These are both examples of what I've come to recognise as "the curse of the slow no". In the first instance, the customer took their time (and why wouldn't they?) to let you know you were never likely to win the business. In the second, you probably took too long to realise that whilst there may have appeared to be interest on the part of the prospect, there certainly wasn't enough urgency, or a compelling event.
The "slow no" isn't just very frustrating and demoralising - it usually represents a significant of wasted effort and energy. Worse, the time and resources that were thrown into trying to win the un-winnable deal could almost certainly have been better spent pursuing a better qualified opportunity.
So how can vendors throw off the curse of the slow no? The answer often lies at the very beginning of the engagement with the prospect. We've found that opportunity scoring can help determine - right from the start of the process - not only how good a fit the prospect is for you, but how good a fit you are for them.
It's almost always better to continue searching for a prospect with a better score than to run with an opportunity that doesn't tick enough boxes simply because you don't have any other alternative.
How can vendors know when a competitor has their grubby fingerprints all over a deal? One of the key tests is the prospects willingness to have you help them shape their objectives, and the criteria by which they will judge potential solutions - and receiving an RFP out of the blue is almost always a sign that someone else has seized the initiative. If the prospect is closed to any suggestions, it's usually a good sign that you should up and walk away.
Finally, the challenge of identifying deals that are never likely to go anywhere can be met by probing for the "cost of inaction". Two questions have proved particularly invaluable - "what would be the impact of not solving this problem?" and "what has prevented you from solving the problem before?".
I've found that these approaches have helped client after client qualify better, earlier in the sales process - and successfully avoid the "curse of the slow no". Of course, they depend on close alignment between the sales and marketing organisations - but isn't this something we should all be striving for anyway?