Keeping prospects happy when you’re too busy to take them on

Author: Kim Mason   |   Date: 18th January 2019   |  Tags: , , ,

The other day I rang a tree surgeon company to find the the price to cut back three trees looming over the front of our house. (Don’t worry, this does lead somewhere).

His reply was quick, and with a sigh. “I can’t do that till at least the end of March. I’m short of staff and really very busy”

“Oh, well.” I replied. “Er… I guess that’s it.” And that was the end of the call.

So my first rule is this. Don’t say what you can’t do. That is one potential customer lost. Pouff! And, don’t forget, that’s also one less referrer in your network.

So I imagined that our dear tree surgeon had instead replied like this:

“Oooh, sycamores is it? My favourite trees, but can be a bit of a handful, not to mention all that sticky sap they drop in summer. How about I pop out and take a look soonest and get you a price?  If you like that we can try and schedule you in before the summer kicks in? It’s a busy time of year!”

Wouldn’t that have been a lovely response? (Note, of course, we have exactly the same situation).

How you respond should be part of your marketing plan

He might well still be short of staff and he might well still be very busy. But – let’s face it – they aren’t my problems at all, they are his. In his first response, I got no help at all – he just told me about his problems, giving off lots of negativity, until I hung up. I hung up because that’s what I felt he really wanted me to do – to go away.

Number two rule. Don’t ever be too busy. Simply explain how and when you could help.

Of course, he still might not work on my trees till after the end of March. But as it’s now “before summer”, that works for me. I may have ideally wanted it done a bit earlier, but I liked his attitude and so I’m happy to wait a bit. And – importantly – I’m happy to wait because I felt he wanted me to become one of his customers. I felt valued.

Plus the fact that he’s obviously busy, so I imagine he’s in demand with lots of lovely customers to look after, so he’s clearly a good tree surgeon. Yay! 

Managing your availability in the b2b world

My other half is a director in an engineering consultancy, doing project delivery and bringing in new business – so when we talked about it that evening, it struck a chord.

“We get this a lot. New clients want something done ASAP, but and of course we’ve already got work booked in and employees assigned to existing projects. It’s sometimes hard to encourage people to take a positive approach to availability. For heaven’s sake – no frowning, sighing or tooth sucking. Absolutely no “Well… I doubt if we get round to that until next year….” or my personal bugbear “It’s a real pity you didn’t ask us a month ago, we could have cracked straight on with it back then”. ”

Pointers – what to say when you’re too busy.

  1. Always be interested in the client, regardless of how busy you might be. And please – be honestly interested. (Or you may as well shut up shop now ..) That little bit of time will make the difference between getting and losing a possible new client and referrer.
  2. When clients want it ‘done now’, think of it as them actually saying ‘as soon as you possibly can, please’. That can help keep you thinking positively.
  3. Don’t panic and tell porkers (lies). For goodness sake, don’t starting saying  say you can do it next week/month etc. when you definitely and obviously cannot. Promising the earth and then under-delivering is the worst thing you can do. (Warning: customers have elephant-like memories for any suppliers who do this.) However, do make it clear early on when you could actually do it by – then if you have the chance to bring that date forward, all the better.
  4. Your reply needs to help them in some way. So, explain to them when you can meet up to take an initial brief. Let them know when you can start on the work (even if you have to explain that completion dates aren’t yet clear).
  5. When it comes to bigger projects – these typically split into stages of work. Explain which of those stages you can begin and/or finish, so that the project gets started quickly.
  6. Tell them how and where they could help get things done in their timescales. Maybe they can take on some extra preparation? Outsource the very first stage to a supplier you could recommend (that works for everyone). Could they develop a tighter specification or clearer, more detailed briefing to reduce the time taken to pricing?

When you’re ‘too’ busy, there are so many different ways you could respond to a client. The important thing is to make sure that they still feel like loved and valued – and are not left feeling like someone creating problems for you.

And when you can’t take them on at all? Spread the love.

There may come a time when you are absolutely too chocker with work to take more stuff on. A lovely problem to have, but also – and many people miss this one – a great opportunity.

My first and favourite result –  because two different people will love you for it – is to refer the client to another great business. If you don’t know one already, get out and find one. (Easier said than done, but having good connections up your sleeves is always worth building in advance during quieter periods).

You do have to be a little careful here though, and don’t just refer them to any old similar firm. This is because (somewhat ironically) your reputation is still very much involved. If things don’t ultimately work out for the prospect, some of their ill-will could reflect back towards you – however unfair that may feel.

 Do your research thoroughly.

Choose a business with the same sort of values and work ethics as you have, an equivalent price point, and if at all possible, a similar approach to work. Meet them, talk to them face-to-face, check out the whites of their eyes and – in the best case – look at an ongoing arrangement for you both to refer to each other.

This is brilliant – if and when it works. And very much worth all that time you spent looking for this firm.

The client is happy – their problem is solved and work completed to the standard they hoped for. You’re happy – because you didn’t have to let a prospect down. And of course, the other company is happy – they’ve got a brand new client, with very low effort and a very low cost of sale. 

What’s not to love about that?


If you are looking for B2B sales and marketing services or support – and you’re a firm based in or near Hampshire – then please give me a call on 07827 297569 or email me. I am more than happy to have a detailed conversation about the type of support you are looking for. If you think we’re a good fit after that, we could meet. If I’m the right fit once we’ve met, you could hire me to help.

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