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Prospects Ghosting Your Consulting Firm? Proven Follow-Up Sequence

Your consulting firm submitted a proposal to Chlorissa (“Chlo”) Zing, COO at Fantasma, S.A. However, Ms. Zing canceled your scheduled appointment to talk about the proposal, and hasn’t responded to your request to reschedule.

Frustratingly, another hot prospect, Luke van Nesht, with whom your consulting firm held a number of promising conversations, has also stopped responding to your emails and phone calls.

What’s up with these missing prospects? Are they signaling disinterest or, perhaps, are they just busy, and how can you find out?

Any time your consulting firm has been pursuing a project with a prospect and the opportunity goes cold, there are only two possible explanations:

  • The prospect has not moved forward with the project.
  • The prospect moved forward with the project, but not with your consulting firm.

Not moving forward relates to Want. Usually it means your project is not the highest priority. Other possibilities are that a prerequisite must be satisfied before the project can advance, or that the client no longer desires to address the issue you discussed.

Moving forward with a different resource relates to Trust, Value or Like. In these cases your consulting firm is not seen as the most reliable or highest value solution. Or they find you as appealing as ketchup on ice cream.

Maintain Momentum

Minimize the ghosting problem by always scheduling the specific next meeting date and time before you end a conversation with a prospect.

This practice didn’t help you with Ms. Zing, but it probably would have prevented the disappearance of van Nesht.

You need to figure out what’s happening, while maintaining the optimal level of persistence.

You don’t want to come across as desperate or pestering. On the other hand, your consulting firm needs to close deals, and tenacity is a necessary trait in successful business development.

In most cases, your consulting firm’s project is not your prospect’s top priority.

Therefore, start with the assumption that your consulting firm is still in the running for a project, and that your prospect is distracted by other work, other people, and squirrels.

Follow-Up Sequence to Ghosts

Immediate Response

Of course, when a prospect doesn’t show up to a scheduled meeting, immediately follow up with a short note asking to reschedule. Offering chocolate inducements is optional.

Four More Tries

If your prospect becomes non-responsive, try following up four more times. Some tips:

  • Send the second follow-up a few days after your first follow-up
  • Space your remaining follow-ups roughly one week apart.
  • Keep it simple. You can use language like: “Luke, quick follow-up on our discussion. Can we get a date on the calendar next week?”
  • Don’t reference earlier contact attempts.
  • Always stay Right-Side Up. Focus on them and their business, not you and your consulting firm.
  • Try different channels. Reach out via email, phone, SMS, LinkedIn and other platforms.
  • If you know another person in the same organization, you could ask them to give your prospect a nudge. Play this card carefully, though.

Shake Loose

Your sixth follow-up is this question:

“Chlo, the project we were talking about appears to be stuck. Is there a way we can shake it loose?”

Keep your message simple. Just that one question.

A Way Out

Your next message offers a way out. It sounds something like this:

“Luke, following up to see if you want to jump on the calendar. If you’re not interested, no worries. Just shoot me a note and let me know.”

Final Email

Finish your follow-up sequence with an email. Subject line: Oops, I forgot to ask you this.

The body of your email is polite and mentions you should have asked this question earlier:

“Why did you decide not to move forward with our project?”

Include an easy-to-complete poll in the email with a handful of options. The post-loss survey will help you gather critical information about why prospects are ghosting your consulting firm.

This sequence won’t work every time, of course. However, tactful persistence will definitely win more business for your consulting firm.

What tips do you have for consultants whose prospects have gone silent?

  1. Jim Talerico
    July 12, 2023 at 5:56 am Reply

    Great approach for closing deals that are real !

    • David A. Fields
      July 12, 2023 at 7:42 am Reply

      Exactly, Jim. Also a solid approach for ferreting out which opportunities are real and which were ephemeral.

      Thanks for posting your reaction, Jim–very much appreciated.

  2. Drew R Kerr
    July 12, 2023 at 6:09 am Reply

    You can try the Chris Voss technique after you’ve tried a few times. Drop a note asking simply: “Have you given up on [whatever the problem is that needs fixing]?” People hate saying they’ve given up and you’re giving them the psychological power of saying “no,” but in your favor. This technique has worked for me 90% of the time.

    • Benjamin van As
      July 12, 2023 at 7:28 am Reply

      In this scenario, how do prospects typically respond when they have made the decision to go with another firm?

      • David A. Fields
        July 12, 2023 at 7:49 am Reply

        Good question, Benjamin. I’ll be interested in Drew’s response. In the basic sequence outlined above, prospects almost always do reply with a “We decided to use another firm” type answer. That opens the door to dig a bit deeper, though you already know the answer: some other firm outperformed you on one or more of the Six Pillars of Consulting Success. In many cases there was an incumbent or preferred firm to begin with.

        Thanks for engaging in the conversation and driving it deeper, Benjamin!

    • David A. Fields
      July 12, 2023 at 7:45 am Reply

      Outstanding, Drew. Similar to the language we usually recommend: “Are you open to…” because most people don’t want to be perceived as being closed. Chris’s language is well worth adding into the sequence.

      Thanks for the excellent supplement to the approach, Drew!

    • Dave Mangot
      July 12, 2023 at 12:10 pm Reply

      Ah, The Magic Email. (yes, it’s the 1st hit on Google) It really is magic.

      • David A. Fields
        July 12, 2023 at 1:35 pm Reply

        Double bonus points for Drew. Well worth baking into one of the emails in the sequence. Thanks for doing the confirmation research, Dave!

  3. William J. Ryan
    July 12, 2023 at 7:14 am Reply

    I like @Drew Kerr’s idea combined with yours, David. One add to share is on note 3 or 4 I go look for someone on their business who has posted something on LI or given a presentation, maybe doen something n the community that was noted by their PR/Marketing team. Then I reference that to drive a connection to them. It has spurred a response tho not every time!

    • David A. Fields
      July 12, 2023 at 7:47 am Reply

      Fascinating tweak to the approach, Bill. Strengthening the bond with a client is always worthwhile. I’ll be interested in hearing other readers’ experience with your variation on the approach.

      Thank you for the clever suggestion, Bill!

  4. Ben Hulme
    July 12, 2023 at 8:39 am Reply

    I like this, and having a background leading sales teams for many years, it is common in all industries for a prospect to go cold.

    Often we have found it’s just that this is not the highest priority today – something else has come up, a crisis, or unexpected work from above, that takes precedence over everything else that the prospect was working on.

    When we’ve had frustrated sales reps on the team, the ‘rigth side up’ message is so important!

    Put aside your own hurt / frustration / anger / embarrassment, and always assume that the way. your prospect acts is reasonable from their own perspective.

    It’s also refreshing to assume, after the first 3-4 follow-ups, that the deal is dead for now. Mourne it, accept it, move on… and then when the prospect does surprise you with a reply (and order form!) it feels like a bonus win!

    • David A. Fields
      July 12, 2023 at 8:45 am Reply

      Nicely put, Ben, and your deep experience lends credence. Staying Right-Side Up is, as you note, crucial. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the client’s actions have nothing to do with you. Their Board is hammering them for something else or their kids are acting out or they spilled mustard all over themselves and forget to answer any emails.

      Stay in the game and don’t make it about you.

      Your insights and input add a lot, Ben. Thanks for jumping into the conversation.

  5. Kevin Dougherty
    July 12, 2023 at 9:17 am Reply

    Great thoughts and suggestions on this topic.

    • David A. Fields
      July 12, 2023 at 1:29 pm Reply

      Thanks for adding your voice and reaction to the conversation, Kevin! (And I agree, readers are making excellent suggestions.)

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