I was facilitating a role-playing session with a client the other day and one of the scenarios they brought up was “The client seemed very interested. We gave them a proposal, and now they are not returning our phone calls.  How do we get them to get engaged with us, again?”

Though the person asking may have felt alone, this is one of the most common questions I hear. Though my client had some unique elements, here are some steps that can help in most situations.

Salespeople often struggle with frustration, and their views too often focus inward:  “Why are they doing this to me?”  “Why won’t they just sign the deal?” “How can they be so rude?”  The reps often will contact the customer and leave messages along the lines of “Just checking in on the status of the contract.”  There is a major problem, though. Each of these questions and the approach are centered on the rep, and NOT the client.

In each opportunity, you must understand the underlying Issue, its impact to the organization of not solving that issue, and the relative importance of the project. If you are not getting that information from your client (note – it does not count unless the client is the one who said it), then you are up a creek without a paddle. Why?  Because if you don’t understand why it is important for your client to solve the issue, then you are going to sound like an annoying fly buzzing around trying to get their attention.

Here are three keys to reversing this trend:

  1. Focus on THEIR issues:  They do not care about your desire to sell something. You might say something like “Chris – I remember how you said it was critical to have the project done by July 1. If we don’ t start soon, that date is at risk.  Should we push things back?”
  2. Do not apply pressure: When faced with direct pressure, humans (like all animals) with either react with fight or flight. Meaning, they will either get confrontational, or decide to not return your call. Offer to help. “Chris, I have the sense that you are working hard to get this project going. What can I do to help? I want to ensure that we have not dropped the ball on any details.”
  3. Seek truth, not persuasion: The best answer you can get is “yes.”  The 2nd best answer is “no.” Avoid “maybe.” When things appear stuck, you can ask “Chris – sometimes when we don’t hear back it’s because the client is working through their internal system, and in other cases they just don’t have the heart to tell us that we are not moving forward together. We stand ready to assist you, but if we are not moving forward together, please let me know so I don’t look silly with my boss.”

Generally, when the client goes silent the problem can be traced back to the beginning. When you take the time to get them to share the Impact and Importance of their project, it tends to take care of many other gaps.

I look forward to reading your ideas.

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