Every sales opportunity contains risk. The purpose of the sales process is to identify and deal with potential problems and risks—and select a winning sales tactic—before they can jeopardize the sales relationship.

Most problems can be overcome by first learning to recognize the red flags. Red flags serve as warning signs, which represent potential risks or problems that can interfere with the sales process. As described in the article Identifying sales risks and problems, there are five typical red flags:

  • Lack of information
  • Uncertainty about information
  • Absent stakeholders
  • New stakeholders
  • Reorganization

Tactics for dealing with red flags

There are three options for dealing with red flags:

  1. Try harder: Keep doing what you were doing until now—just try harder to get the information or the meeting.
  2. Ignore the problem: Assume that the red flag is not important and hope for the best.
  3. Leverage from strength: Leverage your strengths to reduce or overcome the identified problems and risks.

Where possible, employ the third option (leveraging from strength) as it offers a greater chance of success than the other two.

Leveraging from strength in the sales process

To leverage your strengths, they must meet the following criteria:

  • Your strength differentiates you: However, the customer must first recognize that your strength makes you different. In other words, for your strength to offer a real advantage, the customer must be able to see it as an advantage and perceive the value that you bring to their business. See our related article on competitive differentiation for more information.
  • Your strength improves your position: The strength must improve your position (and chances of success) by facilitating the full or partial removal of a red flag. If you cannot directly apply it to one of the red flags, it is not an applicable strength.
  • Your strength is relevant to the opportunity: The strength must matter to the customer with respect to the specific sales objective. If the strength cannot move your opportunity forward, then it is not an applicable strength.

To help identify your specific strengths, consider the stakeholders and influencers you have met so far. Ask yourself:

  • Who seems the most positive about your offering?
  • Can you develop that person into a Coach?
  • Have you asked them to help deal with any red flags?

Systematically leverage this goodwill to access the information and people you need. Note that managing red flags and leveraging strengths are dynamic tactics, as both red flags and strengths may change as you move through the sales process. It is therefore important to periodically revise your assessment of your position.

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Heiman, S. & Sanchez, D. (1998). The New Strategic Selling. New York: Warner Books, Inc.