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Getting ghosted: Why prospects disappear and how to prevent it

In the dating world, 80% of people have been ghosted or ditched unceremoniously by a potential partner. The numbers in business aren’t much different: 80% of cold calls go to voicemail and 90% of those first calls never get returned

A prospect ditching out after a few great discovery calls may make you feel like you’re losing the love of your life. Luckily, there are some things that you can do to turn the situation around.

Learn which team habits are the sales equivalent of the worst first-date faux pas. Understand the motivations that your prospects had in metaphorically swiping right on your company and what might have given them the wandering eye. 

Whether you’re selling software, services, or something else, in doing so, you’re ultimately looking for a business relationship. And we want to help your team create them. 

So, why does it happen?

In the romantic world, you might get ghosted for having the wrong haircut, or animal preference (must love dogs!) or a host of other reasons. However, in business, there are four key reasons why your leads may go quiet:

  1. Timing
  2. Sales team error
  3. Competition enters the chat
  4. It’s not a good fit

The timing isn’t right

We know. This phrase may send shivers up your spine. Most clients go silent rather than let you know that it’s not you, it’s them. There are several reasons why the timing can be off, mainly dependent on the size of your prospects and how mature their organizations are.

Organizational changes

Smaller companies get acquired all the time. If a prospect goes silent, take a look at the news or LinkedIn. It may be that their business was acquired, or there have been other large-scale shifts. Companies and their needs are continually changing. If your sales team wants to avoid radio silence, their number one priority needs to be knowing what’s happening in the business cultures of their prospects. 

Is there a new head of your contact’s department? Ask them to get on the call. Could there be a potential shift in internal company strategy? Make notes of it in your CRM. Actively listen to everything your prospects say. It may help your team regain contact if they get ghosted.

Poor budget planning

It happens, and it’s embarrassing. Of recently surveyed small businesses, 61% didn’t have an official documented budget. One of the reasons that clients ghost is because they discover they don’t have the money to pay for your product, but they’re too embarrassed to tell you. If you’ve sensed some pricing hesitation in the past and you think this may be the reason, open your next reach out with an offer for a discount.

Loss of champion

A person that no longer has their email address or phone number at a company can’t respond to your sales touchpoints. Many people may be thoughtful enough to do an introduction to their successor, but if the parting was sudden, they might not have had time. If they’ve been uncharacteristically silent, try to see what you can uncover on LinkedIn. You might be able to find out what happened, or who you should connect with next.

You did something wrong

Humans are fallible. After listening to a 10-minute oral presentation, the average listener only hears, understands, and retains 50% of the content immediately after. Within 48 hours, that metric drops below 20%. Your customers know when you’re not paying attention.

Your sales team will probably trip up and make mistakes every once in a while. Based on the Theory of Politeness, many of your sales contacts may be acting on the principle of negative politeness. When being “negatively polite,” the speaker chooses to avoid conflict so they can continue to have freedom of choice. In other words: they ghost because it’s easier than explaining what you did wrong.

Now, we weren’t in the room, or on the Zoom call, so we can’t say specifically what went wrong but, here are some common things we’ve seen:

  • Looking at your phone while in a meeting.
  • Misremembering a key person’s name or pronouns.
  • Missing a crucial point and asking your contact to repeat it.
  • Wasting your prospect’s time by speaking about something they already knew.

These are pretty cringe-worthy examples. They happen, but you can resolve all of them with active listening. 

They’re talking to a competitor

Chances are your competitive landscape is ripe with options, and your prospects know that. If someone goes unexpectedly silent, one of the most likely reasons is that they’re talking to someone else.

Questions are your most powerful tool here. Talk with your prospects candidly about whether they’re looking at any competitors and what they find attractive about them. Everyone on your team should be able to speak about your competitors and give an in-depth analysis of what you offer over them (and vice versa!).

Your solution doesn’t fit what they’re looking for

Ultimately, your prospects don’t owe you anything, especially not an explanation. During the discovery process, a few companies may determine that your product doesn’t fit their needs.

If your prospects still want to maintain a good relationship, they may worry that being direct with your sales team about the poor fit could damage that. In the Theory of Politeness, this is called positive politeness. Positive politeness highlights friendliness and camaraderie between the speaker and the hearer. 

Most people don’t like breaking up, which is what it feels like when a prospect has to tell a salesperson that it’s not going to work out.

