How One Company is Tackling the Risk of Nothing
What happens when a sales team uses data-driven insights to fix their no decision problem? Here’s what one sales team accomplished, their unexpected results, and advice for others to get ahead of no decisions.
—Melissa Short, VP Reporting Services
For some organizations, “no decisions” or “do nothing” buyers can comprise 30% of lost revenue annually—even when counted separately from losses. Our study, “Predicting No Decisions,” identified one company in particular whose no decision problem exceeded our typical findings. They lost 35-40% of revenue annually to “do nothing” buyers. The prevalence of no decisions revealed a systemic problem that affected and frustrated each sales representative in their organization.
Seeing a window for growth, we offered this company early access to our research findings and advice—but with a catch. In exchange, we requested their commitment to track their no decisions impeccably, use our four indicators to identify likely no decisions, and interview their stuck buyers using a formal win loss program. It was an easy decision for them. Several months into their no decision initiative, we circled back to assess their progress. What results have they seen? Did the initiative work and actually generate revenue?
Results and Unexpected Findings from Tracking, Interviewing No Decisions
1. Short-term forecast accuracy initially declined but became far more reliable in the long-term
When our case study company first evaluated their pipeline with our four no decision indicators, they closed a wave of deals into that category. These newly closed no decisions had previously fallen into their forecast, so we saw a simultaneous yet short lived drop in forecast accuracy. This reaffirms one point of risk with no decisions: Not tracking them leaves a huge blind spot for sales leaders as the potential for revenue loss is unknown.
Over time, however, we saw a different pattern emerge: The variation in their forecast accuracy between months cut in half. Previously, the company’s forecast accuracy varied widely month to month, alternating between very low (13%) at some points and exceptionally high accuracy at others. After applying the same metrics to identify no decision deals across their sales organization, their forecasts became significantly more stable and reliable. Consistently tracking no decisions helped predict revenue with greater precision—something executives and strategic planners valued greatly.
A host of factors contribute to successful forecasting, which makes it difficult to isolate no decision tracking as the cause of greater forecast reliability. Nonetheless, our findings showed marked improvement after treating no decisions in the same manner as a win or loss in their CRM, suggesting at least some but likely a significant positive influence.
2. The company’s no decision rate increased temporarily but ultimately decreased by 25%
Many organizations fail to track no decision deals accurately. Even though our case study had a high no decision rate to start, they still found gaps in their tracking. For example, some reps left likely no decisions open for twice the length of their usual sales cycle before closing them, others cherry picked which deals to mark as undecided losses, and some closed out their no decisions only once per year. The net result was a high no decision rate, but the varied approach meant some deals fell through the cracks. When their entire sales organization started tracking no decisions with the same rules, we observed an increase in no decisions that eventually climbed to 40% of pursued revenue.
Although most sales leaders cringe at a higher no decision rate, this increase actually pointed to a positive change: a more proactive sales approach. Instead of leaving deals open for an extended period, sales reps identified deals more quickly using our study’s indicators and closed them out as a no decision. This disciplined practice not only gave visibility into the true scope of their no decision problem, but it also set them up for greater future success.
Once a deal closed, it funneled into their win loss program where interviewers probed on the reasons behind inaction. Sales reps had immediate access to the candid feedback from their no decision buyers, which tied straight to an incentive (potential win backs). We observed a paradigm shift. Instead of holding onto deals and allowing them to stagnate, sales reps took ownership of their pipeline and adopted a growth mentality. We consistently heard, “Let me close this deal as a no decision, so I can interview and understand it.” This led to new revenue through win-back opportunities and ultimately contributed to a lower no decision rate overall. Over the trailing six months, the company’s no decisions comprised 30% of revenue compared to 40% at their highest and 35% when they first started the initiative.
3. Win loss interviewing turned stuck buyers into wins, exposed unknown competitor activity
Early in the company’s no decision initiative, a sales rep sent a survey request to a no decision buyer. The rep expected to get feedback about the buyer’s reason for lack of purchase—usually price, product or sales experience. But, instead of participating in the interview, the buyer replied to the email invitation, saying:
“Now is a good time for us to revisit this purchase. Are you free for a call?”
The deal later closed as a win. What’s more, this wasn’t a one-off. Other no decision buyers re-engaged simply upon receiving a survey invitation to explain their lack of purchase, and additional win-backs are in progress.
Success stories like this not only built momentum behind win loss interviewing, but more importantly, they moved the initiative from a theoretical to a proven source of revenue. This was critical for the team’s success. It’s one thing for a rep to use metrics to close a deal for the sake of CRM accuracy; it is a completely different matter when a rep can close a stuck deal and simultaneously increase chances of winning it back. Win loss interviewing filled that need and created an incentive to track deals accurately and engage with their buyers.
How has win loss interviewing generated revenue and growth opportunities?
- Re-engaged buyers who ultimately purchased by simply sending a win loss interview invitation. Also, when a sales rep’s emails or calls went unanswered, a survey invitation offered a fresh approach to capture attention.
