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The “No Decision” Decision – Does everybody lose?

by Hank Barnes  |  March 24, 2015  |  3 Comments

Think about the last time you put a lot of energy into something and then did nothing.    How did that feel?  For me, it feels like I totally wasted precious time for no good reason.    There are some occasions where the effort leads you to believe that a change is not worth making, and that may be a good thing, but I’d position you want to get to that point quickly versus invest a tremendous amount of time and energy to decide to do nothing.  It’s like chasing your tail.

Chasing tail

In a recent survey that we did at Gartner, we askedB2B technology buyers for the biggest reasons for “No Decision” –  times when they abort a buying process.   The top 4 reasons were:

  • Project and Solution Costs Exceeding Budget
  • Concerns about the Level of Business or Technical Risk
  • Concerns about ROI
  • Lack of Budget

The first response that conveyed a lack of satisfaction with potential solutions (not worth a change) was ranked 5th.  If it was ranked higher, I would not be so negative about no decisions.  It might help future buying cycles or it might help you build confidence in what you are doing, which are great things.  But the reasons cited above point in a different direction— a failure in buying and a failure in selling.  These no decisions are  costly for all parties involved.    It certainly is one form of competition that sellers need to be wary of.  When a buyer decides (I guess it is a form of decision) to do nothing, think of all the waste:

  • For the buyer, all the time and energy of the buying team (often 3-5 people or more) is largely wasted.
  • For sellers, their marketing and sales efforts are gone–time they could have spent with other buyers.

What could be done differently?

First, distinguish between what John Holland likes to call “looking cycles.”   There is nothing wrong with looking.  But that requires less energy for buyers–and sellers should correspondingly spend less energy–until they confirm that the looking cycle has changed to a buying cycle.  This is about continuous qualification and prioritization.

Beyond that, once a buying cycle is occurring, remember the key reasons processes stop.   Don’t grow the project beyond the budget, unless you can confirm that additional budget can easily be found and committed to the project.  Increase your focus on conveying ways to reduce risk and achieve ROI.  Build enough trust and rapport with the buyer to continually assess if both parties are on the right path to move to a decision.  If things are moving off course, you either need to get it back on track or consider exiting.

Are “no decisions” a problem for you?  If your not sure, here is an easy way to check.  Go back through the sales efforts you’ve conducted in the last six months or so.  Count the number that ended in no decision, then estimate the amount of time and energy you put into those.   Now think about what might have been possible if you allocated 75% of that time to other efforts where a change decision was made.   Would that have had a positive impact on your business?

Let’s face it, both buying and selling are business efforts.  They exist for a reason.   Start treating them like other business activities and try to minimize situations where you are wasting time.

Category: future-of-sales  go-to-market  

Tags: buying-cycle  competition  no-decision  sales-cycle  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes provides research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies for technology providers. His research efforts focus on understanding the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. He then applies that research to explore the implications on vendor strategies, supporting the efforts of product marketing, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and CEOs. Read Full Bio


Thoughts on The “No Decision” Decision – Does everybody lose?


  1. Brilliant article. When my company has conducted this survey in the capacity of a vendor, reason #5 in your list actually came out tops! I’m convinced that what they told Gartner is the true picture. But reasons #1, 2 and 4 can be seen as internal shortcomings, so, when a vendor asks, not surprisingly, they raise the importance of vendor-side issues – like #3 and 5 – to the top of the list!

    • Hank Barnes says:

      Thanks for the comment. I think understanding some of the reasons is important, but the bigger issue is not about blame—both sides have failed if a no decision occurs after a buying organization has effectively decided that they need to change. There is a level of distrust between buyers and sellers that contributes to the rankings in a vendor survey v. a buyer survey. That trust level has to be overcome. And, as sellers, we have to constantly monitor to see if this issues are arising. If so, then action is needed.



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