deal meant for my company, and so I bought his excuses hook, line, and sinker.

What I refused to recognize was that he was not truthful with us. This is problematic for two reasons.

First, it meant that we were not as far long on this sale as we hoped.

Second, and most importantly, it meant that by ignoring the warning signs I almost allowed a person who would make a terrible franchisee to join a system that I love.

In the world of business relationships, there is no room for dishonesty. I’m now a firm believer that a person who lies about little things, like having received a text or agreed to a call, will also lie about big things when the time comes.

It all comes down to mutual respect

In the end, this is a story about respect. As a sales organization, respect is our currency. Without it, there can be no hope for success.

This prospect continually showed a near-total lack of respect for our client, our team, and the process that we laid out.

Foolishly, I thought that we could overcome this lack of respect and courtesy, but I learned the hard way that we could not.

Learning my lesson

To quote Master Yoda, “Failure, the best teacher is.”

I certainly failed with this deal. In looking for the best in people and failing to recognize the red flags that conflicted with my desired outcome, I failed my team, my client, and myself.

The good news is that failure is indeed the very best teacher out there. I’ll never make this mistake again, and by sharing my story, I just might be able to help a fellow entrepreneur avoid the same pitfall in the future.

Tags: Decision Making, Leadership Essentials, Helpful Insights

Chris Myers

Written by Chris Myers

Chris Myers is the Cofounder and CEO of BodeTree and a Partner at BT Ventures. He is also a columnist for Forbes Magazine and a regular contributor for MSNBC.