In sales, a lot of things can trigger a migraine. Your team didn’t make the cut this quarter. Some customers have ridiculous expectations. An account manager failed to go the extra mile for a client that took an insane amount of effort just to bring in. Prospects who seemed to have already seen the light have suddenly turned dark … just when you thought they were a mere nudge away from opting in. Even with the most effective sales pipeline management, leads can sometimes slip through the cracks.
Seeing hot leads turn cold is certainly among the most frustrating experiences a person can look forward to in the world of selling. Especially when you’re expecting to close the deal just in time for the next monthly sales report.
This story has a familiar pattern. It begins when the pipeline churns out a promising lead. You take the sensible step of gathering intel about the prospect. After weighing all the factors, you decide the prospect fits one of your company’s buyer personas.
So you draw up an engagement plan, even memorizing a unique script to show:
1. You understand the prospect’s pain points.
2. You have the exact solution they need.
Then you engage the prospect in earnest. The first few conversations (via meetups, email, voice call, or social media) are promising. In fact, social media goes far beyond just engaging the prospect in modern selling. Many brands are now leveraging social selling strategies to build massive pipelines.
But just when everything seems to be going your way, the engagement starts sputtering. Your messages go unanswered. Calls yield mixed signals at first. Then excuses come by the dozen. Eventually, the prospect appears to lose all interest in whatever you’re selling.
The prospect has gone dark. After all the valuable time and energy you’ve spent.
Why leads go from hot to cold
There are many reasons qualified leads can go dark. Here are some of the most common:
- You misread the prospect. The prospect was just incredibly polite and accommodating, leading you to be believe that she was interested in your pitch. She wasn’t at the onset.
- The prospect is busy. Your prospect may be handling multiple projects at once, enjoying a well-earned vacation, participating in an important company event, or getting drawn deeper into a serious family problem. In any case, the prospect deprioritizes the engagement with your brand to focus on something else.
- You came out too strong. Even highly accomplished sales professionals who eschew selling for substance can sometimes seem “too salesy” to some prospects. Maybe you mentioned an in-house product more frequently than you should. Or maybe you consistently failed to see the obvious merits in a competitor’s solution. Perhaps you talked a bit more than you listened. Whichever triggered the impression, you spooked the prospect when you pushed your message too aggressively for their taste.
- Your solution turned out to be an imperfect fit. After considering the pros and cons of the product or service you’re offering, the prospect concludes that there might be a better alternative in the market. Whether the underlying factor is pricing, after-sales support, or feature set, the prospect seems willing to postpone engagement with your business to continue searching for the right solution elsewhere.
- You lost to the competition. This can happen for any number of reasons. Pricing, product fit, ease of onboarding, timing… or maybe they flat out-sold you.
How to spark interest when things go dark
You can’t always get what you want, but you can always make the best of what you have. In this case, you have prospects who previously showed promise but have gone dark for one reason or another.
Remember, just because a significant number of leads turn cold all the time doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it. After all, closed deals happen far down the line (after multiple points of contact/conversation), sometimes involving prospects everyone thought had very low odds of opting in.
Here are some pointers to help you exhaust every opportunity in your pipeline, including prospects who have gone dark:
1. Don’t show desperation - You may be pinning your hopes of exceeding the target on a prospect that suddenly stopped responding to your emails or calls. Don’t panic nor show desperation, even when you experience both. Panic causes you to make stupid mistakes while desperation makes you sound even more salesy.
2. Give them space - When prospects say they are busy, they probably are or they need space to think things out. Avoid behaving like spam by temporarily holding off direct engagement for a future date. Use the time to nurture other qualified leads.
3. Give yourself a breather and plan your next move - Shift your attention to other hot prospects in the pipeline. As a rule of thumb, spend most of your time on qualified leads who can generate the highest value for your business.
4. Engage consistently - This means indirectly through other means such as newsletters, email automation, content marketing and other nurturing initiatives/outreach. Some of your company’s solutions may still match the prospect’s needs.
5. After a reasonable break, directly re-engage again - This means engaging the prospect through other channels (such as social media). Revisit their challenges from another angle or shift the topic to a related issue. Rekindle the relationship and probe for areas where you can add value.
6. Win over secondary decision makers - Whenever possible, approach other influencers and point persons in the prospect’s organization who may have a role in buying decisions.
7. Move on - This is tough, but when you’ve exhausted all possible ways to revive cold prospects, it’s simply time to move on. Exit the engagement with grace by thanking the prospects for their time and by conveying that your company will be happy to serve them in the future.
Sales is a numbers game and you would want to always close deals with high-value prospects. Because time is limited, prioritize this type of prospects but always get back to leads that have grown dark whenever there’s a lull in the pipeline.
Use different approaches to re-engage these prospects but don’t waste any more time and energy than necessary. In sales, knowing when to let go is just as important as being relentless.