Have you ever had a prospective B2B customer suddenly go dark? You likely feel frustrated and nervous, as you may have spent as much as five months in the sales process with this prospect. A 2018 CSO Insights study found that B2B buyers at medium- to large-sized companies spend an average of five months to make a buying decision of $10,000 or more—involving an average of 6.4 colleagues.
When facing a prospect that goes dark after many months of engagement, sellers tend to have two responses:
- let the account sit in hopes that they just need some time
- panic and blitz the account with irrelevant messages and outreach
What you need instead is a systematic strategy for staying in the game—or making a sound decision when it is time to take your ball and go home. Let’s explore five essential strategies for staying proactive when prospective customers suddenly go dark.
Critique Your Own Performance
After spending months cultivating a relationship with your prospective customer, you’re understandably shocked when they suddenly go dark. The temptation is to look outside, such as thinking “they must have chosen a competitor.” It’s essential, however, to start with your own actions. Go back and analyze your own performance—ask your sales manager for help in reviewing your sales interactions.
- Did you make the best use of your prospect’s time?
- Did you create value in every interaction?
- Did the role you played send them further along in their buying process?
- On a more tactical level, did you follow-up on every single issue and concern that was expressed or implied by your customer?
- Were your call-to-actions succinct and obviously actionable from your customer’s point of view?
With this diagnostic in hand, consider specifically how your customer interactions will need to look going forward.
Evaluate Every Stakeholder and Their Motivations—Not Just Your Main Contact
On average, clients involve more than six decision makers in a complex buying cycle. If the account has gone dark, chances are you haven’t identified all of those buying influences. Leverage your social connections. Revisit your view of the decision makers. Is it still current? What does your relationship with each stakeholder look like? Then, leverage your coach inside the customer. Pick up the phone and directly ask what’s going on. You might learn there’s been a financial setback, or the company has lost a key member of the C-suite. You might simply learn that other priorities overwhelmed your main contact or that person moved into another role. Rebuild your opportunity plan based on your new understanding of the current state. And if you don’t have a coach, it is past time you got one.
Recalibrate Your Opportunity Plan
Customer’s business needs can change weekly, if not daily or hourly. Do your homework to find out what’s different. Study the company’s website and social media channels for newsworthy announcements and updates, such as a new CEO or an infusion of new capital funding. Now, revisit your opportunity plan. Chances are, many of the items you considered to be facts no longer are, thus your selling actions may no longer be aligned with their buying actions. What assumptions have you made or what gaps in knowledge do you have? How might those be contributing to the lack of engagement?
Find a Way to Add Perspective or Insights
Your multiple voicemail messages and emails have gone unreturned, so you may think that any subsequent communications to your contact would be unwelcome. You certainly don’t want to annoy your prospective customer.
But your contact may be receptive to hearing from you, especially if you have something new to say. Offer your prospective customer a useful, new piece of information—and renew the sense of urgency to re-engage with you. Share a piece of educational, value-added content with them, with no strings attached, like “I just read this insightful article on best practices for improving your HR onboarding process, and I thought it would be relevant to you based on the issues you were telling me about.”
Ensure the content will actually be valuable to them. In this touchpoint, reinforce your role as a trusted partner. Avoid pushing more product information and refocus on the business issues the prospect is trying to solve for.
Value Your Time
Since you’ve invested so much time in a prospect, you can become desperate to save the deal at all costs. But sometimes the best choice is to lose fast. All the time you invested already are actually sunk costs. Be thoughtful of whether there is greater return to be had from continuing to invest your limited time in this opportunity or moving on to other ones. Don’t be afraid to ask for a decision and cut your losses, moving to more fruitful opportunities. Of course, the freedom to do so comes with a well-stocked funnel!
As uncertain as you may feel when a prospective customer goes dark, remember that it’s not necessarily the end of the opportunity. You can be proactive and turn it around. Or it may be time to turn your attention to other opportunities.
If you face selling situations like this, you and the rest of your sales team could benefit from Miller Heiman Group’s expert consulting services. Learn more about what sales consulting can do for your sales team.