When prospects go into “Witness Protection”


So, in this situation, you successfully negotiated the 4 P’s of marketing to the satisfaction of the prospect.  (Or so you are thinking) The prospect likes your Product / Service –likes your Place (distribution, service levels, philosophy) likes your Promotion (Sales team, name brand, incentives, etc.) and finally likes your Pricing (terms, conditions, pricing, etc.).   All is good……Or –   Is it?

Suddenly, the prospect that was engaged, returning phone calls, agreeing to meetings, asking questions, interacting, interested, likes what they saw – has fallen off the face of the Earth…. the prospect is now what I call in “Witness Protection” mode.  No return emails…not taking your calls.  “It was going great…”

This situation has happened to everyone in sales at one time or another. What and why did this happen?

From my experience as a negotiator, when I whisked myself off to Witness Protection Mode – that vendor was no longer the lead vendor. That vendor was #2 – I wanted to keep the #2 vendor on a string in the event that the #1 vendor did not come through with whatever were my final requests.  Basically, if a vendor goes into Witness Protection – you have an extremely high failure rate.  Your chances of making a sale to this prospect is near zero.  Time to cut bait.

How to avoid and combat this?  In my opinion, all you can do is minimize the occurrence.  How? A relationship begins and ends in the Discovery stage…at the beginning of the relationship. This is the time when you are setting the expectations of the relationship and laying the foundation of understanding. Deals are won or lost in the discovery stage of the relationship. Asking key questions upfront to establish a relationship on a sound foundation will minimize a prospect going into “Witness Protection” mode.

Some ideas:

  • As a reminder, you are in charge of the sales process. Stay in charge and be the leader of the process.
  • What and how many other vendors will we be competing against for your business?
  • What criteria will you base your decisions on? Please detail.
  • Are you looking to displace a current vendor? If so, how long have you had the relationship with that vendor? Why would you want to change?
  • Why are you looking to change at this time?
  • What are you looking for – what are the top 3 criteria that are key to your decision-making process? If we are able to meet these criteria to your satisfaction, would we earn your business?
  • What is your timeline?

I don’t have all of the answers, or in this case all the best questions.  Get as much of a commitment as you can from the prospect at each stage of the buying process.  Ask for reassurance along the way – Are we on track so far?  What questions do you have at this point?  Are you ready to take the next step?  Have we done an effective job in providing solutions to your problems/concerns/issues?

Offer a proactive transitional plan on making the transition from their current vendor (or their current negative reality) to your proposed solutions for their positive future.

  • Even though we have discussed your current problems and how your current vendor is not fulfilling your needs what issues are you most concerned about in your transition and changing vendors?
  • Is your timeline still on track? How do we rank at this point – #1 or #2? If #2 – why are we #2?  What are we missing? Dig.

The point is, be sure that in every interaction you have with the prospect, you end with questions to gain assurance that you are on track, that what you are offering are the best solutions to their problems that you agreed on in the discovery process.  Review their requirements and problems.  Remind them of their pain points (be sure there are multiple ones) and close the deal.

Will you eliminate your prospects from going into witness protection?  Probably not…but think if you were just able to minimize the occurrence, look at how many more deals you will make!

Please share your thoughts and insights! Keep the dialog going!  Thanks for reading.


Tony Picciano is the founder of Top Sales Success Group. TSS is the result of the unique experience and lifelong ambition of Tony. For over forty years, Tony has worked in sales and sales management with a wide range of businesses from startups to Fortune 100 companies. Tony is not only a sales expert, but also a marketing practitioner with expertise in strategic planning, new product development, new business launches, and collateral material development. Tony is also a DISC certified practitioner.

EMAIL: Tony@Topsalessuccess.com

PHONE: 440-497-0335


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