The Second Deal...First.

Conventional wisdom says that prospects who test our products and services grow into great customers later on. But conventional wisdom is always conventional and not always wise. From my experience with sales teams, "test" customers often (a) spend just enough money to fail, (b) suck up a disproportionate share of internal resources, and (c) don't provide a clear path to future business. And even when there is follow on business, it's often tied to the low-low rates or miniscule deal size of the test.

I've got an overly simple approach to stopping the madness: Sell the second deal first.

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Too many sellers are suckered into expensive, endless cycles of testing by non-buyers who can't really deliver the rosy future that's hinted at. So in order to truly qualify the customer and opportunity, I suggest the seller deliver the following message:

"Let's set aside the test and assume that we'll do a great job and deliver very good results. Let's talk about the commitment to business with us that will follow. Can we agree that deal number two is going to be for a budget of X dollars and will last at least X months?"

If your buyer refuses to discuss the next deal or otherwise hems, haws and dissembles, you will have gotten an important clue. It's possible that this 'buyer' - like so many others - doesn't have the authority to talk about future commitment: he or she may just be running errands for the real decision maker (...who you need to see before this whole charade goes any further.) It's also worth considering that the buyer isn't really a buyer at all - at least not for your product. He or she may just be collecting data from lots of companies which they'll use to negotiate with the sites they already use or intend to buy from. Your hard work could all be building a performance and pricing baseline.

Don't think this could happen? Perhaps you're right. But if your recent sales history is littered with a bunch of sloppy tests that never seemed to go anywhere, they are taxing your business, wasting valuable sales time and crushing the souls of the account management and ops people you need so badly. You have a right to talk about the second deal. It's up to you whether you go there or not.