Every leader has to make tough decisions. Tough decisions affect people, involve great uncertainty, or have the potential for significant consequences, both positive and negative. Knowing how and when to make tough decisions is a hallmark of decisive leaders. Knowing what decisions to make is the trademark of a leader who thinks in long-term outcomes. Make a tough decision prematurely, without considering the facts or the effects, or make it based solely on an emotional overreaction, and it can be a disaster. Put off the decision, procrastinate because of fear, and it can mean missed opportunities or bigger problems. Understanding when to seek counsel and when to move ahead in a business environment that doesn't wait for the perfect solution can be the difference between success and second place.
Tough decisions might involve deciding when to go after a sale and how aggressively. Tough decisions could involve deciding how to handle someone who is not fulfilling his or her role on your team. Tough decisions may involve deciding when to stop providing products or services to a customer. Sales leaders don't shy away from the challenges these tough decisions present. These are the kind of decisions they are suited to handling.
Walking away from a sale is never easy, but if the sale sounds too good to be true it probably is. I had the opportunity to speak with Ken Wheatley, vice president for corporate security for a well-known consumer electronics manufacturer, the president of his own security firm, and a former FBI agent. He related an incident in which a number of well-intentioned salespeople and their companies were duped out of $100 million.
The salespeople involved were led to believe they were going to be able to make a large sale, so they got excited about the possibility—probably too excited. They were told to contact only a certain person, they were given an address in a European country that was supposed to be the company's headquarters but turned out to be a storefront, and they were asked to send samples of products for test evaluation (worth millions—of course, the products were never returned). There were clues that something was amiss, but in the excitement of the promise of large sales, salespeople and others overlooked the clues. It was costly.
Another element of greediness that can slip into the sales process is eagerness to offer financing to win the deal. If the buyer's finances are strong, you won't be risking your company by offering terms. But if the situation deteriorates, your company may be left holding the bag; what seemed like a lucrative sale may turn into an albatross. If highly attractive financing is the only reason that the customer is interested in buying, that's a red flag. The sale should stand on its own merits, and financing should be an option for closing it. Otherwise, the real cost of the sale could exceed what the customer is going to pay. Your commission may be based only on the revenue from the sale, but your job may hinge on whether the customer pays.