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Dealing with Misalignment

Dealing with Misalignment – What Can You Do When a Prospect Starts Dragging Their Feet?

Have you ever had a prospect come 90% of the way to committing only for them to backtrack at the last second? This is what you do in that situation.

Every agency owner’s dealt with this situation when they start shooting for the high-ticket prospects.

You’ve established rapport and you’ve had the meetings. Together, you’ve co-created a plan of action with the head of marketing and you’re ready to start allocating resources.

Then something throws a wrench in the works.

The prospect asks for an extra service out of the blue. Or, your proposal has to suddenly go through another round of approval before you can move forward.

Suddenly, you’re dealing with radio silence again as the prospect tries to figure things out. You’ve still got the support of your contact at the company but things aren’t moving forward.

And that throws all of your plans into disarray too.

This often comes down to an alignment problem. I’ll explain what I mean by that in a little while. First, there’s something that every agency owner needs to know.

You Are the Prize

Have you ever read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@%&?

It’s written by a guy called Mark Manson and it’s a great tool for helping you to see yourself in a different light.

Here’s how it applies to your agency.

You are the prize. Your agency has something of value to offer the prospect and they know it. But there’s a risk that you might start getting desperate if the situation I described above starts happening. You get a little overeager with your calls and you start turning into the pushy small agency that needs the big client.

That means the client gets to assess you rather than the other way round. They know that you need the contract, which means they can nitpick and take control of the conversation.

A well-positioned agency knows exactly what it has to offer and how much value it brings to the table.

You’re not trying to impress anybody or push ideas onto them. Instead, you’re able to work with prospects to create a solution with confidence in the fact that you can deliver.

When you’re the prize, the client’s chasing you.

And that’s the idea behind the subtle art.

An Example From One of My Clients

I actually have a client who found themselves in this exact position a little while ago. I’m not going to name names, but this is the gist of what happened.

They’d spent a little while negotiating with a prospect and everything went really well. They had the support of the prospect’s VP of Marketing and they eventually got the call.

“We want you to do our SEO. And we want you to transition our website.”

That’s awesome stuff. The client chalked one up in the “win” column and started allocating resources for the work.

Then it all started to go a bit haywire.

At the last minute, the prospect called to say that they wanted my client to deal with their PPC too. That’s not one of the niches that my client likes to work in and they said as such to their prospect.

But the PPC budget was small enough to where my client figured they could handle it. So they decided to roll with it.

Unfortunately, this is where the project started to stall. My client’s prospect has a major backer and they kept changing what they’re saying.

A couple of days later, my client gets an email asking how much it would cost to build out the existing site rather than transitioning to a new one.

That site’s on a proprietary platform and would add a ton of work to the project.

Then, the backer decided that they wanted user testing on the website, which is another thing my client wasn’t offering.

So the prospect went from wanting to get started with SEO in two weeks to suddenly having all of these extra requirements.

My client and their prospect ended up misaligned. And it would take weeks to do the work the prospect wanted.

It’s a classic case of scope creep. It’s also the exact thing that an agency, especially a smaller one, wants to avoid.

The entire deal could fall apart at this point after being so close to becoming a conversion.

Why Does This Happen?

There are a couple of reasons why this might happen.

The first affects smaller agencies. If you’re dealing with a large client, they may figure that you need them more than they need you. That can leave them feeling like they have a licence to keep changing the project’s scope.

After all, you need the contract. In their minds, that means you’re going to do whatever they need for you to land them.

This is where understanding that you’re the prize becomes so important. When you know what you have to offer, you’re not going to get caught up in that game.

The second reason why a deal might go off the rails is tougher to deal with. It’s possible that a key stakeholder wasn’t at the presentation that you attended.

In that case, your contact’s ready to go and really happy. However, that stakeholder will come back and look at the deal. And they may decide that they want something different to what you agreed.

Scope creep is the result as the absent stakeholder starts exerting their authority over the project. In my client’s case, the prospect’s backer would likely count as this stakeholder.

It becomes almost like the murder mystery game Cluedo. You now have to figure out who that stakeholder is so you can move forward.

What Can You Do About it?

This misalignment is going to have a pretty drastic effect on the project you had planned.

You want to stick to your guns in terms of what you can and can’t do. However, that may lead to the client becoming uncommunicative and disengaged.

The probability of the deal closing keeps dropping until it’s more likely that it’ll fall apart than succeed.

The Hail Mary Throw

Here’s what you do when that probability of closing drops to about 30%.

Make the Hail Mary throw.

Call the prospect’s CEO out of the blue and talk to them. Now, the goal of this conversation isn’t to try and negotiate a deal with them.

Instead, you’re going to play hardball and say something like:

“Hey, we really appreciate the opportunity to pitch on this project. I’m just letting you know that we’re taking this deal off the table.”

Remember that you’re the prize. Keep that in mind and you’ll have the confidence to throw down this ultimatum.

Here’s what’s going to happen.

The executives at your prospect aren’t going to see that move coming. They see you as a small agency that needs their business so they assume the deal’s under their control.

They’re not used to hearing “no”.

Now, it’s a point of pride for them.

Their First Question

The prospect’s going to respond with something like:

“Thank you for your call. Why are you taking the deal off the table?”

This is where you explain your position on the situation. Talk about how you’re a small agency that’s looking for a partnership. Your reputation is your brand and you don’t want to do anything that might cause damage to your agency.

Your reputation is all you have.

Then, talk about how it appears that there’s some misalignment and that you’ve received mixed signals on how you can support them.

Tell Me More

The executive’s intrigued now and they’ll ask you to tell them more.

The CEO is the decision-maker, after all. They’ve made the decision to work with an agency and they’ve left it in the hands of your contact. The problem is that this decision gets diluted as it falls down the chain of command.

That’s especially the case when the prospect’s become prescriptive.

In my experience, it’s best to bring things back to the start again at this point.

Ask the CEO what problem it is that they’re actually trying to solve. Supposing that the solutions are all doable and your agency’s able to get it done, what’s the hang-up?

Again, reinforce the fact that you’re taking the opportunity off the table. Instead, get the CEO to focus back on that original problem that they came to you with.

This reduces the pressure that you’re feeling and it ensures you don’t come across as desperate or needy.

They’re also going to feel impressed by you having the guts to take this approach in the first place. And that may mean that they start engaging on your terms again.

Align Yourself Today

The keys to this whole strategy are to do it announced and to make a statement. Don’t ask them the question. Instead, get the executive to ask you the question and go from there.

Of course, this strategy may not suit your personality type. And that’s okay. It’s a little confrontational and isn’t guaranteed to work.

But if you think the deal’s going out of the window anyway, you may as well give it a shot.

If nothing else, it stops the prospect from dragging their feet and brings some certainty back into proceedings.

Dev “The Deal Maker” Basu