How to stop a ghost

Now that you understand the psychology behind the ghosting, let’s talk about how to stop it. Just as in the dating world, how you counteract a ghost-in-progress depends on the type of prospect you’re working with. Below are a few tactics to try out. 

The buried email trick

Have you ever had an email in your inbox that you saved to respond to later, but then accidentally archived it? Google’s come out with features to counteract that, but it still happens occasionally. You can take advantage of this when you use the buried email trick. It works like this:

  1. You send an email.
  2. Your prospect doesn’t respond to you.
  3. You wait a few days.
  4. They still haven’t responded to you.
  5. You send them the buried email response:
Hey there,
I just wanted to reach out in case my email got buried in your inbox. I know we’re all busy! Were you still interested in having a chat?
Let me know!

Persistence pays: 80% of sales require 5 follow-up calls after the meeting, but 44% of sales reps give up after 1 follow-up. This email is a gentle and unaggressive way to reach out. You’re giving your prospect the benefit of the doubt and a free pass to get back in touch with you if they’d like. 

Reach out with a specific ask

When people feel heard, seen, and important, they are more likely to engage with your brand. According to a recent study, 80% of prospects are more likely to purchase a product or service from a brand that pays attention to personalization. 

Use the knowledge you’ve generated from past discovery calls to think of meaningful questions you could use to prompt a conversation. Here are a few good ones if you aren’t sure of what to ask:

  • What percentage of your revenue comes from channel sales versus direct?
  • Which teams do you think will be using our product the most?
  • I know you mentioned June as your timeline for implementation — is that still your goal or have things shifted? 

You don’t need to rack your brain to come up with the most unique and original opener. Just tie your question back to something that you’ve already discussed and use it as an opportunity to show them you listen.

Find a mutual contact to give you an assist

Find someone you and your prospect are both connected to on LinkedIn and ask for the intro. 

Your contact may be someone within your company or another person in your professional network. 

Once you’ve found them, ask if they’d be willing to do a secondary introduction. Explain the situation and make sure you’re super transparent with them, and then let them go to work. A script for your contact that’s worked for us in the past looks like this:

Hey there, [Name]
I hope you’re doing well. I was just talking with [sales rep] the other day, and they told me that they’d been working with you to figure out a deal between [Company names]. That’s super rad. 
I’ve used [product] in the past, and I’ve got to say that it’s been great. [Rep name] is pretty great too. ;]
Either way, I hope all is well, and just wanted to give you a buzz to see how you’re doing.

Have them CC you on the message, and use the opportunity to respond to both of them and re-engage.

Not only is taking things to a more personal level is a great selling technique, the person you’re reaching out to can vouch for your company, too. By getting involved and making the introduction, they’re sending the message that they think it’s worthwhile for both parties. 

Be Honest

Being totally straightforward and honest, especially in sales, can be super scary. It’s also one of the best ways to build strong prospect relationships. If you’ve tried the less aggressive methods to no avail, it’s time to bring in the big guns. Reach out with straight-up honesty and ask the prospect if you should remove their contact record from your CRM.

Woah. This might sound intense, but it doesn’t have to be:

Hey [Name},
I wanted to do one more reach out, just in case we’re getting our wires crossed. I’ve sent you a couple of emails without any responses, and I don’t want to become that awkward, annoying salesperson. Can you let me know if you’d like me to close out your client record?
That would mean that I would no longer be doing reach outs, nor would anyone else on my team. If you wanted to talk about potentially purchasing in the future, you could absolutely  reach out, though, and we could pick up where we left off.
I know we had some great chats, so I just want to make sure we’re on the same page.
Thanks,

Feels pretty vulnerable, right? Vulnerability is valuable. Treat your prospects with integrity and respect, and you’ll get integrity and respect back. Using this reach out is one of the best ways to get a candid snapshot into how your contacts are feeling. 

We all get ghosted

You’re not alone. People get personally and professionally ghosted every day for so many different reasons. Maybe the timing’s off, or your prospect doesn’t have the cash, or your solution just doesn’t necessarily work for their needs.

Use creative reach outs and methodologies to try to re-engage your customers as best you can. Honesty and transparency are excellent traits to rely on — your customers will feel more comfortable shooting straight with you if they know you’d do the same for them. And, of course, if they never reach out again, no worries. As any good friend will tell you —there’s plenty of fish in the sea.

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