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Dispatching Zombie Opportunities

Some of the “opportunities” in your pipeline are dead. Or rather, they are undead. The undead, zombies if you will, look to be alive. They appear to be animated. They seem to always be moving.

But they’re not really alive. Neither are some of your opportunities.

It’s Dead.

It’s easy to hang on to dead opportunities. You know that your prospective client buys what you sell or may need to soon. You know many of the key stakeholders, many of whom are receptive to you. What’s more, you can’t help but believing that at some point and time, they are going to give you an opportunity to help them with something. Anything!

You continually make calls on these prospects. You visit with the really nice people that work there, and you have some very pleasant conversations. It feels like you are making progress and it feels like good work.

All of this can be true, and you can still not be looking at a live opportunity.

What’s Missing?

Most of the time, the opportunities in your pipeline that don’t really belong there are missing one or more of a few things. Without these missing ingredients, they are lifeless.

The biggest animator of an opportunity is a compelling reason to do something. It is dissatisfaction. Better still is dissatisfaction and impending doom.

Without enough dissatisfaction to compel your prospective client to move forward with whatever it is you sell, they aren’t likely to move forward. That means the opportunity sitting in your sales force automation is dead.

There are other reasons your opportunity may be a zombie. It may not even be qualified.

It may not be qualified because you may not be able to create enough value to be compelling. Your prospect may not value what it is that you sell. They may believe that you are a commodity. Their business may be unprofitable for you and your company. They may simply be some nice, receptive people that like to talk. Or, you may not be in a position to win; maybe you don’t have the relationships.

If your opportunity isn’t really alive, you have two choices. You can bury it, or you can bring it back to life.

They Need Your Brains

Zombie opportunities need your brains. You either kill the opportunity, or you find a way to breathe life into it.

It takes brains to know when to let go, when to kill the opportunity. If the opportunity should have been disqualified, then disqualify it and be done with it. Don’t waste your time on a non-opportunity; you don’t have enough time. Bury it.

But if the opportunity really is a potential opportunity but is missing something, like a compelling reason to move, then you need to do something about it. You need to use your brain to get in front of your prospective client contacts and gain agreement around some compelling reason to move forward. You must gain the commitments that will bring your non-opportunity to life and turn it into something more.

Don’t let your zombie opportunity stumble around from quarter to quarter with you suggesting that it’s really a live deal. Bring it to life, or bury it.


What is it that opportunities are missing that prevents them from being real opportunities?

Why is it so difficult to accept that an opportunity isn’t really an opportunity and that it should have been disqualified?

Are you really better off having zombie opportunities in your pipeline, even though they are not going to result in a won deal?

What would you have to do to abandon the non-opportunities in your pipeline with confidence? Would possessing and pursuing real opportunities make it easier?

If non-opportunities aren’t really opportunities, what could you do to breathe life into them and make them real?

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  • Chris Young

    Excellent post, Anthony…

    I think zombie opportunities are a sign of a lack of sales systems or at least a lack of following systems.

    There should be a clear agreement or policy with regard to what a qualified lead really is. Over the years I have seen many, many zombie opportunities that waste time and cloud the opportunity pipeline. Smart sales managers do not allow either to happen.

    Keep rocking’!
    Chris Young

    • S. Anthony Iannarino


    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks, Chris.

      I so wanted to save this post for Halloween, but the television show The Walking Dead, and a bunch of pipeline reviews forced me to write it now.

      You are correct, of course, this is all about qualification. These non-opportunities really do need to come out of the pipeline. If they are real, then some agreement on how we move them forward needs to be discussed, lest we all waste our time. Without that agreement, we only hurt ourselves.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts here!


  • Linda Fredrick

    Hi Anthony,
    As mentioned, I’m not in direct sales anymore. However we all have to ‘sell’ a bit here and there, for me it’s the whole program we run.  So in within that frame, I hope you won’t mind my answering a few of the  ?’s you mentioned. 

    I’m optimistic, just because it’s in zombie mode right now doesn’t mean it will always be.  Things change, sometimes rapidly, and opportunity may present itself.

    Of course pursuing other opportunities requires time and energy, so at times we have to leave certain activities to rest peacefully.  

    If the opportunity really is there, and just the other just isn’t responsive, well, then it’s time to take a good look at what and how you’re communicating, sometimes, verbiage is everything..  

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Linda. 

      I too am optimistic. But I don’t believe that I can–or should–try to sell something to somebody that cannot buy. This isn’t to suggest that you don’t circle back around on a target client that may have an opportunity in the future. It means you take it out of your pipeline and spend your time where you can get a return on the time invested. 

      You make a great point about when an opportunity stalls and there really is an opportunity. This calls for more brains, and a bit of introspection. Is it stalled because we don’t have a compelling value proposition? Are we carrying the infection that creates zombies? Worth pondering . . . 


  • Bruce Sallan

    The lesson here is to know WHEN to let go of a lead…know when it fits the Zombie mold (very clever, Anthony) and not hang on. Sort of like a bad marriage…time to leave. Or a bad job – move on!