- Uncovered unknown competitor presence and competitive intelligence. In one presumed no decision, the buyer completed a win loss interview and revealed unknown information to the sales rep: Not only was the deal not a no decision, but it was actually a loss to a top competitor. While disappointing, the buyer provided competitive insights during the interview, which helped the company zero in on the areas they needed to improve.
- Gathered individual, deal-saving intelligence, resulting in wins. Sometimes, win loss interviews exposed how no decisions can be like a delayed win. Through the normal course of conversation in win loss interviews, buyers revealed deal-saving intelligence, such as:
- If and when they would revisit the decision
- Their preferred vendor
- Price position amongst vendors
- Other roles to be involved in decision-making
- Current deal-breaking weaknesses
- Advice for the sales rep to succeed in the future
The list above illustrates how important it is to speak to each buyer individually because time frames, needs, and expectations vary from one no decision buyer to another. That is also what made it so valuable. Buyer-specific feedback provided sales reps with the opportunity to self-coach and re-position using their buyer’s advice. One sales rep described how illuminating the win loss interviews were because they revealed each buyer’s evaluation process. “It’s all about understanding the difference between the sales process and the buying process,” he said. He went on to share an example of how that knowledge helped him fine-tune re-engagement plans and maintain a buyer-centric approach.
4. Win loss interviewing enabled diagnosis of systemic no decision problem and supported ensuing strategy and action plan
On the surface, win loss interviewing exposed two main causes for the company’s no decisions: weak perceived value and buyers’ internal politics. The latter was surprising because the company (again) exceeded our typical findings dramatically. While our research found most B2B vendors see one in five no decisions due to buyer-driven issues, our case study company was seeing nearly three quarters of no decisions due to buyer politics. But buyer politics rarely acted alone, and we also observed value perception was a prevalent weakness alongside buyer politics. The interaction between the two was telling.
When we spoke with their sales representatives, we learned value perception and buyer politics were only symptoms of a bigger hurdle: tethering to multiple buyer personas. Sales reps successfully sold the value to their day-to-day contacts, but they encountered friction when establishing relationships with other stakeholders, who would ultimately make the call to purchase or not. Often, a sales rep would gain purchase approval and intent from their first point of contact, but when it went up for final review, another party in the organization often diverted budget to a different need.
Understanding the root cause behind value and buyer politics enabled the company to respond with a targeted and effective approach. They used win loss interviewing to identify the other personas that emerged in the buying process. From there, they coordinated with marketing to create more collateral to reach those personas. Sales reps also took tactical action not only to identify and connect with additional personas earlier in the evaluation, but also to establish a deep understanding of each persona’s need. The combination of these efforts enabled sales to speak to buyer needs dynamically and build up a stronger value proposition.
Advice: What you need to know before launching a no decision initiative
Our case study company saw unexpected and valuable results from addressing their no decision problem, but they’re unlikely to stop their no decision initiative anytime soon. Their sales organization uses it as a tool to win their undecided buyers, and their executives want to retain the ground they’ve covered in improving forecast accuracy–not to mention the obvious of reducing lost revenue and increasing wins. What steps helped make their initiative a success? Sales reps and executives advised:
- Track no decisions as consistently as you would track a win or a loss. Instead of lumping no decision deals into a “not qualified” bucket, label them as no decisions and distinguish them from other outcomes. This will give you visibility into how prevalent your no decisions are.
- Use the same rules or thresholds to identify a no decision across your sales organization. This will help ensure consistency and ultimately support forecast accuracy. Our study, “Predicting No Decisions” provides four indicators of a no decision, which our case study organization adapted using their unique inputs, like sales cycle length, to identify deals at risk.
- Send a win loss survey invitation to each no decision deal–even if you or a sales rep believes they understand the reason for no decision. We saw buyers re-start their purchase evaluation after being prompted to complete a survey. We also saw buyers provide specific timelines for their next evaluation and direct advice for the sales rep to succeed.
- Collect and evaluate buyer intelligence per deal and broadly. Individually, win loss interviews revealed intelligence that is typically tactical in nature (e.g., how to win this one buyer), but taken together, win loss interviews support a systemic diagnosis of no decision causes. For our case study, the combination of the two created a greater positive impact for the company by enabling it to respond to stuck buyers on two fronts.
- Allow sufficient time for your no decision initiative to develop. At the outset, our case study saw a higher no decision rate along with decreased forecast accuracy. These areas began to improve as the no decision initiative took root. Also consider the length of your sales cycle and account for the lead time needed to move a deal through your sales process again.
- Look for progress and results outside of your no decision prevalence. Tracking no decisions is certainly necessary but consider the ongoing impact: It’s common to see a deal close as a no decision initially, but then re-open and eventually close as a win. While that initial no decision still appears as a no decision in the CRM, there is also a net new win because of it.
Did you miss the full study?
Download ”Predicting No Decisions” and gain access to:
- Four indicators that separate no decisions from wins and losses during the sales process
- Why buyers commonly end an evaluation without purchase
- Advice from buyers on how to sway deals from no decision to win