Weiss Advice Issue: 180, September, 2018
There are times when the buyer has considered your approaches, the relationship is good, and the mutual respect is present, but the buyer legitimately can’t use your help. This may be because your competencies are not quite right, or the geographic distance isn’t appropriate, or for any other good reason. You can’t win them all, but you needn’t take a complete loss on this situation.
If the economic buyer called you and said, “We just can’t, I’m sorry,” and has an unequivocal reason for not proceeding, what would you say or do next? Take a minute to consider what you might recover from this situation, and then read on.
In my view, here are just some of the roads to travel, especially since the economic buyer has been professional and gracious enough to tell you “no” personally.
- Ask for permission to remain in contact. This might include an occasional phone call, placement on your mailing list, inclusion in your newsletter subscriptions, and so forth. Gain a commitment that you can stay in touch without being considered rude, and without being delegated to a subordinate.
- Ask if there is someone else he or she could refer you to, since the buyer knows of your value and your professionalism. It may be a colleague in the same organization, or an acquaintance in another business.
- Ask what, if anything, you might have done better to secure the business. Sometimes you can pick up a valuable learning point, such as, “Your proposal arrived a few days after we expected it and we were concerned that you may be too busy to provide us with the priority we need.”
- Ask if you may use him or her as a reference, in that even though you didn’t actually work together, they are familiar with your character, professionalism, value, and so on.
- Tell the buyer that if, for any reason, the project does not proceed as hoped, you’d be happy to re-enter the picture, and you’d gladly make yourself available short-term in the event you were needed after all. (Some buyers feel embarrassed to do this with a consultant they’ve turned down if they are not specifically assured it’s fine with you.)
Place the buyer on your relevant mailing lists and make a note to get back to the buyer in 30-to-60 days. Simply follow up and ask how things are going. In the meantime, you might want to provide some value to the buyer for the project, in terms of articles, examples from elsewhere, and so forth.
True economic buyers are like diamonds—they are forever, and don’t lose their luster. The fact that one has personally considered your proposal is a great advantage, even if you haven’t been able to close the business. Don’t walk away from such a wonderful relationship and future opportunity.
Every time someone calls you-even if it’s to say “no” or to offer resistance—it’s a sign of interest. If there were no interest the buyer would be apathetic and non-responsive. This also means that on those occasions the buyer does not return phone calls or respond, the probability is that you have not established a trusting, peer-level relationship with that person. People return the calls of those whom they respect, and whom they believe they might well be talking to again sometime in the future. If a significant number of people you’ve met at buyer level do not return your messages or follow-up, you probably have been making sales calls and not building relationships.