Today's Reading


Sometimes the smallest event can change the whole course of a massive, planned undertaking in very unexpected ways.

This is exactly what happened to us.

Early on in our study—as the findings came pouring out of our machine learning platform and we were struggling to make sense of what they were telling us—we accepted an invitation to sit in on a pipeline review with a sales leader we'd known for years and whose sales instincts we deeply respected. This person had cut her teeth selling mainframe computers and networking equipment back in the day and today runs one of the largest and most successful sales organizations in the cloud computing industry.

The pipeline review started innocuously enough, but then something curious happened. An experienced rep who had forecast a big deal to close for the last two quarters—but had instead seen it continue to slip—was being grilled about the opportunity. The rep seemed to have done everything right. He'd taught the customer about an unseen opportunity that only the company's solution could address. He'd helped them execute a successful proof of concept that won over the technical users in the organization. He'd managed to convince a skeptical buying committee—proving the ROI of the solution and defending the company's unique differentiators and value proposition. His buyer told him that they were ready to move forward.

But then, suddenly, the deal went cold. Weeks turned into months and months into quarters. The customer went from frequent and robust conversations with the rep to offering only curt replies, often days after emails had been sent. In the last email the rep had received, the customer said, "Priorities here are shifting. We should probably pick this conversation up again next year." What had once seemed like a sure thing now seemed to be another deal about to be lost to inaction. The discussion in the pipeline review was whether to "kill for cause" or keep putting time and resources into pursuing it.

Then, the head of sales asked a question that took us all by surprise.

"Do you think the customer is committed to maintaining their status quo or just indecisive about changing it?" she asked.

"I'm not sure I follow," the rep replied. "What's the difference?"

"Actually, quite a lot," she said.

And just like that, our entire study took on new meaning. As soon as we hung up the phone, our team went to work, poring over the data to test her assertion.

From the very first pass through the data, it was clear that something very strange was going on in the sales calls we had collected—something we hadn't expected or even thought to look for before that pipeline review: an overwhelming number of customers who said that they were ready to buy ended up as lost opportunities for the salesperson.


There has always been a wide range of opinions about the best way to sell, but there has never been any disagreement that the customer's status quo is every salesperson's biggest competitor.

While there are plenty of other vendors and suppliers out there that a salesperson must contend with, they all pale in comparison to the threat posed by the customer's desire for things to remain as they are and their deep-seated aversion to change. For this reason, sales organizations have poured time and resources into equipping their salespeople to defeat the status quo. It's the focus of nearly every sales training session, coaching one-on-one, and pep talk delivered to sellers. It's the enemy that every piece of content—from messaging to case studies to proof points and ROI calculators—is focused on. It's no overstatement to say that beating the status quo has become the singular rallying cry for nearly every sales organization on earth.

It would therefore stand to reason that in sales, when a deal ends up stalling out, lost to inaction, the only possible explanation is that the salesperson has failed to break the gravitational pull of the customer's status quo.

And yet, this is not what we found.

When we look at all of the deals in our study that ended up marked as lost to "no decision," a completely different picture from the one that has been painted for salespeople emerges. While the customer's preference for the status quo is a big competitor, it is not the only reason a deal can end up lost in this way. Instead, we found that there is a second reason: the customer's own inability to make a decision. Or, put simply, customer indecision.



1. The Inaction Paradox
2. The JOLT Effect
3. Judge the Indecision
4. Offer Your Recommendation
5. Limit the Exploration

6. Take Risk Off the Table
7. Becoming a "Buyer's Agent"
8. Beyond Win Rates: JOLT-ing Customer Loyalty
9. How Much Is Indecision Costing You?
10. Applying JOLT in Different Sales Environments
11. Building the JOLT-Capable Sales Force

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