Unsticking What’s Stuck

Two of the toughest problems that salespeople struggle with are knowing when to recognize a deal is stuck, and understanding what needs to be done next.

Stuck deals aren’t just ones that haven’t closed yet. They’re the ones that have gone from being stalled to becoming uncertain and are at risk of falling into a black hole

Will the deal ever close?
What’s holding back the buyer from making a decision?
When will you know it’s time to move on?

Without answers, you just don’t know. Without intervention, it’s a recipe for paralysis. 

What most sellers fail to recognize is that nearly all the responsibility for the deal being stuck falls squarely within their control.

You read that right.

Stuck deals are the seller’s problem, not the customer’s.

Many just don’t want to admit this.

Here’s why: salespeople are hardwired for winning. They hate failure. If left to their own devices, many will choose to leave a stuck deal in that limbo state perpetually rather than face up to difficult facts and do what’s necessary.

Behavioral science has a name for this cognitive bias: the sunk-cost fallacy. Essentially, people tend to repeat a behavior (or avoid correcting it) because they believe the costs they’ve invested in that activity can’t be recovered.

Once you recognize this fallacy in your own thinking, you understand that what’s really at stake is the escalating risk of missed opportunities. Every extra day you spend on a stuck proposal is a day you’re not looking for other customers who are ready to buy now.

Here are the steps you must take to unstick those stuck deals. 


Smart companies today measure the time difference between submitting a proposal and knowing definitively whether they’ve won or lost a piece of business. That average decision gap varies among industries. For some, it’s 90 days. For others, it’s longer. Some managers will claim to know this number intuitively. But never confuse what you feel might be true with what you know to be true. Pinpointing your industry average is the only way you’re going to be able to measure how close you are to the point where action is necessary. Get this done.


It takes twice as long to lose a deal as it does to land a deal. So make use of that time by extending your network within the customer’s organization. Examine all your contact points and ensure you’re reaching out to everyone who has a role in making the decision to proceed with the sale. Build a buyer’s map, showing who makes decisions and where they rank in the hierarchy of influence and involvement in the proposal you’ve tabled for their consideration. 


This might seem self-evident, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to ask a client I’m coaching why they haven’t conducted more follow-up on stuck deals. This step involves more than one outreach to a single decision maker. It should involve multiple channels—phone, text, social media, etc… And it should involve every person you’ve identified on your buyer’s map.


Let’s say you’ve measured, you’ve extended your outreach and conducted follow-up and you’re still coming up short. It’s time to nudge that customer with the goal of getting a decision. This is where my advice gets a lot of resistance from sellers because it’s where I’m also saying: “It’s time to let that customer off the hook." Here at Engage, we provide clients in this situation with a nudge script to use in follow-up emails. They open with the subject line "Yes or No." And the body of the message makes it clear that it’s okay for the customer to say "no" to the proposal that was sent earlier. A firm “no” is always better than a perpetual “maybe.”


Sometimes the right thing to do is to let go of a stuck deal. In that case, it’s time to send one final email or phone call in which you politely thank the customer for considering your proposal and conclude on an optimistic note that you’d love another opportunity in the future to do business together.

Many sellers don’t like to hear this advice! They feel it’s like admitting failure or that they’re letting go too soon. They’re caught in that sunk-cost fallacy that tells them that all the they time spent on a stuck deal only becomes wasted if they choose to pull the plug.

Stuck deals don’t always have to end as a no-deal.

But they do need to culminate in a final decision.

Often, the interventions you make are exactly what’s needed to save a proposal and get a stuck deal back on track. For the rest, it’s in your best interest to narrow the gap as much as possible between identifying a stuck deal and knowing it’s time to let it go.