Every salesperson has had a warm prospect inexplicably go cold. It’s a weird feeling. Initial conversations and follow-ups went well, then all of a sudden — radio silence.
This lack of a response is especially difficult for salespeople because it means the prospect could be dealing with any number of unknown circumstances. “Perhaps the individual in question had another more urgent issue to deal with or a corporate priority emerged that had to be addressed,” the team at content intelligence platform provider idio writes. “Maybe another competing supplier appeared on the scene, and they’ve decided to take more time to consider the options. Or maybe the prospective client just was not ready to pull the trigger.”
Frustrating as it is, prospects will go cold like this from time to time, no matter how much effort you’ve put into focusing on the relationship. Below are seven things you can do to get that relationship back on track.
No matter the cold prospect’s circumstances, he or she is not ready to buy. Your role now is to simply be helpful and available to the prospect. Jenna Hanington at Pardot suggests one way to do this is via a lead-nurturing email campaign.
“The best way to approach this type of nurturing program is to assume that your leads know who you are, but that they’re not ready to engage with you for one reason or another,” she writes. “Cold lead nurturing allows you to stay in front of them over time, so that when their condition changes, your company is top of mind.”
Ilya Semin, co-founder and CEO of sales prospecting tool Datanyze, wrote a piece for Inc. about his own experiences with reviving cold leads as an entrepreneur. Semin stressed that trying to understand the prospect’s current situation and future needs is vital; otherwise, your helpful message just won’t resonate.
“Show that you've done your homework by reading up on the company's recent news coverage, by following their social media channels, by participating in webinars and by reading company reports,” he wrote.
Also, simply be cognizant of how your message will appear in the prospect’s inbox. Understanding your prospect’s needs is half of relevancy, but then you need to communicate clearly that you understand those needs by meeting him or her with spot-on informational content.
“Think about your own inbox,” David Sydiongco, a developer at marketing automation software provider Lead Lizard, writes. “How often do you actually read and respond to the generic filler that likely inundates your spam folder? By re-engaging a cold prospect with interesting, specialized content, you allow your emails to rise above the bland, ineffective outreach they usually discard.”
You can drip these emails out to cold prospects via marketing automation software, or you can manually schedule and send these emails if your list of cold prospects is manageably small. Carly Stec at inbound marketing agency IMPACT suggests testing out different send times for any such emails. Monday morning emails are the least likely to get opened, she writes, because they have to compete with the pile of other messages that accumulated over the weekend. Thursdays between 8 and 9 a.m. tend to be optimal, according to research she found.
The nine-word email is a classic from the world of direct-response marketing. It is a no-frills piece of outreach that piques curiosity among prospects and still gets right to the heart of a problem they might be having.
Business consultant Todd Molloy demonstrates the formula for such an email:
“The subject should just be their first name, i.e. ‘Bob.’ The body of the email should be these 9 words:
‘Are you still looking at getting [insert] [your] [service]?’”
As tempting as it might be, don’t add anything to this email, Molloy says. No phone numbers, no websites. The directness leaves the prospect with only two options: Ignore the message, which would feel awkward to most people, or answer the question.
So far, these tips have assumed most of the relationship-building you do is email-based. That tends to be the case for most small businesses, which is why a CRM tool is so useful for sales.
But Yaniv Masjedi, vice president of marketing at Nextiva, argues that there is power in moving to a new mode of communication. If you’ve mostly corresponded via email or phone, try writing a nice note and sending it off in the mail,” he writes. “Don’t go with a hard sell here; instead, ask how things are going and touch on a topic they’ve shared with you in the past related to their industry. Stay away from writing things like, ‘Did you get my proposal?’ It will come off as desperate. And desperation can be a major turnoff.”
Don’t confuse desperation with showing a little vulnerability. If your efforts to re-engage your prospect have thus far only been met with a tepid response, it might be time to show your hand. This is effective for the same reasons that watching Stephen Colbert break character is memorable.
In a classic post, business author Anthony Iannarino offers a script for how this might go on his excellent blog:
We haven’t been able to move forward with you on our proposal since we presented it to you and your team. This makes me think that we went wrong somewhere. We believe we created a great solution, and we strongly believe that we are the right partner for you on this project.
I am hoping that I can ask you for 15 minutes of your time and a candid assessment of what we missed and what we can do to reopen a conversation with you and your team. What does Friday morning look like for a short conversation?
Such an email can be impactful for two reasons. First, it’s disarming, which allows you to move the conversation from standard sales to true relationship-building. Second, as Iannarino points out, it can help you discover some unknown unknowns.
“Sometimes the prospect needs something from us as a salesperson that we may not have known enough to consider, or that hasn’t been shared with us,” he writes. “If you can get them to share with you, and if you are creative enough and resourceful enough to help them with their challenge, you can sometimes create enough value to move the deal forward. And sometimes just caring enough to try means you are the right partner to move forward with.”
There are times, though, you must simply be prepared to part ways with a prospect. In some cases — if the prospect just wasn’t a good fit — that might be the right move. In other cases, offering to move on has a way of introducing immediacy and getting the prospect to act.
Copywriter and designer Sapph Li, at her Art of Emails blog, suggests sending a short email asking to put a deal or a project on hold after three or four non-responses to follow-ups. “Many people can be slow to act and loss-averse,” she writes. “When you ask for permission to put someone's project on hold, it inspires many prospects to finally act or at least explain why they haven't been responding.”
Jill Konrath, an author and frequent keynote speaker at sales events, has an interesting twist on this break-up email at her blog. The example actually comes courtesy of one of her readers, who got a response within the hour to an email with the subject line “I may have misjudged your intentions.”
Here is the email body:
My apologies if I’ve crossed a line to become your dreaded professional stalker. It’s apparent that I’ve misjudged Generic System's interest and/or situation.
If and when the opportunity arises, please know I’ve tracked down the insider’s connection to the huge success being experienced by a business very similar to yours. Additionally, the short and affordable jingle we discussed is working its magic for firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please call or e-mail if there's anything I can do for you or your organization.
The prospect responded apologetically and said internal errors had stalled their communications, but they were ready to re-engage.
That’s the thing about radio silence from a prospect. You simply cannot know what is happening on the other end of the line, but you can at least probe the issue, offer ways to be helpful, and possibly come out of the void with a stronger business relationship.