The Short Shelf Life of a Deal in Your Pipeline

alt text image of gravestone with opportunity written on it.You worked hard to create opportunities with your dream clients. Now that these opportunities are in your pipeline, your challenge is to keep them moving along from target to close, doing all that is expected of you and more.

One of the iron laws of sales is that the longer your deal sits between stages, the more likely you it is to stall (or to die altogether). Don’t believe me? Does your pipeline tell you something different?

Your deals have a shelf life. Once they reach that shelf life they die. You may not believe they are dead because the company is still in business. Heck, they may even be having a banner year. But your opportunity has no pulse. It stopped breathing a long time ago, and that little metric in your sales force automation that tells you how long it’s been between stages is now in triple digits.

Most sales force pipeline reports are often little more than a graveyard of expired opportunities. But this doesn’t have to be true. There is another way. A better way requires that you observe the shelf life of an opportunity and you make sure it doesn’t die of old age or of neglect. Here are three big ideas to keep in mind.

Focus on Dissatisfaction and It’s Cost

The more dissatisfaction, the greater urgency there is to change. Your opportunities are created and driven by dissatisfaction. The more you can focus on the dissatisfaction, the easier it is to move the opportunity forward. But it isn’t the dissatisfaction alone that moves deals; it’s the cost of that dissatisfaction.

Dissatisfaction comes with a price. By focusing on that price, you help to create the urgency that compresses your sales cycle—by compressing your dream clients buying process. Dissatisfaction is what moves your dream client to action.

Now you have to obtain the commitments that move your deal forward.

Collect the Commitments to Act

Your dream client is motivated by their dissatisfaction and the high cost of the status quo. It is your job to do something with that motivation. You have to ask for and obtain the commitments that move your opportunity forward and that help you to help your dream clients.

You have to obtain the first commitment, often the hardest, to gain access to the decision-makers and decision-influencers to collect the information you need to build your solution. You have to collect these, moving from commitment to commitment, always advancing your deal—and moving your dream client to a better future.

Days, weeks, or even months with no activity, with no made and kept commitments, is a surefire way to allow your opportunities to die of neglect. You may want to believe that you are being professional and giving your dream client the space that they need to decide. In reality, you are almost certainly putting your opportunity at risk to a competitor—or the most ferocious of all competitors: no decision.

Each commitment you gain moves you closer and closer to a deal. Commitments are what keeps your deal alive and within the boundaries of it’s shelf life.

Focus on a Better Future Result

It is surprising how much your dream client can put up with. They can learn to live with a shockingly high level of dissatisfaction at a staggeringly high cost. I have seen clients muddle through this way for years.

To observe the short shelf life of your opportunity, you must create an ever-present vision of a better future. You have to help them to envision the story of how they get from where they are to where they want to be, writing and selling that story together. Focusing on the future helps provide the motivation to change—especially when you can point to their return on their investment of time and energy. This helps to keep the motivation high if and when the dissatisfaction wanes.

Leverage dissatisfaction and its cost, collect the commitments, and drive your opportunity and your dream client towards a better future result. Measure the days between activities and commitments, and know that the longer the space between, the more likely your opportunity is to expire.


Your opportunities have a relatively short shelf life. You have to focus your efforts on moving your deal from target to close before that shelf life expires. Pay attention to these three big ideas to keep on track.


    1. How many opportunities in your pipeline have expired? Is your pipeline really a memorial to opportunities that either died of old age or neglect?

    1. What factors do you leverage to create both the rationale and the urgency to keep your opportunity progressing and on course? What causes these motivations to fizzle out over time? How can you prevent that from happening?

    1. Make a list of the commitments that you have to obtain in order to move from one stage of your sales cycle to the next. How can you ensure that you collect these commitments and keep your deal advancing?

    1. What factors can you leverage that motivate your dream client towards a better future result? How can you encourage their engagement in the process of helping you to write the story of that future and featuring you in the co-starring role?

  1. Clean up your pipeline. If you want to create little grave markers to recall the opportunities past, go ahead. Use them to remind you of the opportunities you lost that you might have won. Then take action to ensure you limit these losses in the future.

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