A reader writes, "One of my better salespeople continues to contact prospects long after they've stopped returning her calls and emails. The whole exercise demotivates her and impacts her sales. I think she should move on at a certain point. What should I encourage her to do?"
Give her kudos for persistence. Discuss the futility of continuously calling a prospect who may no longer be interested. Offer her options for closing the lead out in a professional manner.
Types of Prospects
Salespeople identify likely buyers through leads, sites like LinkedIn, research, networking, and other means. Next, they begin the process of introducing themselves by phone or email. At this point the prospect does one of three things:
- Tells the rep they are not interested
- Doesn't respond to voice or emails
- Expresses preliminary interest
When prospects express a lack of interest, reps either stop contacting them or agree to call in a few months time when things may have changed. It depends on the discussion between the two parties.
When a prospect fails to return any calls or emails from the salesperson, the rep must decide how often and how long they want to keep trying. Some reps, especially those selling a big ticket item with a long sales cycle may continue to contact a prospect for years.
Interested prospects might agree to an initial meeting, a webinar, or a product demonstration. Enthusiasm for some peaks after the product demo; for others it continues straight through to asking for a proposal.
No matter which phase they reach in the sales cycle, some prospects drop off the radar at some point without explanation. Phone calls and emails suddenly go unreturned. This type of prospect and this situation typically cause the most confusion and anxiety for a sales rep.
When weeks or months have passed with the prospect making no effort to communicate with the salesperson at all, encourage them to stop trying - at least for a period of time. Advise them to use an email or voice mail like the one below to acknowledge the situation:
"After having made several attempts to contact you, I am going to assume that purchasing XYZ Software is not on the top of your priority list right now. In the event that you would like to look at the software again for an upcoming project, please contact us. I enjoyed getting to know you and your team. Thank you for your interest and we hope to hear from you soon."
A positive, upbeat, sincere message like this gives the sales rep equal business stature to the prospect and leaves the door open for potential future discussions.
"No way," shrieks the rep, "They were really interested. Let me keep them on the forecast. They'll come around."
Help the rep see that this sale is no longer viable. It's stalled, off the rails, going nowhere. Use whatever words work for the situation. Let them know that being disappointed is OK, but continuing to expend their energy on a dead end is not. They need to refocus and concentrate on other leads with potential.
After hearing the goodbye message some, though not all, customers pick up the phone or send an email. Many outright apologize and offer an explanation for the lapse in communication.
This doesn't always mean the prospects remain interested. Some choose to stay with their current solution, while others may have signed with a competitor. Some might have gotten sidetracked with other projects and ask the rep to call in a few months time. Others still may be navigating a complex maze of internal politics or approvals moving the project forward.
Even when a potential client doesn't bother to contact them at all, the rep gets a sense of closure. They feel better about themselves, the company, and selling in general.
No rep or manager enjoys the thought of leaving a "goodbye for now" message. It signifies the potential end of a once promising sale. Strong sales reps have emotional maturity. Letting go represents a part of the sales process. Help them to spend their valuable time elsewhere: identifying new leads, nurturing their pipeline, and finalizing closeable business.