Most salespeople love the feeling of uncovering a good sales opportunity. Sometimes, however, opportunities are not what they seem.

I’m talking about those deals that look like great opportunities at first, but that ultimately fail to gain traction. Obviously, things like this are sometimes just out of the salesperson’s control. But there are some things you can do to avoid wasting your time on bad sales opportunities. Here are four steps I recommend.

Step #1: Don’t mistake an interested prospect for a promising opportunity.

A prospect who seems interested in your product is not necessarily a sales opportunity. Even someone who loves your product and expresses wild enthusiasm might not be a good sales opportunity.

Interest and enthusiasm are great, but is there a compelling event happening at the company that creates a need for this person to invest in your solution (for example, a merger, a new software implementation, or recent expansion into a new market)?

Without a pain point that’s forcing the prospect to buy, it’s unwise to invest too much time or energy in a continued conversation.

Step #2: Ask pre-close questions right away.

In my first or second call with the prospect, I determine whether or not this really represents a potential deal. I often do this by asking pre-close questions right away. For example:

  • “This could cost you between [provide a range]. Would that pose any challenges for you?”
  • “Is this an item that needs to be budgeted for?”
  • “Are you the person who would be signing off on the purchase?”

You can also ask questions that tie to the exact business problem the client needs to solve. In my case, for example, someone who’s having a lot of trouble rolling up accurate sales forecasts would be worth my time.

The answers to any of these questions should tell you a lot before you invest a ton of time having phone calls and meetings or drawing up a quote or proposal.

Step #3: Focus on quality (not quantity) in your pipeline.

Personally, I don’t like to keep a ton of deals in my pipeline just for the sake of feeling secure that my pipeline is full. I’d rather disqualify deals and focus on those that I know have a high likelihood of closing. If you’re taking the two steps listed above (asking pre-close questions right away and being realistic about your opportunities), you’ll be able to commit deals more comfortably.

When you focus on the quality of your pipeline, you avoid the risk of making your manager or VP look bad because you’re committing to bring in bogus deals that will probably never materialize. Occasionally, you can even turn into a hero by choosing to accelerate a highly promising deal and close it early (I was actually able to do this with a recent deal).

Step #4: Keep your bases covered.

It can be really difficult in CRM to actually see what’s going on in your pipeline. That’s one thing I really love about using C9, because it offers you a clear picture in just one screen of everything that’s going on.

For example, C9 shows me the number of days since a deal has moved. If my average sales cycle is two months and I see a deal that has stalled, I know it’s time to make something happen there.

Having a single, clear view of your pipeline in C9 helps you

  • stay organized and manage your time,
  • easily see which deals you can move up, and
  • facilitate better conversations with your manager because you’re both working with the same information.

Your approach to pipeline is going to depend on your selling style, company culture, solution or product, and the preferences and habits of your customers. That said, these four tips help me qualify my opportunities early so that I always feel like I’m making smart use of my time.


Rob Ferber is an account executive at C9 Inc.     

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