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6 Signs You’re Wasting Your Time on a Dead Sales Lead

6 Signs You’re Wasting Your Time on a Dead Sales Lead
Some salespeople say that every sales lead is a good lead. But while every lead might start out with full-blooded potential, there’s a point when the pulse starts to slow, it eventually flatlines, and no amount of mouth-to-mouth is going to resuscitate this deal. Here are six signs it’s time to leave a cold lead on the table and invest your time in a warm, and convertible, prospect.

Maybe it’s because I’ve watched way too many horror movies recently about trying to discern whether someone was possessed, undead, or an evil spirit as opposed to a good old fashioned human. It got me thinking about identifying dead sales leads and knowing when it’s time to leave the corpse behind.


Lead generation is challenging so it can be easy to get excited when a new sales prospect comes your way. The glitter, the glam, the five-star potential. I know the rush. “This is going to be a great project, a great client, and a lot of money for the company, not to mention my sweet commission!”

And you should be excited because it helps motivate you to nurture the lead. But no matter how awesome your product or service is, and no matter how convincing a salesperson you are, not every lead is going to convert.

So because time is money, you need to quickly recognize when a lead crosses over to the other side - the dead side - so you can stop wasting your time and move on to something with real, live, profitable potential.

Only 44% of companies are using any kind of lead scoring system [Source: DecisionTree]

1. They don’t have a need for what you’re selling

Most people in sales know that pros don’t sell a drowning man a glass of water. The true professional knows it’s the thirsty man who really needs your water and therefore it’s going to be waaaaaaaaay easier to sell to him.

Remember: you’re not SELLING, you’re SOLVING. And that’s a critical mind shift that smart salespeople understand. If you find people who have a problem you can solve, most of the work is already done.

But if your lead doesn’t have a real need for your product or service, move on. Otherwise, you could waste a lot of valuable time trying to convince the inconvincible.

Or maybe you do convince that person but they end up unhappy because they spent money on something they didn’t need, want, or really understand. So much for that long-term, trusted, and potentially lucrative relationship.

2. You’re not talking to the person who can say, “YES”

Recently, a friend who owns a small agency told me a tragic tale, one that many of us has likely lived through at least once in our careers.

My friend’s agency was courting a new client and preparing a sales pitch. Their lead at this company seemed enthusiastic, confident, and in control, and she advised the agency team on what the company was looking for.

The agency prepped what they felt was a killer pitch and one that was totally in line with what their contact had outlined. It felt like a slam dunk.

That is until they got in the room on pitch day and the CEO of the potential new client company was there. He didn’t like the pitch at all. In fact, he felt they were completely off base from what he was looking for. He disagreed with the direction his employee had given my friend’s team and basically killed the deal right there.

Lesson here? Make sure you are always talking to the decision maker. It’s fine if there is someone else on their team doing some of the initial leg work with you but before you submit a business proposal or prepare a pitch, make sure you find out what their decision-making process is, with whom the buck stops, and insist that you meet with that person at least once.

If they refuse this request, or if they’re cagey about the process, you might want to bail. You can explain to them politely without insulting their own authority (or delusions of grandeur, as the case may be) why it’s important that you speak directly to the person who’s making the decision so that you can be sure everything is aligned and that you can deliver what they need.

the decision maker

For all you know, the person you’re dealing with doesn’t even have the authority to be pursuing this project, they’re just tire kicking.

Don’t waste your time, or your team resources, pitching to someone who isn’t the deal maker.

3. They send out a lot of RFP’s but always stick with the same vendor

Some companies are addicted to RFP’s and can’t seem to make a decision without one. Developing big, bulky documents every time they have a new project and casting it out into B2B land like a juicy worm on a hook, hoping to lure the big one.

But be careful before you bite. If doing a bit of research on this lead (which of course you do, right?) shows that they have released four RFP’s a year for the past five years and have always chosen the same vendor, you might want to snub your nose that wriggly worm and hold off submitting a project proposal.

Ask your sales lead about their relationship with their existing vendor. Are they ready to make a change? What are they looking for that they think can be achieved by working with someone new? You want to be sure to avoid a sunk cost effect.

If they’re just releasing RFP’s as part of the requirements in their purchasing process and not because they actually want to change vendors, this may be a lead that won’t follow through.

That’s not to say they won’t ever change, but you need to get a sense of how open to change they are so you can weigh the risks of continuing to pursue their business and the effect it will have on your sales funnel.

4. They don’t have the budget

About 8 years ago when I first started freelancing, I made a rookie mistake, ONCE. A friend referred a colleague who needed a new website for his financial consulting services. I thought this was great opportunity and that it would help me gain access to the other consultants he worked with who also might need marketing and communications help.

The consultant worked in a town about an hour away and I didn’t really ask him much before I set up the appointment. I drove the hour there and brought along Kevin, now the co-founder of Proposify but at that time he had a web development agency. I figured we could partner on this job.

