How to handle sales prospects not returning your calls (or emails)

05 October 2015 Kieron Johnson

When it comes to the sales process, silence isn’t golden. You’ll always want to hear “I’m in!” (although, on a bad day, it’ll more than likely be “I’m out”). But when a prospect goes silent on you, their silence is deafening and can mean any number of things for your sale and your business. Read on to find out how to break radio silence.

Gone are the days when a salesperson would relentlessly pursue a reluctant prospect from Land’s End to John O’Groats in the hope of closing a sale. This old-school approach can seriously damage your sales process and your business. The new way of thinking abandons the old sales mindset in favour of building and sustaining open and honest communication with the prospect throughout the sales process.

Aside from being told “I’m out,” being relegated to the ‘silent zone’ is the moment every salesperson fears the most.

Here’s the story. You’ve worked your tail off to establish a relationship with a prospect over quite some time. That’s meant lots of man hours and legwork, including countless calls, emails and meet-ups. You’ve really sacrificed for the would-be sale. Then, out of nowhere, silence descends on the deal. No returned calls or emails. Nowt.

What’s your next move? We suggest a few moves you can mull over.

Seven principles for retaining prospects

Most people don’t enjoy letting other people down.

The number one reason prospects disappear off the radar is that they don’t want to disappoint. At the same time, they don’t want to feel pressured into closing a sale, so keeping their distance suddenly becomes the more appealing option.

Consider these seven principles to draw your prospect back into the fold.

1.Don’t ‘pressure play’ (it’s a fool’s game)

Pressure tactics only make matters worse.

The more you apply, the further your prospect will run.

When they start feeling trapped, they begin to think you’re out for your own needs, not theirs, destroying the trust you worked so hard to earn.

This links in nicely to the next point.


If you chill out a bit and warmly invite your prospect to clue you in on what’s gone awry, they’ll be much more inclined to give you the inside scoop because they’ll think you’ll be receptive to hearing it.

So, your job is to become a master at making your prospect feel comfortable spilling their guts. Assume the position of tutor, counsellor and cheerleader (no need to don a cheerleader’s skirt though).

3.Be their ally, not their enemy

An empathetic ear can yield dividends for your business (literally).

Validate your prospect’s concerns by putting yourself in their position and getting a handle on the problem through their lenses. This way, your prospect will be more open as to how the matter should be resolved.

Ultimately, you’ll need to find a middle ground between what you need and what your prospect needs.

4.‘Sorry’ shouldn’t be the hardest word

There’s nothing more patronising than hearing (or reading) these words: “We’re sorry if you’ve been inconvenienced.”

Using this kind of passive language won’t produce the best results. It’s almost as if your prospect chose to be frustrated and it had nothing to do with the fact that you provided a substandard customer experience.

Instead, start by issuing a genuine apology and ask your prospect how you can make up lost ground.

5.Go above and beyond (to put things right)

Ask your prospect what steps you can take to make them happy.

Nine times out of ten, they just want to be heard. But, if you go beyond the call of duty (let’s say, by offering an extra benefit for getting onboard), you’ll probably gain a customer for life. ‘Brand advocate’ has a nice ring to it.

6.Escalate matters (if necessary)

If your efforts to reconnect with your prospect are flatlining faster than an episode of Six Feet Under, ask your line manager or even the CEO to put in a direct call to your prospect.

It’s this sort of special attention paid to your prospect (without them having to demand it) that sends out a clear message that their satisfaction is a high priority.

7.Accept the truth (it’ll set you free)

Time for some perspective.

What’s the worst that can happen if your prospect doesn’t want to do business with you? One way of looking at it is that a “no” sets you free to find more suitable prospects elsewhere.

Accepting the truth of the situation means you can walk away from the prospect 100% guilt-free – knowing that you did everything possible to seal the deal.