It can feel like a soul destroying experience. You leave phone message after phone message with a prospect or an existing customer, and seemingly for no reason at all, your calls go unanswered and unacknowledged.
Have they been getting your calls?
Did something happen to make them reconsider their decision to buy from you?
Are they avoiding you?
You just don’t know.
What may have happened is that the person you need to reach has gone stealth. They’ve fallen off your radar and will stay that way until something makes them choose to re-emerge from their guise of invisibility. This can be really harmful to your productivity as a sales professional. Not only can it undermine your work in meeting your sales targets, it also can put at risk some well-established business you’ve worked so hard to earn with a customer who has bought from you in the past.
However, you’re far from helpless in situations like this. All sales professionals—even the top 10% in organizations both large and small—encounter sales that go stealth from time to time.
So let’s look at what you can do to set things right.
Remember, it’s not about you.
The first thing you need to do is to not take it personally. To be a top-ranked sales professional, you must always remember that selling isn’t about you—it’s about your customers. There’s an infinite number of reason why your prospect or customer has gone quiet. You must take complete ownership for why that person might not be returning your calls…even if you feel as though you’ve done everything right.
Get yourself in the right frame of mind. Finding ways to overcoming stealth in sales isn’t about wasting time blaming the customer or asking yourself “what did I do wrong?” Your job is to ask “what can I do to make things right?”
Get the facts.
The next thing you need to do is determine whether in fact your prospect or client has actually gone stealth. Their lack of response may have nothing to do with your business with them.
Maybe there has been an illness or a family emergency that has kept this person from getting in touch. Perhaps they’re simply away on holidays and just forgot to update their voicemail intercept message. Call a receptionist or a colleague of the person you are trying to reach and explain: “I’ve been leaving messages for Dave for the past two weeks, and it’s not like him to not return my calls. Has he been away from the office recently?”
Get over yourself and get the facts. This will put you in a much better position to do what’s necessary to correct a sale that has gone off the rails.
Fix what needs fixing.
Once you’ve ruled out non-business related factors, get a lock on what’s been keeping someone hiding below your radar. What’s gone wrong? Let’s say that after reviewing your recent activities with a particular prospect or customer, you conclude that they may have objected to something in your last business proposal, and hadn’t voiced it to you when you first presented them with a draft (and you did start with a draft proposal, right?)
One solution would be to mail them a friendly note in which you take responsibility for their silence and the reason behind it. It could say something like: “Wow, I must have really messed up that last proposal I sent, because I haven’t heard back from you in weeks!” As a gesture of goodwill, include a gift card from your customer’s favourite coffee shop, and mention that you’re really keen to have the opportunity to talk again.
This gives you a fighting chance to save a potentially lost sale, because it gives someone an incentive to call you back without feeling that they’re being negatively coerced to do so.
Don’t let voicemail become your black hole of productivity.
Astronomers describe black holes as mysterious regions in space from which nothing escapes. When dealing with a stealth situation, your repeated attempts to contact someone—only to be routed to voicemail—can have you feeling as though your efforts and your time are all being sucked into something dreadful like that.
It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s up to you to make things right.
I’ve covered this topic in greater detail in an earlier article, so let me recap for you the field-tested three-step strategy that we recommend at Engage Selling for dealing with voicemail.
Step one: leave a short, purposeful message that requires no action by the person you are calling. Do not include your phone number in your message—you’re the one making the commitment to call back at a specific date and time.
Step two: leave a short, purposeful follow-up that fully meets the commitment you made previously. If you promise to call again on Wednesday at 2:00PM, then be as prompt as a Swiss train and make that call.
Step three: leave one final, purposeful message that takes ownership of why that person hasn’t called back yet. That’s the one time you should include a call-back number, so you’re making it clear that you’ve left the door open to further contact.
Stealth situations are a fact of life in sales. While you can’t control the reasons why they happen, there is a lot you can do to get a customer or prospect back on your radar. As always in the regular course of doing business, there is a fine line between persistence and stalking, but different rules apply when you’re dealing with a contact who has unexpectedly gone silent.
Be creative. Try a new approach and ramp up your attempts to contact the client. You can reach out every 2–3 days by phone and email, so invest that time wisely. In doing so, the silence of stealth really can be overcome.