#076: What to Do When a Prospect Doesn’t Return Your Calls or Emails

As a freelancer, there are few things more frustrating than a prospect who suddenly disappears for no apparent reason.

He reached out to get some information, indicated a high level of interest, was fine with your ballpark fee — maybe even gave you a verbal confirmation that he was going to move forward.

But then … nothing! You can’t get him to return calls or emails.

You have no idea why. And now you’re wondering if you said or did the wrong thing.

Sound familiar?

In this week’s episode, my friend and colleague, Ilise Benun and I tackle this common issue head on. We look at the different flavors of this problem. We examine why this happens so frequently. And we offer some concrete advice for how to deal with these frustrating situations.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or on Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

We’ve all had prospects contact us and then fall silent when we respond. What are your thoughts on this common scenario?

Put yourself in the prospects’ shoes. When we need something, we search the web, check social media and reach to friends. Once we get what we need, we move onto the next thing. This can explain the silence after an initial inquiry.

We don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. Sometimes we win; sometimes we don’t. Often, we never know what really happened.

How should we decide which inquiries are worth following up?

Develop a standard framework for following up, such as one email, a phone call, another email and then a LinkedIn request.

As the same time, adjust your framework on a case-by-case basis. If your gut tells you there’s potential, spend more time following up.

Questions to ask yourself:

1) Who contacted whom? Did they reach to you or did you reach to them?

2) Do they have a need? What is it?

3) Is the need immediate or in the future?

We often tend to give each inquiry the same “emotional weight.” What are your thoughts on this? 

You have to start by identifying YOUR needs.

clicktotweetIf you don’t know your own needs, you can’t assess a prospect’s value to you

You end up assigning the same weight to every inquiry.

When you know how much you income you need to generate every month, you know which prospects to follow up with, how much time to spend pursuing them, and how to feel if you don’t hear back from them.

When should we move from responding by email to scheduling a phone call?

Whenever possible, have a real conversation. It’s tempting to respond to email inquiries with your price. But you don’t know enough about the person or the project to quote yet.

Also, do you even want this prospect? If you don’t know, then a ten-minute phone conversation will help you decide.

What if prospects want to know the price right away?

Remind prospects that many different factors go into your pricing. Let them know you need more information to put your pricing together, and you need to schedule a ten-minute phone call with them.

By insisting on a phone call, you’re forcing prospects to invest something into the process.

clicktotweetIf a prospect won’t give you a ten minutes on the phone, that’s a red flag.

If you don’t hear back from them, they’re probably price shopping.

When you do get them on the phone, give them some real numbers. If they balk at those numbers, you’ll know and be able to respond.

What’s the difference between talking money and quoting prices?

In the initial call, you need to talk money. But you don’t have to quote your price.

When you ask, “What’s your budget,” they’ll often say, “We don’t have budget.” Usually, that means they don’t know how much this kind of project will cost.

Help them out by talking numbers. Are they at $500-$5,000 or $5,000-$50,000? Find out where they are on the spectrum.

But before talking money, ask:

1) How did you find out about me?
2) What’s your need?
3) When do you need it done?
4) What’s your decision making process?

Only then should you ask, “What kind of budget are you working with?”

If the first question out of the prospect’s mouth is “How much do you charge…” then the prospect is probably price shopping.

When prospects don’t respond, don’t take it personally. They don’t know you well enough to know what they’re rejecting.

Missed connections are part of doing business. If prospects don’t respond, that doesn’t mean you should stop reaching out. Staying in touch shows persistence, professionalism and interest.

Always keep your interactions friendly and professional. Make it clear you’re not taking their lack of response personally. Make it easy for them to get back to you, even years later.

If you’re challenged in this area of business, and you’d like to turn more inquiries into deals, check out Ed and Ilise’s training program: Close the Deal: How to Turn More Prospects into Clients.

Where can listeners learn more about you?

Ilise Benun’s website is Marketing Mentor. Sign up for free tips via email and advanced notice of online store discounts.

Ilise also recently launched a new coaching program, Command the Fees You Deserve.

  • Great information for a ‘newbie’ like me! Still staying in touch with prospects to land that first real project. Thanks!

    • edgandia

      Cool! Thanks for tuning in, Lisa. 🙂

  • Mia Sherwood Landau

    So far, I’ve listened to this podcast three times, visited Ilise’s site and taken notes, because what you guys are sharing REALLY needs to sink in. I need to have enough respect for myself to pre-qualify clients upfront, every time. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Thanks for more than a heads-up, Ed. This one’s more like a head-slap, and a belated one at that!

    • edgandia

      That’s a heck of a compliment, Mia! Happy to hear that this one struck a chord. Thanks for listening. 😉

      • Mia Sherwood Landau

        Having the experience to identify our ideal clients, or at least our less-than-ideal clients so we can avoid them, is something we generally have to learn the hard way. I hate to say it, but it’s a lot like dating. We learn from the duds, don’t we? But when things don’t work out we have a tendency to think we’re at fault… Where did I go wrong? What can I do differently next time? Well, I can determine if a prospective client is likely to bring me the income and the satisfaction I desire from my work. Seth Godin has a freelancing course on Udemy and he teaches it this way – “Sometimes you go to work for a client who has a problem, only they don’t know they have a problem. So they think YOU are the problem…” So true. The questions you both suggested in the podcast are really useful for sifting through potential clients and possibly identifying problems before getting into their problematic loop, and getting blamed.

