What to do when prospects go silent

It’s been almost two weeks of radio silence. You’ve sent emails and tried to call but there has been no response. But it doesn’t make any sense; the last time you spoke with the prospect, they assured you they wanted to move forward. So what’s the hold up? Why won’t they talk to you?

First off, don’t worry. This happens from time to time. If you’ve waited less than three days, keep waiting. If more than ten days have passed, you might want to try one of the following approaches.

Why this happens

The silent treatment often results from insufficient exploration and rapport-building, i.e. the early part of the sales process. It’s happened to me in the past. I launched into the meeting by extolling the benefits of my service. I didn’t ask many questions and when I did, they were usually closed questions.

It’s common for entrepreneurs to want to sprint to the finish line. You want to pay yourself and invest in that new widget to help your business grow. So you want to give your demo as soon as possible, showing them all the bells and whistles. That’s what selling is, right? As a result, you don’t take the time to establish their needs or understand their decision-making criteria and buying process.

What not to do

Don’t email or call them asking if they’ve received your proposal or if they have any thoughts about said proposal. It sounds desperate.

Don’t email them saying you haven’t received a response or couldn’t catch them by phone. If you received these emails, how would they make you feel? Perhaps guilty or irritated? Neither one is ideal.

Don’t try a different closing technique on them. If they haven’t moved forward with your previous attempt to close, then a different one won’t work.

What to do

Your objective should be to re-engage them to find out what’s going on and what they’re thinking. This conversation must happen over the phone or in person, not via email. Try one of these four approaches that worked for me in the past.

1. Insight

Find something useful and insightful to take back to them, something that helps them or their business. If you can’t think of anything, put yourself in their shoes. What would help them do their job better? Find a way to give something of value without giving your stuff away for free.

2. Random acts of kindness

Performing a random act of kindness can sometimes open the door for you. Send them a book you think they might enjoy along with a hand-written note. The act must be sincere, not given with the expectation of something in return. If they don’t respond, move on.

3. Humour

Can’t reach them by phone? I’ve found emailing with a dose of humour gets a response. What have you got to lose?

Subject: I think Darth Vader hacked your email account.

4. Make it easy for them

People are generally lazy; we look for the path of least resistance. Minimise effort for them by giving them multiple-choice questions.

Just to save your time and mine and so I stop stalking you, please could you respond with a 1, 2, 3, or 4?

1. I’m not interested and never ever will be
2. Call me next week, been busy
3. Call me back in two months, it’s not a good time
4. Leave me alone you weirdo

Sometimes prospects just change their minds and don’t like saying “no”. Give them an out by saying something like:

Just to save your time and mine, if we don’t hear back from you by the end of the month, I’m assuming you’re not in a position to move forward. That’s okay, I know saying “no” can be awkward. I’ll be in touch from time to time to explore if there’s anything we can do to help you.

This happened to me a few times. I sent an email giving them a get-out clause. I kept sending the odd informative email. Nine months later they emailed me.

Like any strategy, these are not 100% foolproof. You’re dealing with so many variables, motivations, personalities, etc. But they do increase the likelihood of getting results and understanding where your prospect is in the buying process.

Anis Qizilbash is founder of Mindful Sales Training and author of Grow Your Sales, Do What You Love: Mindful Selling for Entrepreneurs and Freelancers. Sign-up here to receive her free 10-day mindful selling email course.