By: Mike Schultz and Jason Murray
After three months of talking and promises of moving forward, your fully qualified, enthusiastic champion is ready to pull the trigger. You send them a proposal and…silence.
It's frustrating when buyers go cold. Whether late in the process or after one good meeting, most sellers at least want to hear, "No," or, "Here's what happened," or, "I'm still interested, but something happened…"
Unfortunately, sellers often don't get the high sign from buyers, just the cold shoulder.
Before we cover tactics you can use to resurrect opportunities with buyers who go cold, it helps to understand why buyers go cold.
Common reasons include:
- Their situation has changed—they lost their job, cuts have happened internally, their company is getting bought, they are taking care of a sick family member. It may have nothing to do with you.
- You haven't demonstrated enough value, so the buyer has deprioritized you and your initiative.
- The buyer was turned off by something in a recent exchange or proposal.
- They're not qualified, or were never serious in the first place.
- The buyer is meeting internal resistance and is embarrassed or not keen to admit they have hit a wall. Perhaps they see the value, but their colleagues don't or would rather pursue alternatives.
- They didn't even receive your communications. Spam filters can get you any time.
- The buyer is busy! They are drinking from a fire hose, managing an agenda in constant flux. They want to move forward with you, but you just got cut in line by today's emergency.
It's important to know the possible reasons buyers go cold because, depending on the reason, one strategy or another is going to work better. You should make at least a few attempts to connect with a missing-person buyer before you give up. As you do, try a few different approaches to either reengage or disengage.
This is an important point: you are looking to disengage. If you have buyers that haven't responded, you either want them back in the pipeline or out. Pipelines filled with unresponsive buyers frustrate sellers, and kill time and success. You are looking to hear "no" as much as you are "I'm back" so you can focus your time and energy on other things.
5 Approaches to Consider When Buyers Go Cold
3 flurries and out. Buyers expect sellers to chase them until the end of time. Sellers who do don't perform very well because they spend too much time chasing ghosts.
If a buyer goes cold, go with three flurries, or rounds of outreach, before moving on. Start counting your flurries after you have tried to reach the buyer with regular contact. Say you sent a proposal and called later in the week to follow up. That isn't a flurry. Flurries begin after you are worried the buyer has gone cold.
A flurry, by the way, is a bundled set of outreaches which can be email (almost always), phone (almost always), LinkedIn (sometimes), Facebook, text messaging, or any other kind of outreach. In each flurry, you should leave at least a voicemail and send an email. Many sellers have told us about buyers who wanted to buy, but didn't because the seller email went into their spam folder only to be found months later.
In the first two flurries you should try to resonate both rationally and emotionally. The communications need to stir emotions like hope, desire, or fear, or you won't get a response.
- Hope: The buyer received your new industry research report and custom ROI analysis. They hope this will persuade their skeptical colleagues to put this back on the front burner.
- Desire: You demonstrated the value case by sharing a case study in which another buyer achieved great success, causing your buyer to want to pursue working with you again.
- Fear: Based on content you shared about competitor interest in what you're selling, the buyer worries that they'll miss their window of opportunity if they don't act. Or time is running out for an executive to buy and still reach their targets. Fear of losing out is a powerful motivator.
In the last flurry, let them know you won't be reaching out anymore (see #5 below). Again, buyers expect you to chase them. If they know you are moving on, it changes the dynamic. Often this last communication elicits a response.
Restate the value case. Sometimes buyers see a price for the first time and say to themselves, "This is a lot. I'm not sure if this is worth it, or worth the risk if it fails." Virtually anything can cause the buyer to get cold feet and switch their focus away from you.
Remember, the value case is about return on investment, but it's also important to make the case that the risk is acceptable.
- Case studies from customers in similar situations and industries (reduces fear of risk)
- Customized ROI analysis—something that will resonate with the buyer and allow them to persuade internally
- Offers to connect with your other customers to learn what their experiences have been like
Also, it's not just about sending. It's also about asking. You might say something like this:
Sorry we haven't been able to connect. I'm curious, though, have you received the proposal? I'm asking because I haven't heard from you, and because I know you were trying to get something on the agenda for your meeting on the 15th. Please let me know what's on your mind.
Meanwhile, I was thinking that you and your colleagues might find the XYZ Case Study interesting. I've attached it as your situations are similar. They were fairly skeptical when they got started, and they achieved a 122% ROI at the one-year mark after getting started.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Note I used the word "because." Because has been shown by Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer to be a very persuasive word.
Langer tested this by asking a favor of people lined up to use a copying machine: She asked, "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I'm in a rush?" The result? 94% percent let her go ahead of them in line.
When she didn't use the word because, the results were starkly different. "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?" Only 60% allowed her to cut the line.
To make sure it wasn't a fluke, she tested the theory again with a series of requests adding back in because, but changing the reason after the because. Compliance went back up over 90%.
Break the fourth wall. The concept of the fourth wall in film is that only in the rarest of circumstances should you speak directly to the audience as it distracts from the diegesis, or story narrative, and focuses on a one-on-one chat with a person. Famous examples include Annie Hall, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Spaceballs. It's not easy to pull off, though.
In sales, the story narrative is about buying process, needs, impact, and so on. Sometimes, however, if a buyer is oddly silent you can break the fourth wall and ask them directly what's going on.
"Jim, help me out. We were moving along for months with high-energy, back-and-forth dialogue. It's such a change that I haven't heard from you. Please let me know. What's happened? Call me on my cell—off hours if you like—and we can catch up for a few minutes."
- Ask your champion. If you have someone at the account you know who might be willing to fill you in and give you advice, ask them.
Reverse direction—the last outreach. If all else fails on your first two flurries, finish by reversing direction. Reversing direction does something unexpected: it signals the end of your pursuit. Most buyers expect sellers to chase and chase them until time immemorial.
When you communicate that you're done chasing, you often get a response. Fear of loss is a powerful motivator. If the buyer wants what you can bring to the table at all, you'll trigger their fear of loss when you send the reverse direction email, voicemail, LinkedIn message, etc. (Remember, it should be a flurry. Some buyers hate voicemail. Sometimes your email lands in a spam filter. Sometimes you need the text or LinkedIn message to get their attention.)
Here's an example:
Sorry we haven't been able to connect in the past several weeks. I'm a bit surprised that we haven't been able to reconnect since we were both working diligently on getting to where we are now.
In any case, I'm assuming something has come up and that you've moved on to other priorities, so this is the last time I'll be reaching out on this. If I'm wrong, please let me know. Even a quick message of "Let's still pursue this" would be helpful, even if you can't do so right now.
However, if I don't hear back, I'll save us both the distraction. I do hope that we get back on track, however, and would look forward to doing so.
Reverse direction messages should be a staple in all sellers' repertoire.
Buyers go cold. It happens. It's a part of life as a seller. Apply the strategies listed above and you'll achieve one of two outcomes: 1) Resurrect the opportunity, or 2) Move on with a clear conscience. Either way your pipeline and results will be improved.