Where Your Opportunities Go When They Die

Your opportunities don’t live forever. They either turn into dream clients or they die (at least they are dead to you). Understanding where they went when they died will help inform you as to how to you can best keep your deals alive and progressing towards living on as your dream client.

Hell: Your Competitors

You didn’t win the deal. Your competitor won the deal. Your opportunity is dead. But it isn’t necessarily dead forever.

The first thing you have to do is complete an autopsy (also called a win-loss analysis). Did the opportunity die of neglect? Did the opportunity die to you because you failed to nurture it? Did it die to you because you failed to listen and understand what it needed from you in order to live long enough to become your dream client? Did it die to you because you ignored the parts of the opportunity that were vital to you keeping it alive and converting it?

What did your opportunity need and how could you have provided it? What could you have done to keep it alive?

You need to work to understand how you lost your opportunity so that you can understand how not to lose future opportunities. Understanding how you lost may not only prevent you losing future deals, but it might also help you to change your approach when and if you can bring this opportunity back to life (and if it was a dream client, you are obligated to keep trying to bring it back to life).

Purgatory: No Change

Your dream client made a decision not to change; now your opportunity is dead. You need to find out where this opportunity went so that you can bring it back to life. There are two places to look.

The first place to look is the place where the dissatisfaction lived.  Was there enough value created around the dissatisfaction to build a compelling case for change?

The second place to look is around the change initiative itself. Was there a compelling vision of a better future that was worth going through all of the pain and disruption that a change effort causes? Switching costs are rarely ever thought of as exclusively financial; in fact, the financial costs are rarely the reason for a No Change decision.

These opportunities are dead, and they are extremely difficult to revive. But they can be brought back to life, provided you can build enough of a motivation and rationale for change in the way of an outsized return on their effort and their investment.

It is hard to bring these opportunities back to life without breaking out the paddles and creating some electricity. You do that by pumping up the implications of their decision not to change, and by building a compelling case with an outsized return on their investment.

The Living Dead: Opportunity Zombies

It looked like a living, breathing opportunity. But it wasn’t. You called the unqualified prospect so that you could make your activity metrics, you went through the sales process, but there was never even a remote possibility that this was really an opportunity. Just because you made a needs analysis sales call, and just because you presented your product or service, doesn’t prove that it was a living, breathing opportunity.

You may have been fooled by the prospect’s receptivity. Maybe they had little to do and you were a welcome distraction, something that helped provide them with the appearance of looking busy. But there was little or no need, there was no dissatisfaction, and there was never any real intention to buy.

There is only way to improve when your opportunity analysis shows that you are calling on something less than a real opportunity: mercilessly disqualify them and spend your time where you can create value–for your dream clients and for your own company.

Opportunity zombies will eat your time and your energy, soaking up all of your future sales results. They cannot be revived: they only looked like it. You must simply recognize and avoid them.


Understanding how and why you lost an opportunity is the first step to making the improvements that will allow you win future opportunities. This short list of places your opportunity when it died will help you identify the steps to keep you from losing others.


    1. Sit down and analyze every deal you lost this year to date. Why did your opportunity die? If it went to your competitor, make a list of the actions you would take were you to be given a chance to go back in time and compete for the opportunity all over again. Take what you have learned from this exercise and make a list of the actions that you will now take on the live deals in your pipeline. (Do it now. Right now. Even if it is late).
    1. Make a list of your no change decision opportunity losses. What was really missing? Identify where the dissatisfaction was and work to understand how the motivation to change was lost. Could you have created more influence around a change effort based on the implications of not changing? What would have made your vision more compelling? Was the change effort too much? How could you prove that you can help them manage the change effort in a way so as to minimize the disruption to their business? How can you lower the cost of change and increase the cost of not changing?
  1. Look at your pipeline. Find the zombies. Delete them. Call them and respectfully break off your engagement with them (you can mercilessly disqualify them without being rude). Tell them the truth: you cannot help them. Know that if your sales pipeline were a horror movie, you would be the sole survivor at the end of the movie; let your competitors serve as the fodder for opportunity zombies.

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