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Scarlett Letter #150: “I get the message. This is the last time I’ll reach out to you.”

Does this scenario sound familiar?

You target a prospect. You connect with that prospect, and you take special care to execute all the ‘right’ steps to build a relationship. You develop what you feel is a robust, trusting rapport. You may even prepare a fee proposal, or feel that a request for proposal is imminent. Suddenly, even abruptly, the two-way communication stops. Oh, you keep reaching out, of course—by phone, by email, by social media, by snail mail. But you get no response from this so-called ‘hot prospect’.

This lack of responsiveness is disconcerting, at best. Everyone in sales and business development has experienced it at some point. We second guess ourselves, and wonder, ‘Where did I go wrong?’ We over-analyze step by agonizing step, but with no clear conclusion as to what happened.

Years ago, I learned a valuable technique to overcome a prospect’s sudden ‘silent treatment’. My teacher? Shannon Fauerbach, the former Editor of CE News. Here’s how it went.

As a contributing writer to several AEC industry publications, I’m often contacted by editors regarding upcoming pieces, columns, topic ideas, etc. Some of these arrangements are compensated, others have quid-pro-quo arrangements. In any case, as much as I enjoy working with my editors (and truly, I do!) for some reason, I was not returning Shanon’s calls to discuss my upcoming calendar of writing submissions to her publication.

{Shame on me, as that is terribly unprofessional! But honestly, I just had other things going on, and so my thought was “I’ll get back with her when I sort out these other more pressing commitments.”}

After about four or five outreaches —phone messages, emails, etc.—I received a voicemail from Shanon that I will never forget. It went something like this: “Anne, I’ve made several attempts to reach you in this past month. We’d love for you to continue writing for CE News, but since we haven’t heard back from you, we wonder if you are no longer interested. Out of respect for both your time and mine, this will be my sixth and final outreach to you. We hope that you’ll get back with us shortly to continue our arrangement. But if not, then we will assume that you’ve decided to take a pass for now.”

Her tone was uber-effective. Firm, but non-accusatory. Polite, but still professional and no-nonsense. Direct, but not harsh.

So what do you think I did after hearing that message? You better believe that I returned the call right away, with profuse (and embarrassed) apologies. Naturally, I bent over backwards to accommodate whatever it was that Shanon was asking of me.

Does this tactic work every time that your prospect suddenly becomes unresponsive? No, perhaps not. But I assure you, it’s a lesson I’m not likely to ever forget, and one that I’ve applied again and again with a fair amount of success.  Give it a try; I’ll look forward to hearing your results.

Tags: AEC best practices, AEC prospecting, AEC prospective client marketing, AEC voicemail techniques, Anne Scarlett A/E Marketing, linkedin

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August 06, 2012