Prisoners of Hope Are Doomed to Fail

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You’ve heard it said that “hope is not a strategy.” I couldn’t agree more – particularly when it comes to acquiring new clients. I spend time with a lot of people charged with developing new business, and from my perspective, way too many of them use the word hope way too often.

Prisoner of hope is such a wonderful, descriptive phrase. I don’t know where it originated, but I picked it up from Tom Reilly’s great book, Value-Added Selling, back in 2002. Prisoner of hope describes the person responsible for bringing in new business who has, for the most part, stopped working the sales process and is no longer pursuing new opportunities because they’re “hopeful” those precious deals in their pipeline are going to close. Can you relate? Does that strike close to home for you, or maybe someone with whom you work?

Instead of continuing to turn over rocks in pursuit of possible new opportunities to put into the sales funnel, these salespeople spend (waste) most of their time talking about and wondering (worrying) about those large deals that are already nearing the end of the sales cycle. They don’t do the smart, responsible thing – spreading their focus across prospects and opportunities at various stages of the sales cycle, particularly the early stages. Rather, they become prisoners of hope to the existing deals they’ve already got in the hopper, even those that are getting stale or starting to grow mold.

When confronted about their lack of new business activity, overly optimistic projections, or the fact their “hopeful” deals have begun to “push” past the predicted close date, these salespeople tend to respond in nonchalant way. I’ve even heard such prisoners of hope casually say, “I’m not worried. It will work out for me. Even if these deals don’t close, a bluebird will fly in, and I’ll get lucky and make my numbers.” Really.

Friends, hope is not a strategy. And it certainly is not part of the recipe for success in developing new business. From my own experience and observing many other salespeople (both top and bottom performers), the only way to ensure a healthy, balanced and moving pipeline is to spread our focus, time and energy across deals and prospects in various stages of the sales cycle. And I’ll dedicate my next blog post to that very topic.

Fall 2012 Selling Season Check-in:

We are beginning week four of Selling Season. How is it going for you and your sales team? Are you taking advantage of the fact that vacation season is over and prospects are back to work? Are you putting in extra hours, getting to precious selling hours earlier in the day? Are you working a finite, written, workable list of strategic target prospects? How well are you selfishly guarding your selling time to ensure that prospecting and new business development are priorities, not afterthoughts? There are eight business weeks left until Thanksgiving. Can you push yourself harder now and rest later? This is the time to finish 2012 with a flurry and plant seeds to set yourself for an outrageously successful 2013.


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