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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  October 02, 2012

Fishing for Clients: Sometimes You Have to Cut the Line

Originally published for RainToday.com

Generating leads is a lot like fishing. Sometimes you get a bite, reel in your line, and you find a fish that’s too small to keep.

In a sea of unqualified leads, a prospect who has a need, has the budget to move forward, and is interested in you can feel like a big fish. It’s easy to assume these leads are worth your time and attention.

Not so fast.

Prospects who keep “thinking about” working with you for months (or even years) can be bigger wastes of time than dealing with the multitudes of leads who were unqualified in the beginning. The real challenge is these folks know they need our solutions and they have the resources to make it happen, but they simply are not ready to move. The status quo is safer than making the change. And our efforts to keep in touch for months will not change that.

How can you tell the difference between someone who is willing to make a change and someone who isn’t? By what happens when you go for the close. Here are two common reactions that are warning signs to let the big fish go before they suck you underwater.

1. The Tap Dance

Have you ever had a situation when you spent a lot of time making your case, hashed out the options, and just when you had all the concerns addressed, something else came up? When you answered all the questions, the buyer gave you the signal that they were ready. But then they said, “Wait! There’s just one more thing.”

This happens when the buyer is scared but doesn’t want to admit it. They know they need to make the change, but they just can’t clip the switch. I call this the “rubber meets the road” moment. There are many reasons behind the fear, usually trepidation about political ramifications or implementation issues. Typically many of these obstacles have nothing to do with you, but they can kill a sale in a slow, painful way.

The typical response is to go into problem-solving mode. You take the buyer at their word, thinking it is “just this one more thing”, and you work hard to resolve the issue. What you should do is stop problem-solving for a minute to figure out if these challenges are real or just a cover.

Your next best step is to call the bluff. Listen to the concern, acknowledge the problem and then ask about what happens after the solution.

Example: After hearing the challenge, say something like, “Got it. Sorry this has come up so suddenly. Before we tackle this problem, let’s look at the situation at 30,000 feet. Is this the only barrier to our working together? If we can get past this obstacle, are you ready to go?” If the buyer hedges in any way, you know where you stand. Cut them loose graciously with a “come back later response”, such as, “Again, sorry we can’t make this work. We would love to help. Let me know if and when the timing is better.”

2. The Disappearing Act

We’ve all had this happen. The buyer says, “OK, we’ve got a deal. Send over the contract, and we’ll get started on XXX.” You send the agreement and wait. And wait. You call, you email — no response.

It’s hard to give up in this situation, not only because of all the time you spent but also because you think you’ve just closed the deal. It’s hard to walk away from a “sure thing”.

The truth of the matter is something has happened to interfere. It could be a legitimate logistical issue (I’ve had prospects who were diagnosed with a terminal disease after agreeing to work with me). Or an internal political issue may have come up. For example, the budget could get cut because of an unexpected cash flow issue. Sure, you can follow up later, but that can be the start of a very long sales cycle.

Your next best step depends on your efforts to find out what happened. If you can’t get to the buyer, call their assistant. Find out if they are traveling or otherwise indisposed. If they aren’t, they are dodging you. Leave a “hey, I need to know by XX date or I’m going to move on to other projects” message, and be done.

If the assistant confides in you about an emergency, find out the best time to reach out again and do it — once. If you are delayed again, drop the issue. It’s a bad time.

If you can’t find out what happened, then they are dodging you for a reason they don’t want you to know. Reach out three times with the last message being “this is the last time I’m calling you”.

Sometimes the buyer will return the contact and explain at that point. If you don’t hear from them, drop them. You never had the deal in the first place.

Cut the Line (But Leave the Door Open)

When you see any of the above behavior, it’s tempting to believe the story. Hope is a wonderful feeling. But when we cut the line with a sincere response — “It sounds like you’re not ready to move forward. I’d love to help, so please reach out when you are.” — you will leave the door open without taking up your precious sales time.

Put the person on your email list, and use social media to stay top of mind. But cut the intense follow-up. If you’ve done a good job of showing your value, the big fish will be back when they are not only ready, but are also able to make the move.

Filed Under: Experts, Market Strategy, Sales


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.