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6 Surprising Signs Your Deal is Going to Fail Miserably

By |February 05, 2024

We don’t teach backup plans at The Black Swan Group—we teach pre-emptive plans so that a backup plan is never needed.

Our philosophy is that you should have a pretty good indication of whether or not the deal is going to go through early on in the conversation. It should be apparent. If you did what you were supposed to do upfront, you're not going to get to the backend of a conversation to have the deal fall apart, because you would have already seen the signs.

Because when you do your job on the front-end of the conversation, you minimize the likelihood of losing the deal. 

Let’s look at 6 signs that your gut is telling you a deal will fail—before it even happens.

1. They can’t or won’t answer the Proof of Life™ question.

The main indicator that your deal will fail is that you’re dealing with Someone With Other Motivations and Intentions aka the SWOMI. This is obvious when they struggle to answer the Proof of Life question—”Of all the options out there, why us?” If they can’t answer this, in a robust fashion or offer something generic, ”The purpose of this call is to see if you’re the right one,” they may still be using you to provide them with information instead of seeking a deal or partnership. They’re not serious, or they’re shopping.

2. They’re obsessed with the price.

Let’s say you do get a good response to the Proof of Life question. But as you proceed in the conversation, there are other indicators that you’re dealing with a SWOMI. One of those indicators is that they’re focused almost exclusively on what you charge. 

These are the people that cut you off, or otherwise show impatience when you talk about anything else other than price. Instead of discussing their vision, they seem to be only interested in business if they can manipulate you over price or commission. This is a big red flag that a deal with them won’t work out in your favor. 

3. They want free information. 

We’ve had potential clients call us at The Black Swan Group and say, “Alright, give me the run of the show.” These are people who are interested in the content, but are focused on having a proposal, or obsessed with a plan. Most likely they’re not interested in doing business with you—they just want to see what you can offer so they can replicate it themselves, or worse, take your information to the preferred vendor and ask them to do the work for less. Don’t be fooled by these people—their interest is only for themselves. 

Learn everything you need to know about mastering your tone of voice.

4. They don’t have a vision for the future. 

We tell our clients all the time to use a Vision Label™ at the beginning of the conversation—”Seems like you have a vision for what this relationship is going to look like moving forward.” By the time someone has reached out to you, they’ve already made up their mind of what they want things to look like. Everyone has a vision, everyone has pre-thoughts about an interaction. If their vision includes you, that’s a good sign. 

But if they don’t include you by name, or say they don’t have a vision, the deal won’t make it far. Alternately, the person might be genuine but seems to have external pressures that are preventing them from sharing their vision with you. (In that case, there might be a potential deal-killer waiting down the road.)

5. They’re all business.

SWOMIs will make an effort to limit relationship-building with you. They’re just checking a box. When they call you up and schedule time to meet with you, it’s only long enough for them to ask questions. They seem to feel obligated to have a conversation with you, to follow through, but have no intention of choosing to do business with you. There’s an indication that they treat their time as more valuable than yours, and have a reluctance to share information. They’re guarded. 

Someone who is all business isn’t thinking about you—they’re thinking of themselves. They’re not seeking collaboration. That’s a broken deal waiting to happen. 

6. They keep talking about “fairness.”

“Listen, before we get started, I want you to know that I’m looking for a win-win for both of us. We’re adamant about treating you fairly and we want to be treated fairly.”

Beware the use of the word fair in a negotiation—especially in the opening stage. If they start the exchange with words like fair, win-win, or compromise, they’re going to take advantage of you at the earliest opportunity. They’re setting you up. Because what they’ve told you, in essence, is that if you don’t agree with them, you’re being unfair.  You’re the bad guy in the conversation. 

People have weaponized the concepts of fair/unfair.  Being labeled unfair is an attack on your character and integrity. When either are threatened, it makes most of us uncomfortable. For some of us, this discomfort causes us to do things against our best interest—just to have the specter of unfairness removed. We end up conceding things we have no business giving up.

Depending on context, it’s manipulation, pure and simple. It's getting you to agree with their idea of fairness, instead of collaborating on a solution.

Choose what hill to die on.

If you’re in a negotiation with someone, they’ve shown you these high risk indicators, and you still choose to do business with them, subconsciously there’s going to be resentment on your part. Because yes, you got the business, but that person has already revealed to you how they are and have still won you over. You took it. They’ll remember that. Because if they manage to still get your business after exhibiting these counterproductive behaviors….for however long the contract lasts they will continue to behave that way. You allowed them to get away with it once, so why not continue?

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. 

At the end of the day, you need to choose what hill you’re going to die on. Do you want to set yourself up to do business with a SWOMI? Or is it worth it to take the time to smoke them out so you can focus on engaging with people who are serious? 

It’s up to you. 


Tone in Communication: Why Your Tone is Killing Your Negotiations Guide