There’s nothing worse than thinking you have a new client opportunity practically in the bag, only to see it slip through your fingers.
While you certainly aren’t going to “win them all,” there are things you can do to keep otherwise lucrative opportunities from going up in smoke.
For starters, you need to recognize when a potential opportunity is in jeopardy. Here are seven red flags to watch out for.
- It’s taking longer than 2 days to hear back from your prospective client in response to your emails and/or your voicemails.
- When you do hear back from your potential client, it’s always by email (not phone) and the responses are almost cryptic. Not only that, but you’ve noticed a change in their tone and style.
- The client has pushed back the timeline two or more times in terms of getting you something that they’ve promised — whether that be scheduling a follow-up meeting, giving you an answer, or sending over a signed agreement to move forward.
- Although you thought the client was ready to go, now they have more questions and are asking for you to provide additional information and details.
- You suddenly find yourself dealing with a different decision maker in the process than the person who originally said they wanted to hire you and your company.
- The client has gone completely radio silent.
- You have a strong “gut feeling” that something is going on that your prospective client isn’t telling you.
(That seventh red flag is especially key. Most humans are quite good at picking up on the subtleties of body language, tone of voice, and human behaviour — and in sales, it’s absolutely essential that you listen to your instincts. Usually they’re right!)
If you do find yourself facing any of these red flags, what then?
First, do a little self-assessment of the needs discovery process. (This is a process I explain in detail in my “Get Your First Corporate Client Blueprint” program.) Over 90 percent of the time, a deal gets stuck because the outside expert or small business owner (that would be YOU!) gives up control of the sales process — and/or he or she doesn’t ask every single question that must be asked in the initial conversation.
Once you recognize where the train went off the rails, the second step is to re-engage the client into a scheduled conversation as soon as possible. You can use this meeting to take the client back through a complete needs discovery process to see what you missed the first time through. But here’s the thing. Scheduling this new conversation will be tricky because the client will resist agreeing to a meeting for a number of possible reasons.
The client might be in limbo him or herself if they are waiting for other decision makers (like their boss) to make a decision. If they feel they are in the dark as well, they won’t want to meet with you. Likewise, they won’t want to meet with you if they have “bad news” to deliver to you or if they feel you will approach the conversation as a pushy sales person. However, scheduling this meeting is almost the only way to get the opportunity back on track.
In my experience, you essentially have two options. You can be direct and let them know that you have enough experience to recognize when a project is stalled. You’d like to strategize with them to see if (a.) the program or services are no longer a fit, (b.) if the program or services needs to be tweaked, or (c.) if the goal of the program is still a priority, how you can get the effort back on track. (By the way, this direct approach is the one I personally take.)
Alternatively, you can approach the potential client with the promise of sharing some additional insights or best practices that are relevant to the effort — and then turn the conversation back to how these additional insights might affect the project that is now on the back burner. In other words: a red herring.
Third, and finally, you’ll need to make a decision as to how much effort and energy you will continue to invest in what is likely a slowly dying fire. It can be hard to walk away from an opportunity that you have become emotionally attached to. But every minute you spend focusing on what is now a “bad prospect,” you miss out on other opportunities that can turn into big revenue streams for your business