Sales Help – When to Call Time of Death on a Prospect?

One of my biggest challenges in sales has always been when to call time of death on an opportunity or prospect in general. In this post I’m going to explain this challenge in more depth as its most probably something you’ve experienced too! Then I’m going to talk about the psychology around this and some tips that can help you.


So first let me set the scene. Have you ever watched a soap opera or movie that had a scene in it where a person is being resuscitated? They’ll be a doctor or nurse pumping away on a person’s chest, pump after pump of arduous, tiresome work. Now with any person whom passes, there will be a point in time where the doctor or nurse deems that their efforts to bring them back to life are futile and they call time of death.

person performing cpr on dummy
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Now apologies for the morbid scene but the concept works well for calling time of death with any opportunity. Think of the Doctor scenario again, if they spent an hour attempting to resuscitate every person then most of their work would revolve around this. Whereas if they but tried all they could do to save the patients life but called the time of death say after fifteen minutes of resuscitation then they’ll have more time to save other lives.


Your sales opportunities, prospects and customers are no different. At some point you need to ask the question of when do I call time of death on this? This is so that we don’t waste time on lost causes and instead use our time more effectively on other activities.


I understand completely that it’s hard to let go of prospects, opportunities and customers, I’ve been there. You have a couple of whom you have invested a significant amount of time into. Maybe you’ve called them many times, sent emails, had meetings, they’ve attended workshops etc. You get to a point where you feel like you’ve invested too much time to walk away now.


Don’t fret, it’s not just you that feels this way.


It’s down to something known as the sunken cost fallacy. Such sunken costs are payments that have been made that can never be recovered. It’s easy to think of this first in monetary terms, but sunken costs work in the same way for effort or time invested.


Hal Arkes and Catherine Blumer conducted a great experiment on this in 1985 which explained its effect perfectly. They asked subjects of the experiment to assume they had spent one hundred dollars on a ski trip to Michigan. Then not long after they informed the subjects that they found a better ski trip to Wisconsin for fifty dollars and also bought that ticket. Then it transpired that the two trips were at the same time, therefore they would need to pick only one and no refund could be provided. They could either pick the Wisconsin trip which was better, or the more expensive trip Michigan.


You can guess where I’m going with this. The study found that despite the Wisconsin trip being better suited for the individual, more than half of the subjects opted for the Michigan trip as the loss felt greater if they had not attended this one.


Sunken cost fallacy will affect you in the same way, you’ll want to hold on to the things that you’ve invested time and effort into. It’s natural! The more time and effort you’ve put into something the harder it is to walk away. But we do need to call time of death in certain circumstances to increase our success.
If sunken cost fallacy is something you’ve experienced and you’d like some advice as to how to call time of death on prospects, opportunities or customers then read my book Sales Icon: Selling in the Shadows.

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