The meeting went well, and your prospect says they’re ready to move forward. Great news . . . until that potential client disappears into thin air, ghosting you before signing a contract. You’re probably confused, angry, and maybe even resentful, but you might be looking in the wrong direction, says clinical psychologist Dr. Wayne Pernell, author of Leadership Lessons From the Road.
“The problem is, [ghosting] isn’t about you,” he says. “Remember that we humans are quirky. In the absence of information, we’ll fill in the gaps with the worst possible reasons that something happened.”
Early communications with clients and prospects is a lot like dating, says Kyle Kirkpatrick, vice president Antenna Spaces, a real estate marketing and PR practice. “It’s easy to fall into the traps of overanalyzing every piece of correspondence–or lack thereof–and making rash assumptions about what the other side is thinking about you,” he says. “The main lesson I’ve learned is not to take things personally, because it really, truly is not personal.”
If a potential client ghosts you, here are a few steps to take.
Rule out miscommunication
First, make sure you aren’t in the midst of a misunderstanding; perhaps they said “maybe,” and you heard “yes,” says Pernell.
“Could it be that you didn’t have the relationship you thought you had?” he asks. “You might have assumed a connection that wasn’t there.”
If you didn’t misjudge the relationship, reach out and ask if he or she is okay, says Pernell. “Show true concern and note that you had been in touch regularly and all of a sudden that stopped,” he says. “See if he or she needs any help with anything, and indicate that you are guessing that they’re going through a hard time and that you’d be happy to help wherever you can.”
Doing this creates a level of leverage, adds Pernell. “Be genuine in your concern,” he says. “If they are blowing you off and you come in with your worry and concern for them, you’ve re-established a relationship based on care.”
Politely remind them of the situation, says Terri Slater, president of the boutique PR and marketing firm Slater PR. “Such as, ‘You emailed me on XYZ date, you gave me your mobile for our call on Friday, you posted on Facebook that you’re seeking services,'” she says. “Gentle reminders that, ‘Hey, you expressed interest in me.'”
Acknowledge any work you’ve put into researching their next moves, says Pernell. “By reminding them that you have a history together, you’re working to rebuild the relationship,” he says.
Then suggest–don’t ask for–a brief catch-up call, says Pernell. “Asking for something from someone who has left you puts in a one-down position,” he says. “If you ask for something–even a phone call–the other person will expect something in return. It’s a quid-pro-quo psychology. The idea is that you are relationship selling.”
How often you follow up will depend on your previous amount of communication, says Kirkpatrick. “I know there has been research to support following up upwards of six times to maximize your chances of making contact with someone, but I think it’s important to resist the urge to make this process too scientific,” he says. “It really depends on the nature of your previous correspondence, as well as the prospect’s own professional circumstances.”
One thing to avoid doing in your follow-up is make assumptions. Do not assume any reasons why they’ve abandoned you, and do not attempt to fix what you don’t know, such as offering to lower your price, says Pernell.
If you don’t hear back
If the ghosting continues, send the prospect a final note saying that you’re not sure what happened and that you’re available for them, says Pernell. “State that you hope to stay connected no matter what decision they make,” he says. “Keep the relationship alive even if the sale went elsewhere, as this could be what’s known as the ‘long tail’ for you.”
You can also stay in touch by leveraging news items, adds Katie Long, vice president of public relations for Idea Grove, a Dallas-based internet marketing firm.”It’s best to follow up when you can offer the client or prospect something that benefits them like a tidbit related to industry news or a new media contact,” she says.
She suggests setting up Google Alerts to track the prospect’s company news, or signing up for newsletters that cover the client’s industry, then send them a note whenever you see there is something interesting happening at their company. “This tactic is more likely to elicit a positive response than when simply sending a ‘following up on my previous email’ note,” she says.
If the potential client still ghosts you, it’s time to move on. Ghosting is very unprofessional, says Slater, who adds that the behavior could be an indicator that you probably don’t want them for a client. “Treat it like the guy you met in a bar or at a party who took your number and never called, and move on,” she says.
There are a million reasons why a prospect might not be responding, says Kirkpatrick. “Or maybe, they’re not interested,” he says. “It’s not uncommon for professional prospects to want to avoid the uncomfortable scenario of telling someone ‘no,’ especially when they’ve already indicated interest. In that case, that’s a matter of their own neuroses–not yours.”
Preserve your own sanity by remembering that someone else’s responsiveness is only marginally in your control, if at all, says Kirkpatrick. “You can save a lot of brain cells and stress by keeping a simple list of prospects, following up periodically, and recognizing that you, as a service provider, are only a small part of someone else’s very complex professional and personal world,” he says.
But don’t let a ghosted relationship dictate how you engage with other people, says Pernell. “Be kind, be compassionate, and be present,” he says. “Your reputation for that will help you stand out in the long run.”