Things started off just fine, talking about what the guy needed for a site, what the process would be, timeline, etc, etc. But then a budget number came up. And I was so shocked by this person’s ignorance about what a new website development would cost at that time that I actually laughed/choked when he said what his budget was.

It wasn’t just small, it was infinitesimal.

I thought maybe the situation could be saved by educating him on what was involved, what the average price range was, etc. But he wouldn’t, or couldn’t, budge. This was the number he had allocated, even if the only person who might be able to do it for him at that price was a tech-savvy teenager.

So there wasn’t really much to say after that. Kevin and I left, having wasted a half day on a dead end lead. I still wondered if I could maybe save the deal but the budget leap from where he was and where we could even consider working together was so huge, deep down I knew there was just no way.

So when I got home, I sent him a polite email explaining the situation and wishing him the best. And I didn’t waste one more minute on it.

But if I had just asked the guy a few questions about budget expectations before I got Kevin involved, before we both drive an hour to spend two hours in a conversation that went nowhere and before we drove another hour to return home empty-handed, I would have recognized this wasn’t an opportunity worth pursuing.

Getting the straight truth from a prospect about their budget can sometimes be challenging because they often assume that your number is always going to be high when they likely could get it lower.

When our CEO, Kyle, had an agency he would often broach the budget subject this way:

"I can build you a rowboat or an ocean liner. Both will be seaworthy but budget determines which one you get."

Then if the client said, “What does a rowboat cost?”, it gave him the opportunity to answer with: "We usually start around $X,000 for a very basic website.” Then the client either balked or said they could afford more.

The bottom line on the bottom line? You can’t get blood from a stone. If they don’t have the budget, you don’t have a deal.

And don’t even THINK about low-balling, telling yourself it will be just this one time and it could pay off. That kind of pricing strategy rarely pays off, more often delivering a world of pain in the long run.

5. You don’t offer the feature or service they want

Here at Proposify, we offer a variety of features that make it easier for businesses to create winning proposals, close deals faster, and manage their sales process.

While the majority of our customers love our feature set, we do get questions from time to time about other features, things we don’t offer. Sometimes these are features that we have on our roadmap to develop over time, while others are what we believe to be outside the scope of our product vision.

Most people are cool with this, but for others, not having a particular feature or functionality is a total deal breaker.

We understand, but we’re not going to waste our time, or the customer’s, trying to convince them to sign up for a tool that won’t meet their needs. It will be a headache in the long run with added questions for support, potentially bad reviews, and they’ll likely cancel after a short time.

If a company hasn’t found what they need from us during their trial, it’s not likely we’ll ever be able to convert them. Case in point, our CEO, Kyle, recently referred one our trial customers to a competitor. While they liked us in general, there was a feature that was a major priority to them that we were never going to develop.

It stung a bit to send them down the road, but in the long run Kyle knew that this company was likely never going to convert, especially to a higher priced plan. It made more sense to invest our time in converting people who want what we have and who are more likely to upgrade.

Remember what we talked about in point #1: your job is to solve a problem. If you don’t have the feature or service to solve that problem, it’s better to move on to a better fit.

However, if you do end up developing some of those features, make sure you get back in touch with those lost leads. It may be that finally the timing is right.

6. They don’t have a deadline

Another question you need answered before deciding to prepare a sales proposal is about the deadline for the project.

If your sales lead is vague about when they want to start or complete the project, this is a major red flag that it may never happen. Or at least there’s no urgency to make it happen, which means you could waste a lot of time and resources nurturing this lead when the project isn’t even a priority to them. And if it’s not a priority to them, it shouldn't be a priority to you.

Without an articulated timeline, they will likely delay making a decision on the contractor and drag the whole process out, wreaking havoc on your sales pipeline.

Plus, if there’s a big time gap between when you scope out their project in a proposal and when (if) the project happens on some elusive date in the future, a lot could change about the project, the market, the technology, and your own resources. Then you’ll have to submit another proposal. Ugh.

Don’t waste your time on people who don’t have any sense of time. If anything, you can follow up with them in a few months to see if they’re closer to a launch so you can move on to work with people who are ready to do business. Now.

It’s hard to say goodbye

say goodbye to dead sales leads

Sales is not for the weak-hearted or the thin-skinned. You can’t let one ‘no’ from a client set you back. At the same time, you need to recognize when you’ve hit a dead-end with a dead lead. Otherwise, you’ll end up spinning your wheels, making no money, when you could be cruising after a hot lead, and a big pay-out.

author bio

About Jennifer Faulkner

Marketing manager , muse for . Channeling Maria Von Trapp, Kate Middleton, and my taxi-driving, yard-sale-obsessed grandmother. Professional word nerd and unapologetic disciple of the Oxford comma. Follow on Twitter

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