Walking away is hard, especially when it comes to potential deals. After all, you've spent time, energy, and resources building a relationship — and giving up means you have nothing to show for it.
But in the long run, having a pulse on when to walk away and disqualify leads will help you refine your efforts and make you a much more efficient, effective salesperson. Every minute you spend on an impossible or low-value deal is one you could be spending on a viable, valuable one.
And even if you manage to convince a poor-fit prospect to buy, you're setting yourself up for an unhappy customer relationship and a potential hit to your reputation. To avoid the pitfalls of bad-fit prospects, look out for these seven signs you should give up on a deal.
7 Signs You Should Walk Away From a Prospect
1. They can’t answer these three questions.
Sales requires some detective skills. You need to uncover your prospect’s pain, figure out what they mean (versus what they say), and tailor your messaging to their priorities — but you can't do all the work.
According to Colleen Francis, author of “Nonstop Sales Boom,” sales reps should walk away from prospects who can’t answer these three questions:
- What does success look like with this project?
- Who else will be involved in this decision?
- When do you need to have this project done?
If the prospect says, "I don’t know" to any of those questions, they're either not serious or not a decision-maker. If it's the latter, you don't necessarily have to jump ship. Somewhere during the approval process, the real decision-maker will ask them those same questions. Without a satisfactory response, the deal won’t move forward.
Before you give up, try saying, “I’m worried that unless we can figure out what you’re hoping to accomplish — and by when — this might not be the best investment of your time. Should we table this conversation?”
2. They (really) don't have the budget.
Sales reps are used to hearing “We don’t have the budget,” and “I can’t afford that price.” But that shouldn’t be your cue to give up — many prospects use price as a convenient excuse to get off the phone.
That said, some companies actually won't be able to afford your product. You can hash out whether that's the case through a bit more discovery. Ask questions like:
- What’s your prospect’s company’s revenue?
- Is accessing cash a matter of proving the purchase’s value to higher-ups or hoping that a new round of funding comes in?
- If you changed billing terms or offered a slight discount, would that change things?
- Do you typically sell to companies of this size with this approximate revenue?
If your prospect’s answers are completely misaligned with what you’re able to provide, you’re probably out of this prospect’s price range. Rather than abandoning the deal with no warning, let your prospect down gently by saying, "Given what you’ve told me about your budget, I don’t believe our product is the right fit for you."
Score some sales karma by adding, "I’d recommend [Company A] or [Company B] — either should be able to meet your needs within the budget you’ve outlined."
Now you’ve created some goodwill, it’s a great time to request a referral. Say, "Do you know anyone who’s looking for a more robust solution?"
3. You're competing with three or more vendors.
Given your line of work, you probably enjoy a little competition. But as sales expert Jeff Hoffman explains, pursuing a sale when there are three or more other vendors in the mix isn’t usually worth it.
Not only do your chances of closing decrease with every direct competitor, Hoffman says, but the fact that you’re facing so many other vendors also suggests the deal’s still in early stages. You’ll likely be working with a lower-level employee, rather than the decision-maker.
And even if you turn down an RFP, that doesn’t mean the opportunity is lost.
"If your company was a serious contender, the manager will tell the researcher to go back to your company and ask again," Hoffman notes. "If you receive a second request, you will know the prospect is truly interested, and you aren’t wasting your time by getting involved."
4. They go dark.
Sometimes, your prospect will seem to fall off the face of the planet out of nowhere. They stop returning your calls, answering your emails, or responding to your LinkedIn messages. Eventually, you start digging into your bag of last resort re-engagement techniques — and still, zilch.
That's a good sign that you should probably stop trying. Sure, there's a chance they'll respond to that tenth email or eleventh voicemail — but let's be real, the odds are pretty slim. Plus, when you refuse to recognize prospects who aren't interested, you end up with a cluttered pipeline and inaccurate forecasts.
That said, never end a relationship by going dark yourself. Wrap it up professionally by sending a breakup email. Bryan Kreuzberger, founder of Breakthrough Email, says sending a “permission to close your file” email gives reps a chance to learn from the sale.
5. You’re working with a coach — not a champion.
Your prospect is picking up the phone and putting your meetings on their calendar, so life is good, right? Not necessarily. Simply talking to you isn’t enough — the prospect needs to be able to move the deal forward.
If a prospect is unable to introduce you to other stakeholders, talk about their budget, share their decision criteria, or answer your questions about their needs, desires, and pain points, they're likely a coach — someone who can be valuable in providing context around his company’s internal politics and decision-making processes without the authority or influence to impact a deal.
When you run into this contact, you don’t need to abandon the account. You just need to find a champion — someone with access to the decision-maker who will sell your product internally.
You don’t want to burn bridges with your coach, so don’t insinuate that they’re not useful to you. Instead, keep things positive and ask that point of contact who (besides them) should be involved in the conversations. They’ll point you to the people who can actually ink a deal.
6. They don't see your value.
It's the salesperson's responsibility to educate the buyer on their solution's value. If your prospect is struggling to understand why they need your product and how it will help them achieve their goals, reframe your value proposition, show them customer case studies, send them testimonials from your happiest clients, and so on.
But if you've repeatedly attempted and failed to convince them of your offering's ROI, it's time to call it quits. Some buyers will never grasp the message — and you'll simply waste your breath if you keep trying.
While they might end up buying, you'll have a difficult (if not impossible) time negotiating a fair price. After all, they see your product as a commodity — not a necessity.
7. It’s flat-out not a good fit.
If your product won’t help the prospect, you’re obligated to walk away. At the end of the day, your mission shouldn’t be closing — it should be delivering the best solution to your customers.
Imagine you sell online reputation management services to restaurants. Because your product isn’t really cost-effective for smaller organizations, you target dining establishments with 20 or more locations. You get an inbound lead for a restaurant with only two locations; after following up, you realize this business will get minimal ROI from your services — if any.
Rather than pushing forward with the sale, you should say, "From what I’ve learned about your restaurant and goals, I don’t believe our product is the best solution. I recommend [alternate product #1] or [alternate product #2] instead, because [reasons A and B]."
This response boosts your reputation as credible and trustworthy — so when the prospect’s restaurant chain gets acquired by a much bigger one, you’ll be the first person they call. But even if this prospect never becomes a good fit, they'll likely pass your name along to anyone who is.
Removing a prospect from your pipeline never feels good — even when you know it’s the best thing to do. But there’s a major upside. When you walk away from the prospects who aren’t right for your business, you’ll be able to focus on the prospects who are.