The N°1 competitor: “no-decision”.

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The numbers are edifying: Some 80 % of all B2B business opportunities are neither won nor lost – the client simply does not make any decision (CEB, 2012).

Of course we can dispute this figure and question the exact definition of the term “business opportunity”. Yet we have all found ourselves in that position where, despite reminder after reminder, week after week our contact becomes more difficult to reach and more evasive.

Of course each case is different. But here is an actual example. It is very instructive.

Our contact is the Training Director, an operational position two levels down from the CEO in a European services firm with 4,500 people on its payroll. We contact him to present our excellent blended-learning programmes which represent a real educational and technological advance. He shows an interest (it is his job after all) and gives us the go-ahead to put together a proposal.

The scope is broad and the subject complex. The proposal amounts to a month’s work in-house.

The presentation is superb. The prospect is enthusiastic.

And then – nothing.

For his part the client decides that before showing the project – which isn’t really one since it’s his own initiative – in-house, it would be a good idea to get hold of one or two rival proposals. So he does the rounds without any real specifications. Three months later, armed with the proposals, he goes to HR which, we have no reason to doubt, is to be impressed with his pro-active attitude.

So HR is impressed. Except that the directive from the “new CEO”, appointed by the “new shareholder” is clear; there is to be zero investment in functional areas for 18 months. So there will be no new training programme. There is no point in trying to get clever with this new CEO. But there is no point in discouraging a colleague either. So HR suggests the Training Director gets together with IT to work out some of the access problems and data safety issues. Three months later the task is completed.

HR then explains to the Training Director that the project is an excellent idea and, furthermore, it should be a priority area for the next financial period. Another three months on it fails to make it into the programming budget. “Just a rain check,” he is told. We’ll see.

Paradoxically, six months later HR gets a call from the CEO telling him in so many words: “I’m in contact with Company X. They are specialists in out-sourcing and reducing fixed costs in training. This is one of our goals. If I’ve understood correctly, they’re working on stream-lining processes and rationalising e-learning platforms. Their content doesn’t look bad either and in any case they all do the same thing. Take this further with them and keep me informed.”

Of course, as a service-provider, you rarely know what really goes on on the other side.

But this does raise an interesting question nevertheless: who should you contact and when and to discuss what?

François Drillon, EXECUTIVE SELLING (www.executive-selling.com)

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