The Sounds of Silence

Hello, new business prospect, my old friend. I've come to talk to you again….

Ever notice how some new business prospects are readily available for lengthySandg
conversations BEFORE the pitch, but often fall off the radar screen afterwards?

These sounds of silence have become truly deafening in the aftermath of the economic meltdown. Sure, there's always been an inconsiderate prospect or two over the years. But, today, they seem legion.

Recently, for example, we pulled together a last-minute, bi-coastal pitch for an enthusiastic prospect. He'd sought us out, saying he'd heard great things about the firm. He provided lots of information in advance, made himself available for telephone briefings and was generally an all-around good guy.  

On the day of the pitch, he couldn't have been nicer or more flattering. And, the vibes were good. Very good.

And then came the silence. We sent him a really nice thank you note. Nada. Then, thinking on our feet, we went the extra mile, contacted a top trade publication and discussed a possible partnership on the firm's behalf (anonymously, of course). Knowing a decision was imminent, we dashed off the partnership particulars and let the prospect know we'd be able to implement this tactic, and others, once he selected us. Again, no response whatsoever.

He waited until after hours on a recent Friday afternoon to leave a voice mail indicating they'd gone with another firm. No explanation. No thanks for the presentation or follow-up. Just silence.

I wonder if these Silent Seducers realize how precarious their positions are in today's economy. I also wonder if they realize that if, and when, the roles are ever reversed and they're seeking help on the employment front from us, their pleas will be met with the same deafening sounds of silence on our end.

As Paul Simon wrote, "Silence like a cancer grows…." And, silence begets silence in good times and bad.

9 thoughts on “The Sounds of Silence

  1. Stan is right on. Part of the selling-buying process is mutual participation, except the sellers, so anxious to sell, and win the business, forget or don’t ask for items in return for their time, which is money. A sales training course calls it “playing ball”. If you are not throwing the ball back and forth, you are not playing ball. Part of that is feedback from the buyer, no matter the outcome. I tell the client that for my investment of time, I expect a payout of information, of why I won, or why I lost. I tell them I close one in four, and learn from all. When they realize they are one in three telling you why you lost, they offer more and better feedback.

  2. For a ZenPurchaser, you sure have some anger management issues. What “pathetic salesman” was begging for business? We were merely looking for a courteous response to our follow-up inquiries. Is courtesy no longer part of the overall Zen philosophy?

  3. Cry me a river! Sounds like every other experience I’ve had buying a new car…once I’ve decided on the winning salesperson, I’m unlikely to call the loser and explain my decision. I damned sure would never go back to any pathetic salesman who called begging for business that I’ve already assigned–no matter what the extent of my expression of initial interest.

  4. Many clients – having never been on the agency side – are unaware of (or close their eyes to) the inordinate time, thought, resources and care a prospective agency does on spec. Not to mention the costs of flying people out for a pitch. Yes, that agency knows the future revenue is not guaranteed. And the agency is aware that other competitors may be doing likewise. Still – if nothing else – I always advocate making the prospective client aware of such time and resources being allocated upfront. It’s too easy to either forget that, or put that awkward conversation aside, when a client sounds seasoned and fair, but it’s critical. That way clients have a window to indicate whether they’re fishing or really serious about our agency’s services. And after that – if agencies still hear the sounds of silence – you will know that client has proficiency in burning bridges and probably not worth aligning with in the first place. I am idealistic but I believe that lucrative and fair sources of business are still out there. Some jerks aren’t worth the time.

  5. Thanks for the comments, Stan. I like the post-mortem promise at the beginning of the conversation. Trust me, we thoroughly vet prospects to ensure they’re legit and won’t be wasting our time. That said, what do you do when the prospect tells you one thing at the beginning and then doesn’t deliver on it at the end?

  6. Excellent post. I prefer ‘Darkness’ to ‘Silence’. It has to be one of the most frustrating aspects to business development. We try to get some buy in from our clients before we enter an RFP. This requires for them to provide us with the adequate time / information on the front end and a commitment to sit down at the end of the process for feedback if we didn’t secure the business. I’d be lying if I said it worked every time, but we find it a great litmus test. If a prospective client pushes back or isn’t forthcoming with holding their end of the bargain, you pretty much know you are just being used for column fodder or free ideas. FREE is a four letter word and time is too precious to be used for a quota.
    Riddle: When you say my name, I am no longer there?

  7. Good post, Steve. I think the real problem parallels one that has been a leading cause of the meltdown — no sense of personal accountability.
    The current business culture reinforces that it’s OK to be gutless. It’s fine to blow off those whose ideas, energy and creativity were very recently encouraged. There is a fear to pick up the telephone and give bad news, or to have to risk “not being liked.” Everything is either “happy happy” or radio silence, with no in-between. End result? No trust.
    Business people who call themselves “leaders” don’t understand that all their skills and talents are worthless if their word can’t be trusted. “I’ll get back to you on Monday” has to mean just that. Sadly, I think this will be the hardest lesson for many to learn.