        • edgandia

          Awesome! Good stuff, Mia.

  • Great podcast Ed. This is something I struggle with, and while I try to keep in mind some of the things that Ilise mentioned, it can be hard.

    I actually had a question for Ilise on her followup methods: does she ever use an automated system to follow up with these prospects? That is, if they fall off the radar, does she have an automated email series that she uses to keep in touch with them, or does she do it manually? I’m just curious.

    • edgandia

      I’ll let Ilise answer (might be next week; I know she’s at a conference this week). But I’m willing to be that she does NOT use an automated method.

      My personal recommendation is to resist the temptation to automate this process. Keep it organic and manual. The sincerity and impact will be higher. Exception: your newsletter, if you have one.

      • I’ll bet she doesn’t either, but let’s see what she says. 🙂

        I agree on the personal touch though, for the reasons you gave. It doesn’t take a long time to do, so it’s not as if automating it would save *that* much time, ya know?

        • Ilise Benun

          You’re both right. I don’t use an automated system — I like to do it manually and personally, which allows me to customize each follow up (a la Warm Email Prospecting). This isn’t
          scalable, obviously, but for my purposes (and I’ll bet yours), it’s plenty.

          The automated piece does kick in when I add someone to the auto drip of my Quick Tips (http://marketing-mentortips.com) that way they hear from me regularly but in an obviously less personal way. Still, that combination seems to work.

  • Great timing, as this has been on my mind. I appreciate the specific advice and examples for following up. Ed, you and Ilise make a great team; I’ve enjoyed listening to both your podcasts for quite some time.

    • edgandia

      Cool, thanks for the kudos, Chad! I love working and collaborating with Ilise. She’s awesome! Appreciate your continued support.

  • brett

    I really enjoy your podcasts I had a follow up question what is the time line for “short term” follow up vs long term?

    • edgandia

      Hi Brett — In terms of what specifically?

  • brett

    In the podcast, you mention having a “framework” for following up. 1 email, 1 phone call etc. how long of a time frame is needed? and when does a “frozen” prospect go from short term frozen to a more long term?

    • edgandia

      Depends on what you know about them, how far the discussions went, and other factors of the specific opportunity. But I’d say at least 4 – 6 follow-up attempts over a period of 1 – 2 months before you put them on your long-term nurturing list.

      • brett

        Thanks Ed thats really helpful!

  • Eileen C

    Ilise points out that when we are met with silence, one strong possibility is that the prospect’s needs have been met another way for now. But it doesn’t mean they won’t have needs again. I’ve submitted proposals that were requested by prospects and been met with silence, despite follow-up. Then, as long as a year or more later, they have a need and call me again, and it has led to some great projects. So don’t give up — people will remember you when it’s crunch time, especially if you touch base with them now and then and aren’t put off by their silence.

    • edgandia

      That’s an excellent point, Eileen! I’ve had the same experience. I think too many of us react emotionally to silence. So we abandon the prospect in order to spend time with the hot/immediate opportunities. You just explained why that’s a bad idea.

      When I was in software sales, nearly 30% of my sales every year where from prospects who either said “No” or who went silent. That’s because I created a system for staying in touch with them (as long as they were qualified) in a low-key, personable, value-added way. So when the timing was right, I was the first person they thought of.

      It’s hard to invest that kind of time on opportunities that feel dead. But if you do it right, you’re planting seeds that will bear fruit later, when you need it most.

  • I don’t like to be pestered so what I do is I will send something value add to the client whether it is a link to my blog, podcast or a G+ Hangout. I may even create a short video and send it to the client. Normally this does not happen much to me since I started using my three simple rules. They are the following: 1) Three words test 2) Problem/solution test and 3) Value Add test. I rarely pursue an opportunity if all three tests are not passed.

    • edgandia

      Jay — I’m intrigued! Can you tell me more about your 3 rules?

      • I have adopted this from coaching clients who are looking for a job. I have adopted this forfor sales too. Others may have to modify it based on their unique situation. But I like to have some rules to follow so I can later tweak them if need arises.
        I will send you a link to the blog I am finishing up that will show how I use it for getting a job. I came up with his since I have seen so many people who are left in limbo when looking for a job.

        Keep up the good work you are doing. I am learning a lot from your podcasts.

  • Amy

    This is a great article and very relevant for me now. I submitted 3 proposals in the past month, all for what appeared to be “hot” prospects, and they are all dragging their feet. I am taking it personally, and would love some help on how to deal with this without turning it into a personal issue. Also, now what? I had counted on those prospects based on their high level of interest, and now I am scrambling. Thank you, and Ilise — ! Maybe it’s time.