I Thought My Cup Was Empty

Posted: May 7, 2019

I am always looking for inspiration in real-life which translates over into sales and leadership.  This morning my wife quickly picked up what she thought was an empty coffee mug.  The coffee mug was quite full of cold coffee, which promptly became cold coffee dumped in a dresser drawer of freshly laundered t-shirts…double whammy!!!

Working with sales teams, we preach about the value of keeping our pipeline full of prospects.  That is, a pipeline full of prospects who fit our ideal target market and our ideal decision maker.  We are also firm believers in a consultative sales approach with a milestone centric sales process. This approach and the steps involved allow us to move prospects through our pipeline to "closed won" or "closed lost".  A loss is OK as long as we understand where we went wrong in the process.

Back to empty coffee mug.  Inevitably we deal with prospects who have chosen not to buy from us who re-surface out of the blue later.  I might have begun the day believing my pipeline was not full (empty mug) and now I have the long-lost prospect reaching back out.  More often than not what you have is a cold cup of coffee dumped on those nicely pressed t-shirts.  Here is why and what you can do about it. 

Ideally, you would have archived this opportunity rather than hoping and praying for it to return. Most salespeople make a big mistake by getting overly excited about the return of the prospect.  For me when prospects go cold and then return it is more like the nasty cold coffee in the dresser drawer.  This prospect caused you a lot of anxiety, embarrassment with your manager, and wasted time.  Who wants more of that?  I raise that issue because the chances of your prospect going cold again are higher than the likelihood of a sale.

Skepticism or curiosity should be your number one strategy.  An old colleague of mine would always say "Now isn't that interesting they are calling me back now!" This little primer always put him in the "skeptical or curious" mindset v. overly excited and ready to answer questions.

Why has your prospect returned and why now?  Many things happened with your prospect since your last conversation, and you need to hear their story.  What they share could be predictive of what will happen next and what you should do.  For example:

What They Might Say

What That Could Mean

What You Should Do

We have a question

They will go cold again as soon as you answer the question

Ask them a question.  Out of curiosity why did they call you back?  Do not accept "because we had another question for an answer.  Instead, mention they didn't return calls and emails for two months so why now?

We would like a proposal

They are moving forward but at what speed and with whom?

Ask how many proposals they are requesting.  Ask why they included you.  Don't accept out of respect for the time you already invested. Instead, suggest it doesn't sound like you are their first choice so why are they including you? 

We want to meet

A good sign - they like you enough and it won't be a waste of time

Schedule time to meet and ask what is on their agenda and their desired outcome of the meeting.  Then ask if you can share your agenda and outcome.

We want you to present

They are moving forward but at a snail's pace.  

Ask how many companies they invited to present.  Ask why they included you.  Don't accept out of respect for the time you already invested. Instead, suggest it doesn't sound like you are their first choice so why are they including you?  

Our [top-ranking executive] wants to talk with you

A good sign - they like you enough and it won't be a waste of time

Schedule time to meet and ask what is on their agenda and their desired outcome of the meeting.  Then ask if you can share your agenda and outcome. 

 

The reality is that in most cases, prospects go cold when you weren't talking with the right person.  When they do return, they are still the wrong person so don't expect anything different to happen unless the top executive decision maker is fully engaged.

You could even experience these issues if you are talking with a weak decision maker who needs to build consensus.  Decision makers go cold too if they don't get the agreement they are looking for.

If you maintain a healthy level of skepticism, ask plenty of questions and keep your discussion conversational you will get a much better sense of where you really are and whether you will get the business. 

Although the prospect has returned, the opportunity can be reactivated in CRM and the odds are no longer zero, don't become too optimistic.  Your odds of closing the business are no greater than 49%. Let us grade your sales process to help fill in the gaps.

Contact Us

We welcome business leaders who are frustrated with their current sales performance to contact us to arrange a free consultation with one of our sales development experts.