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Practice Management > Building Your Business

Your Sales Pipeline’s Dark Side

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There are perils in the pipeline. These range from bulges to gaping holes.

Failure to understand and manage these perils will just cause you to work harder, or worse, you will get discouraged and quit.

As we progress through a series of pipeline perils columns, I plan to accumulate various bits of pipeline wisdom for you here: You should start your own “pipeline library” by downloading my sales pipeline infographic you see on that Web page. It’s a great cheat sheet on the critters that go in, inhabit and get ejected from your pipeline.

[Editor's note: See Bill Good's October column "Sealing Cracks in Your Sales Pipeline."]

Pipeline Ins and Outs

There are only three types of prospects that enter the pipeline.

A = Hot. By definition, a “hot lead” is very interested, financially qualified, and willing to begin the sales process by setting an appointment.

B = Red Cherry. Someone who is interested, qualified and willing to receive investment literature. This person is NOT hot.

C = Green Cherry. Interested but does not have the funds or ability to make a decision until a known or suspected later date.

Pits, are tossed. Rude and abusive folk are ejected. And some emerge as new clients.

What Happens Inside?

Oh I wish the pipeline were an orderly flow. You call back a Red Cherry. He or she sets an appointment.

In the first appointment, you do your profile. You set the second appointment. Your prospects show up on time. They like your presentation. They buy.


But the reality is different. The pipeline is a roiling, dirty flow. People you are certain are going to buy do not. They skip appointments, get scared, don’t communicate.

Roberta Loblaw calls your office. She attended a seminar two years ago. She wants info on an IRA rollover. You send it. You tell her you will call her in a week. She’s very upbeat, friendly and excited to retire in six months.

You make the promised call. You leave a VM. No return call.

You try three days later. VM. Nada.

You wait a week. VM. Zip.

Roberta is in a bad place. I call it “dark.” But be careful now, don’t confuse “dark” with someone who is a “false cherry”—generally a cold call prospect who looked like a cherry on a first call, but told you to send some info just to get you off the phone. They never accept a second call. If you are cold calling, and if a cherry does not answer the phone or return the call after two attempts, realize you have a pit. Move on.

When I talk “dark,” I am talking about real cherries who go dark. They are worth the time and effort to recover.

The Dark Side

To me, one of the great mysteries of sales is why otherwise friendly, responsive prospects do not respond to calls, emails or letters.

My theory is that one or more of three conditions exists.

  1. They are really undecided and do not want to be pushed.

  2. There is a delay factor of some severity, possibly a family emergency. I’m going to deal with “delay” next month.

  3. They have decided not to take your offer, but are afraid to tell you.

Since we do not know why someone has gone dark, then you risk blowing off those truly undecided or subject to delay.

In any case, you are dealing with one of the most powerful human emotions: FEAR.

So the question is: how do you deal with fear? Answer: very gently.

I don’t have a formula for dark. I do have some suggestions.

After your second VM, I would suspect this person is dark.

You cannot force them to call you. And you should never make them feel guilty.

It is time now for some very gentle VMs, emails and perhaps a hand-written note or two. At least some of these should try to engage.

Start these messages maybe twice a week, then once a week, then once every two weeks, and then perhaps a final but very gentle “pitch and miss” message as below. In at least one, or even two of these messages, try to engage with an invitation to an event.

The hallmark of this approach is: gentle, light, non-threatening.

Here are two sample VMs:

Hi, it’s Jill at Reliable Securities. I hope all is well. Call me.

Hi, Roberta, it’s Jill. Reliable Securities. We’re having a “bring a case of food” party for the Food Bank Thursday evening. I sent you an invitation. I hope to see you there.

And a couple of sample emails:

Hi, Roberta. Here’s a very interesting article on IRA rollovers. I thought you would find it of great interest.

Hi, Roberta. Here is a copy of my Client Educational Seminar Calendar for next month. If any of these topics are of interest, shoot back an email and I will save you a seat.

Pitch and Miss

At some point you need to end the attempt to resurrect a dark prospect. If this is someone you want to do business with, you need to “pitch” them.

Roberta: Sorry we won’t be doing business now. I am enclosing two of my business cards. Keep one in case you have any questions. Pass one on to a friend. Meantime, I’ll stay in touch with info I hope you find helpful.

You have to end the prospecting process. By letting your prospect know you are done, there will be a certain relief on your part, and if you manage your pitch and miss file correctly, you may get them back down the road. We will cover managing the pitch and miss file in a future “Perils” column.

Check out these related stories by Bill Good:


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