The dreaded words, No. All that time and effort to identify, pursue, and engage a prospect only to end up in a No. But…No. Can I…No. Maybe you…No, no, no. A brutal end to a long series of activities that showed promise, inspired the agency, and energized your efforts. Does that mean she or he is done? Do you cut your losses and move on to preserve your precious time on new or higher potential candidates? What should you do when a prospect says no?
Statistically, over 85% of salespeople move on. They are focused on today, and whatever opportunity is in front of them. That is not a bad thing; however, by doing so, they might be losing out on a future client that isn’t ready now but could be in the future. After all, statistics also tell us that only 3% - 5% of our opportunity is ready to buy today, which means that 95% will give you that soul-crushing No, today.
There is a variety of Nos. The worst is no reply or no answer, leaving you clueless about the state of mind of that prospect. It could be that they are preoccupied looking for a new job. Statistically, 20% - 30% of marketing executives are looking. It could be that they have no role or responsibility for hiring an agency. They may have an agency or agencies under contract working on programs essential to their success, promotion, or career and have no time to talk about tomorrow. As such, their budgets are committed, their job is on the line, and regardless of how they feel about current partners, there is no interest in change at the moment.
One thing is certain in our world. Change is inevitable. Changing agencies is predictable. That 3% - 5% has already committed to change while the rest will change sometime in the future. If you are lucky enough to get a 'no' rather than a 'no reply' you’ve got the potential of future opportunity that so many business development pros cast aside. I’m not suggesting to give up on finding prospects who are ready today and put all your efforts towards tomorrow. Today is necessary for the agency and you. Finding the right balance between prospecting today and working on those in the future allows you to keep a healthy pipeline today and tomorrow.
The solution is to develop a strategy for the various degrees of No. Your approach should be guided by your agency’s overall growth strategy, your resources, tools, and of course, time. Too much time or too little time may derail the whole process. I follow a few steps that have proven to be valuable to my success.
If you don’t get any response, there is no way to tell what their disposition is. The first thing to do is to verify that they are still at the company and in the proper role. A LinkedIn and Google search might shed some light on their current job. Depending on the company phone system and policies, you can call and ask the operator or admin, or listen to their voicemail message. You can also choose someone else from the directory and ask them to transfer you.
If you can’t get any response and you can’t verify them, then it’s probably one to set aside. I don’t discard the prospect because it may pop up in the future with a new job, in the news, or with a need. If the email doesn’t bounce, I put it on slow nurture automation, so it continues to hear from me should need or interest change. I had a prospect who didn’t engage for almost two years. I thought for sure she was a dead end. Out of the blue, I get a call saying she enjoyed my emails and wanted to talk.
If they do respond to an email or a call, or at the seminar or ballpark, with a No, there are things you should do to understand the No and plan accordingly. First, I always give a genuine thank you because they are inundated with people vying for their time, and very few will bother. The fact that they did, and it’s not an angry reply, means that they respect what you do and what you represent, and may be open to provide a little more context to the No that will help guide your strategy. Remember, their time is valuable and especially so when they have no current interest in what you offer, so be professional, brief, concise, and appreciative.
“Thank you for letting me know. I do appreciate the time to reply. May I ask why you’re not interested at this time so I can update my process?” There are many reasons for a No, including I don’t like your agency, although they will never tell you that. “We’ve taken everything in-house. I’ve got an agency I am happy with. I’m in the middle of my campaign. I’ve got no budget, no time, cut spending, are consolidating agencies, looking for a new CMO, are being acquired, already have a creative, digital, social, media, PR, experiential, partner.” Finding out why is the key to what you do next.
If you can infer from their response that No means no, and it might, you should set them aside until next year. There is a difference between persistence and pointless. On the other hand, a friendly response opens the door to a few other questions depending on their answer. “It is great to hear that you have an agency partner you like. If you were not happy or other things changed, when you hire a new CMO, when budgets get allocated, when spending restarts, would you be interested in learning more about us?” Finding the right words that are genuine and fit your personality are essential because you are asking subjective and personal questions.
“I get it. You have resources and are executing like crazy. I wish you the best results. Can you tell me when you might be open to learning about a new resource, when you begin planning for next year, when your agency contract ends, when your new line-up will launch, when you begin the budget process?” If you get an answer, you can plot that date on the calendar and work backward to define the right strategy and timing to renew your efforts. If you get a response, it shows at least a minimal level of interest that you can nurture and build. Again, be patient. Your timing might not sync with their, and too much effort could close the door.
“I know you aren’t interested and can appreciate all that you have going on right now. Because we have a client in the X industry, we noticed that your brand is lagging in Y. Would you mind if I send you some insights, ideas, past work, an example, how your competitor, etc.,” whatever you can pull together that they would find value in. If you get a yes, you’ve got a toe in the door and a way to keep a conversation going. Be patient though because rationally they aren’t interested and won’t prioritize whatever you do but don’t give up either. This level of tacit interest is a great start.
Stay in touch
“I’m happy you’ve got a good resource and are seeing great results. The X industry is getting tougher as new competition comes from unexpected places. Do you mind if, from time to time, I share some thoughts about the industry and examples of companies who have had success?”
This question is a fork in the road. Some have said “not interested,” which means you have to wait longer to renew any outreach if you decide it is worth the effort at all. Those who say ok have opened the door to a strategy and slow cadence of things to send that better express your value, work, thinking, clients success, notable new hires, and other things that keep your name on the radar and ultimately on the list when their time comes.
No today doesn’t necessarily mean no tomorrow. In many cases, it is a starting point to build value, trust, and ultimately, consideration. It also requires you to ask the right questions in the right way to dig out information that you can use to turn that No into a Yes. Think of it this way. If I told you that Acme Widgets is planning to change agencies next year, you wouldn’t hesitate to begin working on that prospect. It’s the same thing. Getting a No might be the opening to a big new client down the road. And, considering that most BD people cast Nos aside, you might be the only agency with a head start.
I’ve got a lot of advice on how to make your business development efforts more effective and would enjoy sharing what I know. If you like this post, click the thumbs up, so I’ll know and then sign up for my new business newsletter. Find me on Twitter and LinkedIn for daily tips, tricks, and insights. And, please share your new business advice, successes, and failures. #LetsGrow!