What to do when your hottest prospect disappears?

You know the one. Great client prospect, hot project, then radio silence…. You made contact a while ago, met several times and they’ve been to two of your events. You feel sure the fit is good, they’re the right client for you, and you are the right supplier for them. You very recently had the in-depth one-to-one conversation about solving a sticky problem in their business. You’ve talked return on investment. They’ve bought into the benefits and introduced you to the boss, who looked you in the eye, shook your hand and said they were really looking forward to working with you.

So you price up the details for them – urgently at their request – and put accurate and realistic timescales in, even do a draft project plan, send it over and…. Nothing. De nada. Echoing silence. Tumbleweed rolls by.

Your prospect no longer wants to speak to you

Hot prospect disappearsCalls go unanswered, voicemails flash feebly and emails sit sadly in overstuffed inboxes (or do they get auto-deleted on arrival – eeek!). Colleagues are vague and promise to pass messages on, the receptionist is always helpful but the result is the same. You even try a friendly text or two, hoping they are well and looking forward to hearing about how the project can progress. Top tip: stop at two texts unless you suddenly have something new of high value to offer for free, no strings.

Your prospect – your lovely, brilliant fit, high-value, friendly, hot prospect – has disappeared and does not want to speak to you. Argghghg!

You feel baffled and frustrated

Various thoughts run through your head, from the practical to the seriously unlikely. First you tell yourself it’s all about them:  Well, they are very busy…. They have probably just picked up a huge urgent project…. They are on a (very long) holiday… They have been struck down with a nasty illness (queue guilt for this one)… Maybe they’ve been sacked…?

Then you start thinking it’s more about you: They’ve changed jobs but forgot to tell me, easily done… They have left the company, maybe been sacked, poor them … They’ve had a baby (if your prospect was a woman, you could question your observation skills) and are off on 12 months mat leave…They never really liked me anyway, they were just being polite… What did I do wrong…?  Was it the way I wrote that last email…? Did I come across as rude or offensive by mistake…?

Your mind can do funny things. This type of thinking is a slippery slope and definitely needs to be cut short so you can get on with acquiring new business and maintain confidence.

The reasons why prospects actually disappear

The first thing to remember is that this – in the B2B world and particularly in professional services – is absolutely normal. It is not just you. It is not about you. It is absolutely not personal. It’s vital you accept this so that you don’t waste valuable time questioning the wrong things. (NOTE: If you have been rude, offensive, arrogant or insulting in any way – it may of course have been you. In that case, no need to read on, as problem solved 🙂

In my experience there are four main reasons for the vanishing prospect client which crop up over and over again. There are of course lots more, but these are the ones I come across over and over again.

  1. Your prospect was never the decision maker. 

    This is the most common reason in my experience. This is a tough one, because this is down to you (or the person managing the prospect, and is more often seen in less experienced biz dev/sales people). The prospect was so friendly, talked so knowledgeably, acted like a decision maker, wanted to be the decision maker – so it was easy not to question that assumption and to go with the flow. Now they’ve overstepped the mark, don’t have the authority needed to progress, and you’re paying the price.

  2. You got the fit wrong. 

    By fit, I mean that this prospect should never have got through your qualification process – and if you don’t have one, see this as a timely reminder that you need to set one up. Typically poor fit decisions include – they are much bigger/smaller than your usual clients – the work was very interesting but outside your core expertise – you hadn’t qualified them on price sensitivity early on in the buying cycle…. Either your overall positioning or your qualification process needs improvement.

  3. They have left the company. 

    This one is more common is certain roles than others. Senior execs who are trying to get a project started or completed before they go are the worst for this. They also can’t afford to let anyone know they are thinking of leaving, and may disappear immediately on gardening leave. For their colleagues picking up the pieces, communication with new suppliers and potential projects is understandably the last thing on their mind. If your prospect was your only real contact, there’s not much you can do here other than work hard to create helpful new contacts who can get it back on the table.

  4. The CEO/MD has resigned. 

    This is an easier one, because usually not a soul has been expecting it, including your prospect. Everything gets put on hold, including your budding relationship. One of those reasons you can understand. Drat. Wait, monitor and keep in touch.

What should you do?

First, try and find out why. Change the conversation you are trying to have in order to give the prospect an easy and gracious way to back out, rather than worry about how to let you down gently.

Offer your prospect a gentle way out

“I can see this project isn’t going ahead as planned, but I’d really like to find out why. Perhaps you could ping me a quick email with a mention of why so I can close the file. We can always reopen it when the time is right or if things change your end, we’ll be here!”

I’ve had luck in the past with this approach achieving two things.

  1. It reopens communication as all the pressure has gone and they can more easily explain the real reason they have gone quiet. You may find that a new decision maker has appeared and your prospect has lost a bit of autonomy (and face).
  2. It can reignite the project as the prospect may have simply had so much on – maybe that ‘vital deadline’ they had mentioned was not a real one – and they start worrying that they could be left without their ideal supplier ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Once you find out the reason why, then you can do something about it. And that’s a whole other post I need to write on the importance of positioning and qualification; or why you should always develop more than one prospect contact; or how to find out if someone’s the decision maker…

I’d be very interested to hear your views and experiences on any disappearing prospects you have had – why they stop contact, what you’ve found works to get back in touch. Please feel free to add comments so we can all learn and grow!

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