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July 19. 2014 9:30PM

Christopher Thompson's Closing the Deal: Customers going dark is challenging


 

THERE ARE a lot of challenges associated with sales and business. The list is long. However, there is one challenge I've seen countless times over the years that truly makes people scratch their head in disbelief. The story typically goes something like this.

You're working with a new customer, and the sales cycle is progressing forward at a nice pace. Your contact and others at the company are very engaged, and you're seeing compelling buying signs throughout the process. You're at the finish line with the deal, and pricing and contracts are in hand. Then, all of a sudden, the customer goes completely dark and stops communicating with you.

It's almost like they dropped off the face of the Earth. They stop returning your phone calls. They never respond to your emails. And you sit there wondering what you possibly could have done to cause this.

Some people will argue that the salesperson must have done something wrong or obviously missed something along the way. While that is certainly a possibility, from what I've experienced, that's not always the case.

The reality is that things happen within an organization that changes the direction people are taking. You don't know for sure what caused the customer to go dark. All you really know is that it's never a good sign.

The majority of time this happens, I've found there to be one primary root cause. The customer's priorities shifted, and whatever it was you were working on selling is no longer a priority for them. It's hard to understand, but that's usually what has occurred.

While we all know things happen, the one part of these situations that I struggle with the most is just when the silence and continuous lack of response gets to a point where it's truly unprofessional. I mean why can't someone simply say, "Something pressing came up, and I won't have time to do anything related to this project for the next few weeks." It could be as simple as that. Here are a few suggestion ways to handle customers that go dark and stop responding to you.

Ask for feedback: You'll get to a point where you realize something is wrong and the customer just stops responding to you. After you try to contact them a few times without a response, send an email with the subject "feedback" and ask them what happened. It's good to set the stage and explain that things were progressing forward and you are concerned with the silence. Ask for their feedback and be genuinely interested in finding out if there was something you did wrong to cause the situation.

Call other people: Hopefully you're not in a situation where the person who disappeared is your only contact. If so, that's a good sales lesson for you. If not, call the other people you know in the organization and let them know you had been working closely with the individual and all of a sudden they disappeared. Did something happen? Are they still with the company? Are they OK? It's a crazy world, who knows what could have happened.

Send a meeting request: A lot of times, people are so busy and overwhelmed with what's happening in their company that not responding to you is just not a concern. Instead of repeated calls and emails, send an outlook meeting invitation for a 15-minute phone call. In the meeting invitation, tell the customer to propose a better time if the one you suggested isn't convenient. This approach works well and forcing a block of time on the calendar is a great way to get a busy person pinned down.

Christopher Thompson (cthompson@catch22solutions.com) writes Closing the Deal weekly. He is the vice president of sales and services for leadership solutions at Skillsoft, a Nashua-based provider of learning solutions. Visit Skillsoft at www.skillsoft.com.



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