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Sales Solutions
Pare Your Pipe vol 8, issue #12
December, 2011

There are sales people who pride themselves on having a large number of deals in their pipelines at any given time. There are other sales people who pride themselves on never giving up on a deal as long as there remains a shred of hope it will progress and lose. And then there are the highly successful sales people who manage their pipelines so that only strong, high-probability-to-close deals remain - and who are willing to abandon losing deals in order ensure that's all that's left. It's a difficult and counterintuitive thing to do, since we are by nature eternally optimistic, competitive people who hate to admit "defeat". But the problems created for you by holding on to deals that - from an outside, objective perspective - are clearly going nowhere (six unreturned phone calls, hasn't answered his phone in over a month, ignores e-mails) are numerous:

  • The time wasted by continuing to place calls and compose e-mails that get ignored - time you could devote to moving real deals toward closure, and to uncovering new ones.

  • The frustration and resignation that comes with never being able to get that prospect on the phone anymore, to get her to return your voice mails, or respond to your e-mails

  • Degradation of pipeline, few sales, and diminishing monthly commission check. Failure to acknowledge and accept that some of the deals you have in your pipeline are hopeless - they will never close - creates a false sense of security and a resulting slacking off from prospecting for new business ("why bother prospecting when I have so many deals in my pipe?"). Those deals remain in your pipe month after month, going nowhere, and doing nothing but clogging it up (they sure aren't making their way out of the bottom of the pipe as sales)

How can you spot a deal that is going nowhere? What are the signs? And when does it pay to be persistent - to hang in there - and when does it not? To answer these questions, ask yourself the following:

  • When is the last time the prospect and I spoke (not e-mailed, spoke. While e-mail has become part and parcel of our daily business communications, business deals get advanced, negotiated, and closed when people talk with each other)?

  • When is the last time my prospect reached out to me?

  • Do I feel in my gut that this is going to happen, or - if I'm really honest with myself - do I feel like I'm getting the run around (evidenced by remarks such as, "We haven't gotten around to reviewing your proposal - but we will in a couple of weeks. Call me then." Or "I still haven't been able to get the attention of upper management - try me again next month." Or, "Put me down for a call back in February - we'll definitely be ready to go by then.")

Unsatisfactory answers to any one of these should be a big red flag for you, and cause you to consider whether it's worth your time to continue pursuing. Unsatisfactory answers to all of them should have you running for the hills.

Now you might say, "I only have a handful of named accounts in my territory - how can you expect me to walk away from any one?" The answer is you don't need to walk away from an account (which, if you read carefully, you'll see was never suggested), but you should consider walking away from either the specific opportunity you're working in that account, or the specific person on whom you've been depending, if he or she stops playing ball with you, and find new opportunities or people elsewhere in the account.


Deals die on the vine for two reasons: (1) the prospect never really needed what you were selling in the first place (you didn't qualify well) and (2) they did but they went with someone else, or something changed on their end (priorities, a reorganization, or your contact got the ax) and they are uncomfortable telling you (you got outsold and you neglected to establish an up-front agreement that it's OK - indeed, welcome - to bring you news you won't like). In both cases, there are things you could have done to preclude this from happening. With new opportunities, start by qualifying better. Next, get into the habit of ending your qualifying discussion by establishing a handshake agreement that going dark is not acceptable. You're your existing pipeline, identify those deals you suspect really aren't deals (using the four diagnostic questions above), and take one last stab at each using a Take-Away, one form of which is a Surrender Letter. If you get no response from this last-ditch effort, you have a dead deal; remove it immediately from your pipeline, and assign it "drip" status (if the deal is meant to happen, it will come back to you - on its own, with no further effort on your part).

Weeding out the duds like this makes it easier to focus on the true deals you're working. And by revealing how many fewer "real" deals you have than you thought you did, you should have all the impetus you need to get on your horse and increase your prospecting activities accordingly.

Good Selling!

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