I once sat down with my friend’s daughter, a three-year-old named Melissa, for an afternoon snack. (And no, I wasn’t trying to sell her anything.)

There was an open bag of chocolate-chip cookies on the table. As the grownups talked, Melissa was extraordinarily quiet and well behaved. Which, when it came to Melissa, was usually was a sign of trouble.

At first, everything seemed okay. The bag was still full, and Melissa was still on her first cookie – or so it seemed.

Then we saw what she’d been up to.

As we watched, she nibbled out the chocolate chips that were poking through the top of her cookie. Then, when she could nibble no more, she put the cookie back in the bag.

“All done!” she announced.

When we looked in the bag, it was full of slightly nibbled, and very soggy, cookies. All done, indeed.

What Melissa didn’t realize, of course, is that she’d failed to extract the full chocolate-cookieness with her efforts. If she’d dug a little deeper, she’d have found a lot more chips in those cookies.

I’m not saying sales reps are like three-year-olds, but sometimes they treat leads the way Melissa treated those cookies. They take them out, nibble on them a little, and move on the next one.

Research shows that out of 100 typical B-to-B leads — defined as prospects who’ve expressed some interest in buying — 45 or so will eventually buy. (The percentages are even higher in consumer sales.)

Most reps would guess that the percentage is far lower. Here’s why it seems that way: because most of these prospects aren’t ready to buy right away. So the rep calls and the prospect puts them off. “No chocolate here,” the rep thinks, and reaches for the next cookie.

This research suggests that there’s still plenty of value in leads that look like duds. The same research shows that leads — unlike cookies — retain their freshness for up to a year. So if that lead you called on today isn’t ready to buy, don’t toss it aside. Keep nibbling.

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