What To Do When A Prospect Goes Dark

The CEO of a startup that I’ve been doing some consulting for wrote to me with the following question about a prospect that went dark. I know this is a challenge that comes up for a lot of people so I thought I’d post my response here. Here was the question:

I have a question for you. If a lead that you've been pursuing / developing for like over 6 months goes unresponsive to two emails, what do you do? In most instances where the development time has been that long, usually someone has said "yes" or "no" or "not now" but this is the first time of just radio silence.

Thoughts? And one backdrop to this is that our point person that we were working with for the 6 months left for a new job, we were handed off to another person that we had met with maybe for the last 3 months but in a different division.

My answer:

Your question is a good one. This is always a challenge. A few thoughts:

1. One approach could be to just get the person on the phone live. Block out some time during the day and just call the person (though I know it's hard to get people live these days). If you reach them, be clear that you're not pushing things -- that you just thought you'd call to check in to see where things stand as you're trying to prioritize projects for next year, etc. You want to gauge if there's still some interest.

2. If you reach out again by email, look for the 'no'. That is, do not reach out with the purpose of moving the conversation forward; reach out with the purpose of finding out what's going on. If it's a no that's great because you can put your energy in another direction. It’s hard to say no to salespeople, make it easy for them. something like "hi, sorry to reach out again, we're in the process of prioritizing projects for next year -- assume I shouldn't include you on that list? Please confirm when you get a moment. Thanks so much."

3. Another alternative would just be to back off. Remember nobody wants to date the guy that keeps calling and texting begging them to go out. Keep that credibility, you have better things to do than reach out to them. Perhapsgive it a couple months and reach out when you have a real update -- new clients, new funding, product improvements, etc. and setup a meeting to give them an update on what some of their competitors are doing, etc.

4. Finally, you'd know better if it's appropriate but you can always reach out to others in the organization. Just to validate that you're talking to the right person. There may be other groups interested in the product -- you can always try to go up to more senior execs. But if you do be careful to position that conversation as broader than the initial one you had (a CEO level conversation as opposed to simply a business unit conversation).

I don't know the situation well enough to accurately pick the right approach but I hope some of that is helpful.