What to Do When a Prospect Is Blowing You Off

If we're going to succeed as entrepreneurs, it's essential to figure out what's going on, address her concerns and either make a deal or cut your losses.

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By Dorie Clark

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It's a question we've all faced as entrepreneurs. A new customer seems eager to dive in and then suddenly and mysteriously backs off. What gives? We're left with half-hearted explanations, which may or may not be fabricated. It's never clear how hard we should push to move things along. Too little, and we risk losing what seemed like a sure thing; too much, and we risk alienating a customer who might genuinely be experiencing a crisis or mitigating circumstance.

Here's advice on what to do when a prospect seems to be blowing you off.

Related: 10 Tips to Find and Win the Best Clients

Set a date

First, you can avoid the problem in the future by setting a date certain when you'll connect after submitting a proposal. Don't assume they'll look it over immediately and get back to you with a resounding yes. Particularly if they have questions or reservations about the cost (which is not a bad thing, because you may want to price aggressively), it may feel easier for them to kick the can down the road and ignore you for a while. You'll lose momentum and risk losing the sale altogether if you let that happen. Instead, prior to submitting the proposal, make a plan together. "If I get you the proposal by Thursday afternoon," you could say, "how long will it take you to review it?" If they say a week, then you can follow up with, "Great. Shall we plan for a call on Friday morning? How's 10 o'clock?" You never want to submit a proposal without having a plan in place to discuss it with them live.

Follow up

Next, if they want to delay your conversation, make sure to set another clear follow-up time. If they've suddenly gotten swamped and Friday isn't good, you should be flexible. "I totally understand," you could say. "Would next Tuesday afternoon work?"

If they seem hesitant to set another date, you may be discovering a source of resistance. They'll probably cite an excuse, and you'll have to use your judgment to determine whether it's a legitimate one -- something that's dramatically impacting their business operations -- or something invented to push you off.

Related: Aim Directly at Your Target Market to Land New Clients

For instance, if there's been a major fire at headquarters, and they have to relocate their operations, that's a pretty good reason for them to temporarily ignore a new proposal for updating their website. In that case, give them your best regards and take the responsibility of following up. "That sounds like a lot on your plate," you could say. "If it sounds good to you, I'll call you to follow up on this in about a month. Would that work?" They'll probably say yes or give you guidance about a better time. If they say the rebuilding will take two months, instead, follow their lead and do what they suggest. Also, if you check in periodically to see how things are going with their rebuilding -- not mentioning the potential contract -- you'll be seen as a respectful partner and a class act.

On the other hand, if their excuse for blowing you off is weak or something that could have been predicted ("we're really busy now that the spring orders are rolling in"), it's time to make your case. They're either disorganized or they're hesitant about some aspect of the contract. It's worth pushing just a little to see how they react. "That's exactly why we should start the contract now," you could say, and explain why your product or service is especially needed at this moment. (Consultant and author Alan Weiss offers excellent suggestions about how to press this point.) With a smart argument, you may convince them. If not, you may get at the heart of their resistance (they're worried about cost, timing or the manpower that would be involved on their end). Now you finally have the ability to address their concerns and either win them over or not. Either way, it's a lot better than being blown off indefinitely.

Prospective clients can be tricky. They sometimes run hot and cold for no apparent reason. But if we're going to succeed as entrepreneurs, it's essential to figure out what's going on, address their real concerns, and either make a deal or cut our losses, stop wasting time and find a better prospect.

Related: How to Make Someone Want to Do Business With You

Dorie Clark

Speaker, Marketing Strategist, Professor

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and speaker who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Reinventing You. 

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