Why sales stall at the last hurdle

Have you ever thought about why prospects will sometimes start to become indecisive just at the end of the buying process?  There are, in theory, many reasons why this should occur, but the most common is some form of fear about making the wrong purchase.  This fear, it is assumed, paralyses the prospect and the sale is effectively stalled.

You never get “fear” expressed as the reason your sales campaign has ground to a halt.  You hear excuses such as “I’m just waiting for final approval” or “I’m just confirming that the budget is available”.  “We need to wait until the next Board meeting”.  After this event, you might encounter another batch of questions or points of clarification.  There might be a change of requirement which requires you to produce another quotation.

What is really going on?  This was the subject of a conversation I had last weekend that was most interesting.

Buyers do encounter certain fears or apprehensions when they are about to commit to a significant purchase from a brand new supplier.  A significant purchase may not be large and expensive, but one that impacts the core of the buyer’s business.  The most significant issue in the minds of buyers in this situation is risk.  They are obsessed with risk surrounding the purchase.  I suppose they are aware of Murphy’s Law – “What can go wrong, will go wrong and at the worst possible time”.  They want to manage the downside of something going wrong.

I’ve seen this first-hand myself.  A final decision is anticipated from the prospect but what results are more and more questions.  It soon becomes clear something is going on which is causing the prospect to stall.  If only you could find out.

Take great care, in situations like this, that you are not drawn into investing more and more time simply to satisfy the prospect’s desire to delay making the decision.  Everyone in sales will have encountered this at one time or another. 

When it does happen, it is very frustrating and in my experience is caused by one of two things and neither of them is fear of making a decision.

Firstly, you never qualified the prospect properly in the first place.  Have you really understood how your prospect makes buying decisions?

Who makes the final decision? What’s the budget? Is the budget available and authorised? Does it need top management approval? Is there a time constraint? 

The reality is this:- if you don’t really know what’s happening in the buying cycle, it is impossible to synchronise your selling cycle with the buying cycle.  If you get ahead of the buyer and begin to force the sale along, you will appear desperate and this will put off the prospect.

Secondly, you failed to give enough convincing reasons why they should buy from you and your prospect doesn’t want to tell you the bad news, not yet.  One of your competitors is probably lined up to get the order but just in case their final negotiations fall through, the prospect wants you to remain on standby.  To retain your interest, the prospect will keep you busy answering (pointless) questions, giving the impression you are close to winning the order.

So, the upshot is that the sale is stalling but this isn’t entirely down to the prospect’s indecision.  You have played a large part in creating the indecision.

Had you qualified the prospect according to your qualification criteria, perhaps you would have not engaged so fully at the current time.  Not until you knew how the final decision would be taken and the overall timescales for going ahead. 

During your conversations with the prospect, could you have highlighted additional benefits that the prospect would enjoy by going ahead with your product/service?  Having some significant points of difference compared with your competitors, will give you the opportunity to demonstrate how you deliver more benefits and value than your competitors.  You need to build a case that makes it difficult for a prospect to ignore.

There should be so much in favour of buying your product/service that prospects find it hard to delay – if you can show that every week or month of delay will cost them money, they will be tempted to proceed without undue delay. 



  1. Revisit your prospect qualification criteria and modify as appropriate to ensure you concentrate on engaging with your ideal prospects rather than marginal ones.
  2. Revisit the benefits of choosing your company and make sure your prospects are aware of why you make the best choice.
  3. Know your points of differentiation.  What makes you the better alternative?
Posted in Sales / Business Growth