Silence is anything but golden


I recently stumbled across an interesting article on, a website aimed at sales professionals.

Written by Colleen Francis, and entitled, 'What to do when your prospect or client goes silent,' the piece lists a number of reasons why a prospective client may be ignoring your follow-up calls as well as strategies for dealing with the silence.

While there's nothing particularly revolutionary about her advice, I did like the author's three call, follow-up strategy for dealing with an unresponsive prospect:

1.) Leave a voice mail with your name and firm, and indicate you'll be calling back a second time at a precise date and time.
2.) Call back at the exact aforementioned date and time. If your call once again ends up in voice mail hell, leave a message with your name, firm and this time, provide your phone number as well. That'll show 'em!
3.) Call back a third time. If you find yourself once again in business development's version of Dante's Inferno, leave all of your particulars, and move on. You have a life to lead.

Francis says we new business types shouldn't take it personally when a prospect goes silent. She says it's not about us. It's about them.

I disagree. An agency deserves an explanation when it devotes countless hours and out-of-pocket expenses to pursue a piece of business. As everyone knows, time is money.

There's simply no excuse for a prospective client to maintain radio silence. It's rude. And, I'm sorry Colleen, but there's no strategy for dealing with jerks.

While boorish prospect behavior occurs in every industry, two of my all-time favorite Peppercom examples were with law firms.

One was headquartered in Cleveland. The CMO called us one day, said we were on the short list and invited us to travel to her city to present our credentials. We did so. But, a key partner missed the meeting. So, she insisted we fly back within a few days in order to meet the AWOL executive (hinting that doing so would seal the deal). So we went, met the partner and then never, ever heard another word.

The second law firm was West Coast based and, like its peer in the Midwest, said we were one of a few agencies they'd shortlisted.

We orchestrated a joint presentation: some of us went to the firm's Manhattan office while our West Coast president traveled to the prospect's headquarters. We were then connected by video and began the presentation. When it had ended, we were confident we'd done well. And, then we heard absolutely nothing. Finally, after countless voice mails and months of silence, we were told they'd chosen a local firm in their hometown since proximity was a key consideration (a fact that was never mentioned even once).

Believe it or not, the same West Coast firm put us through an identical wheel-spinning exercise a few years later (and, then went permanently, and mercifully, silent).

If we had been in court for either law firm pitch, I'd have stood up and shouted, “I object your honor. The defendant's silence qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment.” But, since the judge is probably a former lawyer as well, I'm sure he'd respond with a swift, “Objection overruled!”

When it comes to new business, silence is anything but golden. 


This post is dedicated to Peppercom's Peppercom's killer bees:

Ann Barlow and Ted Birkhahn.

3 thoughts on “Silence is anything but golden

  1. Pretty ironic coming from Ken ‘Don’t call me, I’ll call you’ Jacobs. I’m still waiting for you to return a call from a time when Guiliani was mayor.

  2. But she did give you a strategy for dealing with jerks: “Move on.”
    I don’t disagree that all those folks should have called you back. In fact, I agree completely, even vehemently: It’s only good business, because some day those people might actually need you. And it’s common decency.
    That said, we can drive ourselves crazy, wondering why they didn’t call us back and devising new ways to get them to do so. I’ve done that.
    It’s a time-suck, a brain-suck and it sucks! When we do so, we’re giving these jerks WAY too much power.
    So move onto the next target. They’re more deserving of your counsel, your ideas and your comedy!

  3. You’re absolutely right; there is no strategy for rudeness. But in the cases you’ve described, it’s not only rudeness, but bad business.
    An agency deserves the courtesy of a “thanks, but no thanks” conversation at the very least. Radio silence is the cowardly way out.