Written by: Alan Weiss
I’ve frequently heard people say things such as, “The worst vacation I ever had was still great!” or “The worst roller coaster I’ve ever been on was still a blast!”
Unfortunately, that euphoric philosophy does not apply to buyers. There are good ones, mediocre ones, and then there are those who are worse than pestilence. Too severe? Allow me to explain.
What, Is Your Arm Broken?
First, I’m talking about real buyers-people who can authorize checks from their own budgets to pay for your services. So that leaves 99 percent of all human resource, training, “learning” professionals, and so forth out of the picture.
The best buyers are honest and professional. They respect your time. They don’t see their lot in life as driving bargains or driving their own ego. They want to know if you can help them achieve results.
The worst buyers are those who lead you on but not in. That is, they don’t quite say “No,” but they never say “Yes,” either. They have a litany of stalling excuses:
- I need more time to think about this.
- I’ll get to it after my next trip.
- Call me in two months, when the dust has settled.
- Let me think of the best way to bring you on board.
- Send me a proposal (requested way too quickly).
These are, no surprise, the people who do not return your calls, do not respond to email, and who suddenly disappear behind assistants as though swallowed up by a corporate sinkhole. Are their arms too broken to simply call back and say “No”?
The key thing with these folks is not to throw good time after bad. You need to make them fish or cut bait, because you can’t survive on promises and the bank doesn’t allow you to pay the mortgage with money you write down as “probable.”
Three Calls and a Letter
I suggest you use a three-call, one-letter approach. It goes like this:
- Call One: The gist is that you’re following up on the positive prior conversation and would like to suggest some alternative next steps.
- Call Two: Your point here is that perhaps the individual did not get your prior voice mail message, and you want to reaffirm that you’re both ready to move to the next steps.
- Call Three: The content of this one is that you’re giving it one last try, you’re both busy, but a quick phone conversation could put things on track again.
- Email / Letter: If the above sequence does not get a response, then write a hard copy letter marked “personal” and say, in effect, you don’t want to haunt the person, you can’t understand why they have chosen not to communicate, but you’re there if you’re needed and would be happy to re-engage in the conversation.
Then, the hard part: Move on and forget it. Do nothing else. I suggest that the calls be about two days apart and the letter a week after the final call. So, inside of two weeks you’ve forced the issue one way or the other.
Rude Doesn’t Improve
Lousy prospects make horrible clients. Rudeness, discourtesy, apathy, and inconsideration don’t improve just because someone is paying you. If the prospective buyer refuses to engage in professional communication and mutual respect, don’t subject yourself to more abuse. People like this aren’t neglecting messages because they’re busy-they’re ignoring them because they don’t respect you, or are threatened by you, or don’t have the courage to just turn you down.
You will find these people with some frequency in the private sector but not too often, because behaviors aren’t situational and people who treat colleagues this way seldom last in corporate environments. But some do find safe havens, others have expertise the company doesn’t want to lose, and still others are in the bastions of poor management: small business, government, non-profits, and education.
Your time is too precious to waste, and do not believe for one second that any lead, any contact, is worth preserving (even on your mailing lists). These people can suck the life right out of you.
Unlike the vacation and the roller coaster, the worst of these prospects is not great. They are lousy. You don’t want to go there again.
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