The Rule of Thumb on Keeping a Prospect Active


A common question from sales professionals centers around how long a prospect is kept active in the pipeline.  There are several views on this topic and of course I have my own opinion.  But before I share my view let’s look at the 3 major philosophies on keeping a prospect active.

  1. Always.  Until they buy a prospect is always a prospect and you never give up trying to convert them.  You continue to call on them until, by the sure will of your persistence or their exhaustion, they give you the sale.
  2. At the first “no”.  Once the prospect says no, move on.  Eliminate them from your call list.  Forget about them.  They don’t know what they’re doing.  They’ll come back to me later down the line.
  3. Only until I have confirmed the following:  they have a need for my solution, it’s currently an unmet need, it’s currently a met need but I can improve, they’ve engaged me in a professional manner, they’ve asked enough questions that I know they’re considering a change, they’ve brought others into our discussions, for whatever reason the timing isn’t right.

I do not believe in #1 or #2 above.  The first philosophy is what I call “old school” sales.  Keep at ’em.  Ware ’em down.  Go for the close.  Often times the prospects that fit into this category and ultimately buy from you won’t last.  They will either cancel the order before it’s fulfilled or change back to their original provider at a later time when they feel they’ve achieved a safe distance from you.  Focus on establishing the value of your solution with the prospect.  That means that you’ve done enough work to either identify this prospect as a viable candidate for your product or recognized that they’re not a fit.  Great sales people are not just good closers but they are good assessors.  They don’t waste their time on chasing ghost deals.  They know that time is their most valuable resource and they use it in ways that help them achieve “effective success”.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from #1 is the “no” response followed immediately by a run for the hills.  Remember Tommy Boy?  We’re not gonna take no for an answer.  “NO!”.  “Okey Dokey”.  This philosophy is just as ineffective as the prior one.  Just because you’ve heard no doesn’t mean move on.  Of course knowing whether or not moving on is the right approach depends on how well you’ve read the situation.  Is it no for today, tomorrow, or no for forever?  How can you tell?  Did you present your value proposal and get buy in along the way only to be shut down when it came to price?  What was the reason for the no?  Did you ask at the front end of your presentation to be given a reason for any no you received during the presentation?

The best choice is #3.  If you’ve spent time with the prospect and used that time to understand their needs and have taken an honest approach to aligning your product to their need then even if you get a no you’re in a good place to understand that no is not forever.  You’ve identified the need, you know your product can meet that need, and you know a number of different value items associated with your product that will benefit the prospect.  So if it’s no, follow-up.  Get their agreement as to when your next check in will be.  “I understand you’d like to stay put right now.  I also know we both recognized and agreed that this ABCD will help you improve your XY and Z.  I’m going to follow-up with you next quarter to see how timing may have changed to help facilitate this change.”

In summary, don’t keep a prospect a prospect just for the sake of old school thinking.  Trying to force a sale or impose your will on another doesn’t work.  If it does it’s short lived and ultimately you’ll lose the customer anyway.  If that happens you’ve actually done damage to your company’s brand and profitability as it costs money to acquire a new client and fulfill them.  Whether they stay 3 days, 30 days, or 300 days, if they aren’t on the books long enough to get to your break even you’ve lost.

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