The number of qualified opportunities is my favorite sales indicator. You can't improve what you don't measure, so I invested a lot of time to define what "qualified opportunities" should consist of for consulting firms. Over time, I also came up with a powerful maxim on this topic:
Every opportunity should ultimately be closed - in one way or another.
Let me explain what that means.
The Danger Of Counting Stalled Opportunities
Different firms have different growth challenges. Sometimes consultants do not have enough opportunities in their pipeline and need to focus on generating more interest and earning trust from buyers. In other cases, they have opportunities in their pipeline but struggle to transform them into new businesses.
When the problem is sales, the first thing I do with the client is to take a closer look at their open opportunities.
An opportunity is open when you have already had sales conversations with a prospect. You might have had a discovery call, suggested solutions, or even sent a proposal. The reason why it's open is that the prospect is, in theory, still in the sales cycle.
Whenever we start looking at individual cases, it's easy to notice that the vast majority of open opportunities are stalled. These conversations are not moving forward. The consultant hasn't proposed the next step, or the prospect has been ignoring or avoiding them for the last few months.
When you keep these opportunities open, you are dangerously inflating the size of your pipeline. You might feel good seeing all of these promising conversations in your CRM, but they are not a reliable lead indicator to future revenue. You are fooling yourself.
There's More Than One Way To Close Opportunities
People usually think that closing opportunities mean signing a contract and winning the business. That's how you make money as a consultant, but it's not the only path the sales conversation can take. There's an alternative.
You can also close opportunities by letting prospects go.
That's right. Instead of making excuses for why your prospect hasn't replied, sending follow-up emails politely asking for a definition, and cold calling contacts who have been avoiding you... you let them go.
Need help? Here's an email for you to send within the existing email thread you have with those stalled prospects:
Haven’t heard from you, so to be respectful of your time this is my last email.
Feel free to drop me a line if I can be of assistance in the future.
All the best,
When you let them go without asking for any response, you are removing the reasons for that person to continue to ignore you. You are showing you understand this doesn't seem to be a priority for them and are closing the sales conversation for now. You are proving to be client-oriented and a non-needy consultant.
After you send that message, one of three things might happen:
- The prospect replies and gives you a reason for their behavior. They might say "We decided to hire another firm", or "It's not really a priority for us". If that's the case the opportunity was already lost, and now you can focus your efforts on real promising opportunities.
- The prospect replies and decides to continue the talks. A reply such as "Sorry, we were busy with X but want to continue exploring this, I'll get back to you next week" is the best-case scenario. You are not chasing anymore and have another chance to take control of the sales process.
- The prospect doesn't reply. It's rare, but if an opportunity doesn't reply you have effectively reduced the workload of chasing a poor prospect and the mental stress that comes with it.
Closing stalled opportunities is a win-win. You save time and mental bandwidth from false expectations while increasing your perceived value and real pipeline value. Prospects stop feeling harassed and guilty by not replying.
If an opportunity is not moving forward, close it. In one way or another.