In the classic 1990 Martin Scorsese film GoodFellas, actor Joe Pesci plays Tommy DeVito, a low-level member of an organized crime family. About halfway through the movie he learns that he’s going to be “made” into an official member of the crime family, with all the rewards and privileges that brings. The big day finally arrives; he dons his best suit, receives congratulations from his mom, and is driven to the big event. Only one problem, when the door opens, there’s no one there. He has a second of realization that there is no ceremony – instead, it’s a “hit” in retaliation for a previous indiscretion he committed.


Anyone who has sold has probably at one point or another felt like Tommy. You’re working the big deal, spending weeks or months in pursuit of the close. The buyer is giving you all the right signals; you are told you are a finalist – or even the vendor of choice. You move the deal diligently through your sales force automation opportunity system, reporting the forecasted revenue. The big day arrives when you are expecting the call to let you know that you’ve won the business, and …


You find out the deal was never really yours to win. You find out you were simply “fodder” for the buyer – they needed a competitive bid to comply with company policy, they were using your pricing as a negotiation tactic, or (worse) there never really was any deal. The buyer was simply shopping – never really serious about making a purchase.

Hopefully, it takes only one or two deals like this for a rep to learn a valuable lesson. In the words of one of my early sales managers (who was there while I was licking my wounds over such a “hit”), it’s never fully qualified until you close. Sales organizations should implement rigorous qualification “gates” throughout the sales process, forcing reps and managers to continually qualify throughout the lifecycle of a deal.

The adage, “In sales you want to lose early,” is as relevant today as ever. Marketing and sales need to share common definitions on what exactly a qualified lead is as it moves through the top of the demand waterfall, from marketing qualified to sales accepted lead. For sales qualified leads, it should be emphasized that in the first few stages of the sales process reps must keep qualifying, determining that there’s actually a deal and that they have a legitimate shot at winning it (and it’s a deal worth winning). At that point, a deal that has been qualified for pursuit is one that reps have confidence they can win – or, if they lose, that it’s for the right reasons (not that the outcome is preordained by the buyer).

Having these decision gates, with strict criteria that must be demonstrated to move a deal forward, will help your reps avoid that dreaded “bang.”