Attack the Maybes

A reader writes, "Between vacations, long weekends, and other downtime, I find it difficult to consistently manage and motivate my sales team during the summer. Any suggestions for keeping salespeople engaged?"

I've always been a big advocate of starting September strong. Here's a suggestion for a great late summer project: how about scrubbing the rep's pipelines and sales forecasts of all the "maybes."

Define "Maybes"

"Maybes" originally showed promise as potential new clients, progressed through the pipeline at a good pace and then just stopped moving forward. No matter where they're stuck, something has gone wrong.

Profile of a "Maybe"

Prospects landing in "Maybeville":

  • Don't return calls or emails
  • Return calls days or weeks later
  • Continually ask for more information
  • Avoiding committing to specific dates
  • Repeat excuses like:  "The president is still reviewing the pricing you sent," or "The committee needs more time to review the proposal."

Ironically, if reps make contact, "maybes" go overboard to convince the salesperson they're still interested. For different reasons, including company politics or budget cuts, "maybes" avoid being candid with reps.

The Damage "Maybes" Do

Nothing stings like losing a sale. It's hard to make that customer visit or phone call right after hearing the news.  But reps eventually call the prospect, ask which vendor was chosen, and uncover the reasons why. Hopefully, both the rep and the company learn from the loss. Everyone moves on. 

Not so with the "maybes." These potential deals stay in the pipeline and on the forecast for months. Reps try to contact the "maybes" week after week. The lack of responsiveness drains their energy.  

Decide for Yourself

Go through each rep's recent sales reports. Based on the length of your company's average sales cycle and other metrics, assemble a list of deals you feel meet the criteria for being a "maybe."

Meet with the Rep

Review the list you've compiled with each salesperson.  Explain your reasoning, and then hear the rep out on each potential deal. Where they make a strong case, let them keep a company in their pipeline or on their forecast. But let those be the exception to the rule. 

Remember, reps never voluntarily give up on "maybes." It shrinks the size of their pipeline and forecast. In some instances, it showcases how few closable deals they really have.  


The rep needs to contact the "maybes" and determine where they stand in terms of purchasing your product or service.  I suggest using a script like this:

"On (date), (I sent / you participated in) ___.  At that time, you expressed a lot of interest in ___ (product). We agreed the next step was ___ (proposal / second presentation / in-person visit). Since that time I haven't been able to reach you. Could you please give me a call and let me know where you are in the process?"

Select several of their "maybes" and role play with each rep until they feel confident making the calls.

Get Ready

Prepare yourself for push back. Rep's comments will run the gamut from "That's rude and pushy" to "I would never speak to my customer's like that." Really, they're afraid to make the call because they might find out the truth. 

Stress the positive. Surprisingly, many (but not all) "maybes" respond to a message like this and speak candidly about where the deal stands. Sometimes this information allows the rep to take action and get the deal moving again. A "no" means they've saved the company time and resources by moving on from a sale that was never going to materialize.

Indirect Impacts

By going through this pruning exercise you accomplish three things:

  • Cleaning-up pipelines and forecasts
  • Prepping for September
  • Engaging reps productively during a slow period

As an added benefit, reps with noticeably reduced pipelines and forecasts will see the need to start prospecting sooner rather than later.

Final Thoughts

Sales leadership responsibilities include turning in forecasts to upper management that represent deals with a high probability of closing. Culling out the "maybes" shows strong sales leadership ability.