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Prisoners of Hope Are Doomed to Fail

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by Mike on September 24, 2012

You’ve heard it said that “hope is not a strategy.” I couldn’t agree more – particularly when it comes to acquiring new clients. I spend time with a lot of people charged with developing new business, and from my perspective, way too many of them use the word hope way too often.

Prisoner of hope is such a wonderful, descriptive phrase. I don’t know where it originated, but I picked it up from Tom Reilly’s great book, Value-Added Selling, back in 2002. Prisoner of hope describes the person responsible for bringing in new business who has, for the most part, stopped working the sales process and is no longer pursuing new opportunities because they’re “hopeful” those precious deals in their pipeline are going to close. Can you relate? Does that strike close to home for you, or maybe someone with whom you work?

Instead of continuing to turn over rocks in pursuit of possible new opportunities to put into the sales funnel, these salespeople spend (waste) most of their time talking about and wondering (worrying) about those large deals that are already nearing the end of the sales cycle. They don’t do the smart, responsible thing – spreading their focus across prospects and opportunities at various stages of the sales cycle, particularly the early stages. Rather, they become prisoners of hope to the existing deals they’ve already got in the hopper, even those that are getting stale or starting to grow mold.

When confronted about their lack of new business activity, overly optimistic projections, or the fact their “hopeful” deals have begun to “push” past the predicted close date, these salespeople tend to respond in nonchalant way. I’ve even heard such prisoners of hope casually say, “I’m not worried. It will work out for me. Even if these deals don’t close, a bluebird will fly in, and I’ll get lucky and make my numbers.” Really.

Friends, hope is not a strategy. And it certainly is not part of the recipe for success in developing new business. From my own experience and observing many other salespeople (both top and bottom performers), the only way to ensure a healthy, balanced and moving pipeline is to spread our focus, time and energy across deals and prospects in various stages of the sales cycle. And I’ll dedicate my next blog post to that very topic.

Fall 2012 Selling Season Check-in:

We are beginning week four of Selling Season. How is it going for you and your sales team? Are you taking advantage of the fact that vacation season is over and prospects are back to work? Are you putting in extra hours, getting to precious selling hours earlier in the day? Are you working a finite, written, workable list of strategic target prospects? How well are you selfishly guarding your selling time to ensure that prospecting and new business development are priorities, not afterthoughts? There are eight business weeks left until Thanksgiving. Can you push yourself harder now and rest later? This is the time to finish 2012 with a flurry and plant seeds to set yourself for an outrageously successful 2013.


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

George Hames September 24, 2012 at 11:32 am

Mike, nice seeing your blog and all your great information.
The topics hit home and some even more than you think. I look forward to your post and topics. thank you.


Mike September 24, 2012 at 11:39 am

Happy Monday George. Thanks for reading and the nice feedback. I think we all fall victim to being a prisoner of hope in one way or another. The key in recognizing it and calling it what it is!
Have a great week,


Mark Kosoglow September 24, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Mike, you have encapsulated my frustration with my sales team in 6 short, powerful paragraphs. I’ll be using this in some one on one meetings very soon. I have had several territories end up short after the Prisoner of Hope assured me it would turn out OK. I like optimism, but not at the expense of relying on hope to supply the revenue we’ll eventually need.

How would you spring someone from Hope’s Prison?


Mike September 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Thanks Mark. Made my Monday!
Couple thoughts in response to your question:
First, I’d look back at the last several times this is happened to the prisoner. Sometimes just reminding them how it has not worked out well in the past is enough to spring them into action. It is hard to run from your track record. Second, I would ask the prisoner of hope what would happen if this deal does not come to fruition. In other words, what is plan B?

The reality is that even when our pipeline is chock full of hot opportunities, we still must dedicate time to working cold targeted prospects at the beginning of the sales cycle if we want to maintain a balanced moving and healthy pipeline.



Mark Kosoglow September 25, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Love this line: “It is hard to run from your track record.” as there are a couple levels of pun in that sentence (and, oh yeah…because it was impactful).

In this Prisoner of Hope situation, I always feel the natural urge to be confrontational, e.g. Mr. Smith, you told me this last year [lots of Opportunities in the pipeline that will eventually come in] and assured me you’d hit your targets. It didn’t turn out well. Now, it’s happening again this year and I don’t want to see you go down the same road. How can we make sure that doesn’t happen?”

Right approach? Or do you have another suggestion? I find that telling them the truth about their situation or pointing something out like this often leads to them shutting down, giving excuses, or trying to explain why it will be different. All I want is for them to see what’s coming so they can succeed.


Mike September 25, 2012 at 10:53 pm

Great thoughts Mark! And, no, I didn’t intend that pun about running and track. That was dumb luck.

I like your approach, but also think it can be as much about how we “should” be allocating our time, and not solely about missed projections in the past. What I mean is that whether business is great or it sucks, whether this salesperson is on fire or in a slump, that doesn’t change the fact they he/she must still be working new/fresh/targeted accounts and opportunities, not just what’s hot. The only way to avoid the Prisoner of Hope thing is to divide our attention and time across prospects/deals in various stages of the sales cycle. No matter how full the pipeline, the best new business developers continue to add new opportunities into the top of the funnel to ensure future success. Period. So, all of that to say, while you want to have a hard conversation about truth and overly optimistic projections in the past (which is fine), the point remains that the wise and responsible behavior is to continue to work to open new opportunities. And, of course, that is the part of selling that must people have the hardest time with. Hence, why my business exists and why I think my book is being so well-received.

Thanks again, Mark


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