Adding Meaning

In complex business-to-business sales, there are times when there is little activity on an opportunity and little communication. This is true even in the best of circumstances, but the silence and inactivity in a competitive situation can be excruciatingly painful. Especially when the opportunity is with one of your dream clients.

There are unreturned calls. There are unanswered emails. There are cancelled appointments.

It is easy to assume the worst. It is easy to assume that the silence—the unreturned phone calls and emails—indicates that your dream client isn’t interested. It is easy to believe that during these periods of inactivity that something has gone wrong, that you have lost the deal, your dream client has lost interest, or they have lost budget approval. While any of these things may be true, it is wrong to add meaning to these events (or non-events).

I have known salespeople to call their dream client and leave a message saying that they understand the silence to mean that the dream client is no longer interested and that they are going to move on to another opportunity. I have also known salespeople to call purchasing agents, taking an adversarial approach and questioning the purchasing agent’s professionalism. In every case, the salesperson attached meaning to the silence that was inaccurate and damaged or destroyed their opportunity.

In one case, after a great first sales call, the salesperson spent more than four months continuing to call the dream client with no return calls. She wanted to throw in the towel, and she suggested that her dream client clearly wasn’t interested, and that there was no reason to spend any more time pursuing her. I insisted that she continue to call—not adding any meaning to the silence and lack of returned calls. She eventually scheduled an appointment after discovering her dream client had a serious medical operation that took her from her work.

It is dangerous to believe that something means something that it doesn’t. This is true early in the sales process when you are doing your discovery and diagnosis work, and it is true later in the sales process—when there are periods of less activity than you would like and when there is too much silence.

Instead of adding your own meaning—and assuming the worst—it is better to ask the questions that uncover the meaning of the silence and the inactivity. There may be legitimate issues that are preventing your dream client from moving forward. The demands of their own job may prevent them from devoting the time and the attention to your opportunity or to the improvements that you can help them to make. Your dream client may need to renegotiate the commitments that they have made, and it will surely take more time than you would like.

But even when there is nothing but silence, it is wrong and it is dangerous to add your own meaning to the silence. It is better to stay the course, to continue to call, to email, to make your meetings, and to pursue your opportunity. If you have to attach meaning to the silence and inaction, then it is better to assume that your dream client has demands that are preventing them from moving forward and that you should be pursuing your opportunity, making your follow up calls, attempting to make your appointments, and reaching your contacts deep in the organization to try to understand the deal status and how you can help to move it forward.

When there is too little activity or periods of silence, don’t attach meaning that discourages you or that prevents you from pursuing your opportunity.

Questions

  1. Does silence or inactivity necessarily mean something negative has occurred and that your deal is in jeopardy?

  2. What are the legitimate reasons that your deals may stall, even when both you and your dream clients would both like to pursue a better future together?

  3. What are the dangers of assuming something negative? How does it impact the actions that you take in pursuing your dream client and your opportunity?

  4. What are more healthy meanings that you might attach to your dream client’s silence or inactivity? What are the best actions that you can take when your dream client goes silent?


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Comments

comments

  • http://lookingtobusiness.com Daniel M. Wood

    I have had many situations like the one you are discribing.
    One I remember vividly; after a great first appointment and even a first trial period, everything went silent. The trial had been a success, they had gotten exactly what they asked for, but now nothing.

    I wasn’t sure what this meant, had my contacts bosses stopped us from doing any more business together, had he tired from the idea?

    I continued to call, I new it was a big deal and making an extra call each day to him was worth my time.
    For 3 months I chased him, emailed him, called the switch board, his mobile phone and … nothing!

    Then one day while I was sitting at the office working on a proposal to another company the phone rang, I picked it up and there he was!

    He apologised for not calling me sooner but it turned out that he had been in discussions with the board of directors about our offer, for different reasons they hadn’t been able to schedule an appointment with everyone there before now.

    I was a little surprised he wanted the whole board their, it was a lot of money, but not THAT much.

    It turned out that they had decided that they wanted a lot more products and a 2 year contract instead of a one year. I ended up making a sale for 3 times what I initially thought and that after 3 months of silence.

    Silence doesn’t mean anything, it can even be a good sign sometimes :)



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