Last week, I got a call from a salesperson who had participated in a recent workshop of mine. He was telling me about a “hot” prospect he had met with over a month ago who had suddenly turned cold.
Here’s the story. He had a great first meeting with the prospect. His solution was well-received and the prospect even had the budget to pay for it. After the meeting, the prospect told him to follow up in a few days. Early the following week, he followed up and left a voice mail for the prospect. He called again the next day and left another message. And another. Then he tried sending an email but was frustrated when there was still no response. Now a month has gone by and all he has gained is a better relationship with the prospect’s voice mail system.
Every salesperson has had this happen countless times. You may have even learned to “beware of an easy prospect.” But when a prospect stops responding to your follow-up efforts, what should you do? As a long-term strategy, I recommend creating a lead nurturing system. For the short term, here are a few other suggestions:
1. Don’t Make Follow-Up Calls
Stop making follow-up calls and start making scheduled calls. A follow-up call has a general time-frame for when you’ll call the prospect, but it doesn’t ask the prospect to make any kind of commitment. Instead, schedule your next call with the prospect and make sure that both of you have it on your calendar. This requires some foresight, so you’ll need to think one or two steps ahead in the sales process. At the conclusion of every meeting think about what needs to happen next and then schedule this event with the prospect before you end the meeting. On a phone call, schedule the next call. If you make a prospecting call and the prospect asks you to send information and call back in a few days, ask him to schedule a time for both of you to talk. This isn’t a guarantee that he will always show up for your next scheduled call, but it’s certainly more effective than making an unexpected follow-up.
2. Get More People Involved
If there are multiple people involved in the sale, then you should be scheduling follow-up calls with as many of them as possible. A lot of salespeople only target one person in the sales process, but it’s hard to create any momentum or accountability with only one person involved (it’s like having an auction with only one person in the audience). Before making any calls to other executives, it’s a good idea to call your primary to let him know what your intentions are. After all, we don’t want to make people feel like we are stepping on their toes or going over their heads. Since you’ll most likely get the prospect’s voice mail when you make this call, here’s an example of the message: “Hi Bob, this is _____. I’m planning to reach out to Sue and Jerry because I understand that they’re also involved in the process and I wanted to get their input and make sure they didn’t feel left out. However, if you think it’s too early to contact them and we should talk first, please call me asap to figure out our next steps. Thanks.”
3. Empathy Creates Action
If you’ve left multiple messages for your prospects, they could feel guilty for not responding. Ironically, when people feel guilty they will continue to avoid you. To end this cycle, you need to empathize with them and let them know that it’s OK for them to avoid you (I know it seems counter-intuitive). Here’s an example for a voice mail or email message: “Sue, I know we haven’t been able to connect and I understand how busy you are. If there’s anything you were expecting from me that I didn’t deliver, I sincerely apologize. Regardless of whether we have an opportunity to work together, I always like to leave people better than I found them, and I would feel awful if I upset you in any way. I appreciate your time and hope to speak to you soon.” One last thing: remember that follow-up requires preparation. Never follow up with someone and wing it. If prospects think your follow-up calls are a waste of time, this could be the reason they aren’t responding.