Don’t Go Into the Woods!

Horror Stories from the Sales Field

By David Yesford

It is a damp night, fog rolling in. A wolf howls as eerie music plays in the background. A woman appears, blood on her hands. Alone and scared, she stumbles out of the house and down creaky stairs, looking out across a wide yard. At the edge of the yard is a dark entrance to the woods. The woman looks around, then heads slowly toward the woods.

If you are sitting in the movie theater, what are you saying to yourself, maybe even yelling at the screen? “Don’t go . . . Don’t go into the woods!”

Now picture this: Alex is pursuing an opportunity. In several discovery meetings, Alex gains a lot of information, but not much understanding. The actual problem is not clearly defined. There is no evidence the project is strategic to the company. One contact says there is funding; another says there is no funding. Priorities seem to change with every conversation. What will Alex do?

“Don’t go . . . Don’t go into the woods!” Many times, the signs are as clear as a cheesy horror movie. You should really rethink your decision to continue, but the reality is that most salespeople will continue to pursue the opportunity because of the time and effort already invested.

How do you decide to pursue the right opportunity? It is actually quite simple to say, but hard to do.

Three Questions to Ask:

Will the customer buy?

The signs are usually clear. Is there strategic importance, a compelling event, or a budget? Without these three things, it is just an entry into a dark woods.

Will the business, if won, be good for my company and me?

Salespeople tend to focus on the time and resources already invested when they should be focused on the costs to deliver and support the sale. If this has potential at becoming the “customer I wish I hadn’t gotten,” then rethink entering the woods.

Finally, will the customer buy from me?

The question is not will they buy, but will they buy from you? Is a competitor better aligned with the customer on value? Is there a competitor with an inside tract? Are you offering a clear competitive advantage? If not, that dark entry to the woods may just be a dead end.

Consider each question in order. If you don’t know the answer, find out. But if there is compelling evidence that the answer is no, then don’t do it . . . Don’t go into the woods!


David Yesford

David Yesford, Senior Vice President of Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc. and Managing Director of Wilson Learning APAC, has more than 30 years of experience developing and implementing human performance improvement solutions around the world. He brings valuable experience, strategic direction, and global perspective to his work with clients. Mr. Yesford is an active member of the Wilson Learning Global Executive Board, with current responsibility at a global level. Over the years, he has held strategic roles in our core content areas of sales and leadership, as well as e-learning and strategic consulting. He has also held managing director positions in both China and India.

Mr. Yesford is the contributing author of several books, including Win-Win Selling, Versatile Selling, The Social Styles Handbook, and The Sales Training Book 2. He has also been published in numerous business publications throughout the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Asia Pacific. Mr. Yesford frequently speaks at international conferences and summits, focusing on issues such as sales and sales strategy, leadership, employee and customer engagement, brand, and strategy implementation.