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 at home or maybe 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, brings along over 30 years of expertise in developing and implementing human performance improvement solutions across the globe. He is an active member of the Wilson Learning Global Executive Board, with current responsibility at a global level.

Mr. Yesford is the contributing author of Win-Win Selling, Versatile Selling, The Social Styles Handbook, The Sales Training Book 2, and several other books. He has been published in numerous business publications throughout the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Asia Pacific, and he is also a frequent speaker at international conferences and summits.”