How Do You Know When a Deal Is About To Go South?

By Ross Simmonds | Small Business

How Do You Know When a Deal Is About To Go South? image deal going southHow Do You Know When a Deal Is About To Go South?

If you’ve worked in sales long enough, you’ll eventually run into a deal that’s about to go south and quickly. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it happens to the best of us. Over the last few years, I’ve been involved in many business deals and have seen deals that turn out better than you could imagine, but also those that have gone completely off the rails.

I remember when one of my first deals had gone south when I least expected it. You know the saying don’t count your eggs before they hatch? Let’s just say my eggs were counted and I was already buying the ingredients for an omelet. The deal didn’t happen and I was stuck explaining to my manager what went wrong as I watched it unravel with my own eyes.

At the time I had no idea what went wrong and couldn’t recognize the signs that showed the deal was going south. Looking back I can clearly see the issues and can easily identify the things I could have done to save it. But as everyone knows, hindsight is 20/20 and in moments of high stakes and excitement, it’s easy to have a blurred perspective.

Since then, I’ve learned the tricks of trade and can quickly identify the signs of a deal going bad. More importantly, I’ve identified a few key trends that can be applied to most industries and most sales professionals. Here are a couple warning signs that show when a deal might go south:

The Prospect Starts Sounding Indifferent

The best prospects are the ones who have questions and are excited to get started. Prospects who clearly show that they see the value in what you’re offering and have questions about the details are prospects that are more likely to sign the deal. When you’re dealing with a prospect that doesn’t reject your ideas or have follow up questions after a call, your Spidey senses should start tingling.

The Prospect Starts Postponing Meetings & Calls

You may start out a relationship on great terms because they agreed and didn’t postpone your first call. In fact, it’s very likely that the first call will happen but it’s the second call or follow up to discuss that details where things get tricky. If a prospect keeps postponing your follow up call or continues to brush off your meeting requests, it’s time to adjust your approach.

Roadblocks like this can be both frustrating and challenging to navigate. The most effective approach in dealing with prospects that postpone your meetings is the act of being blunt when asking of their intention. Get straight to the point and see if you lost them somewhere along the communications process or if there’s something holding them back from making a decision. It might be uncomfortable at first but the information your prospects offers up could lead to insights you can use down the road.

The Prospect Asks You To “Just Send The Slides”

When a prospect is looking solely for a proposal, it’s often an indicator of one or two things. Either the prospect is extremely busy and is willing to look through your slides and trust their own judgment or the prospect is asking because they’re trying to keep you happy. While I’ve definitely sent slides and closed deals that start with this approach, it’s far from the most ideal interaction.

If you’ve been asked to send slides, ask the prospect exactly what they’re intending to use these slides for and customize them to match their needs. Further, you should also reiterate that the slides are great but they don’t reflect everything you would like to share with them.


You are now armed with some of the insights that can clearly demonstrate when a sale is about to go south. We both know that the signs can differ depending on your industry and prospect so look for your own cues. Chat with colleagues about what they’ve learned in the past and continuously develop a better process for retaining your prospects attention and closing them deal.

It’s never fun to be taken down a road in which your prospects are simply holding off on delivering the fatal decision. More importantly, it’s important to notice when they’ve made a decision and are simply afraid to communicate it with you because they don’t want any negative feelings. This is where establishing a trusting and open relationship early on is very important.

What other cues can sales professionals look out for when they think a deal is going south?

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