What to Do When a Prospective Client Doesn’t Respond to Your Proposal

Originally published in “Graphic Define Magazine

“I’ve got someone who could use your help. She heads up a non-profit group that needs to promote itself better. I told her you’d get in touch.”

My colleague handed me her contact information.

I e-mailed.

No reply.

I followed up with a phone call. And I still haven’t heard back. Not a peep. And this is someone who needs — and asked for — my help.

An isolated case? Hardly…

Last month, I submitted a proposal to a prospect to revamp his website. He was very excited about the project — but every time I try to reach him to get a “yes” or a “no,” all I get is silence. He too “should” have responded — but he hasn’t.

When this happens, it’s annoying — but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being ignored. These days, it seems to be the way more and more very busy people are simply saying “Not right now.”

So what do you do about it? Do you leave the ball in their court and just sit around waiting for them to hit it back? Of course not.

It takes an average of seven (some even say 10) sales calls to close a deal. So if you always give up after the first couple of tries, you’ll never sell your service to anyone. It’s your responsibility to remind your prospects (sometimes again and again) that they are interested in your proposal. It’s your responsibility to be persistent until they’re ready to continue the conversation.

That said, here are five tried-and-true techniques that I — and people I know — use to speed up the process:

  1. Ask for a simple “yes” or “no.” Author and physician Evan Lipkis got silence from a reporter from Lady’s Home Journal after submitting an article idea. So he wrote a simple e-mail message that said, “Just give me a yes or no!” He got a 40-minute interview and a story in the magazine.
  2. Put “Second Request” in the e-mail subject line. When faced with silence, Howard Stone, co-author of Too Young to Retire, sends the same e-mail message a week later with “Second Request” in the subject line.
  3. Give them a deadline to respond. Some people only take action when a deadline is looming. So ask your prospects to respond by a certain date, even if that date is arbitrary.
  4. Express concern. On a second or third try, express concern by saying “I hope you are all right.” This works especially well with people you know personally. It brings the interaction to a human level, reminds them that there’s a real person trying to reach them, and usually provokes a response.
  5. Put them on auto-drip. Whether or not you have a deal pending, you should have an automated marketing tool in place to help keep your name in all your prospects’ minds. The three best ways to remind them of the service that you provide are with a monthly (or even quarterly) e-mail newsletter, a print newsletter, or a direct-mail postcard.

I know what you’re thinking. You don’t want to be a pest. So where is that line between pestiness and persistence?

There is no definite answer. It will be different for every prospect. But it will help you stay on the right side of the line by asking them questions like, “When should I contact you next?” and “Do you mind if I stay in touch every month or so?”

And remember this: When they’re ready to go ahead with your proposal, they will be grateful that you didn’t give up. In fact, the next time you call, they just might say, “I’m so glad to hear from you. I’ve been meaning to call.”


Posted on: February 18, 2008

1 Comment on What to Do When a Prospective Client Doesn’t Respond to Your Proposal

  1. The hardest part of making a sale is closing.

    As much as 60% of Salespeople fail to Ask for Commitment (quoted directly from The Sales Board…http://www.thesalesboard.com/sales-skills-5.asp).

    I have found that when I do not get the sale on the first call it becomes progressively more challenging each call thereafter.

    If you think of your best experience with a salesperson (no oxymoron intended) I would bet you bought some characteristic of the salesperson first before you plopped down the cash and I would bet that characteristic was trust. Remember I am not saying all of your experiences but your best ones.

    I would love to hear what others have to say. Hit me with your best shot.


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