Sales Question: How Long Before You Give Up On A Prospect?

Let's say you've met with a prospect and sent them a proposal or even budget numbers. You touch base with them in a couple of weeks, then a month, then three months, etc., and they simply don't answer.

At what point do you mark the prospect lost or unknown and not bother trying them again? How much does the size of the quote matter? What else goes into your decision?

(This question inspired by a salesguy from the local cable provider who quoted me rough pricing on bandwidth over a year ago and decided to call me today.)


For the record, I did tell him up front and on the one instance he emailed me that it was just for budget, not any sort of finalized plan. I'm not that cruel.

I signed up for a Yahoo email account in 1999. That year, I was shopping for a car and punched in my address in a leading manufacturer's website (*cough*Ford*cough*) like a n00b.

Ever since then, including as recently as this weekend, I get an email from the local Ford dealer sales manager asking me if I am still in the market for a car and showing me killer deals I can drive away with today.

I'm sure it's a robo setting in the CRM somewhere, and there is likely some unsubscribe option, but I secretly like the idea my name is listed in the "qualified 17 years+ warm targets' category in some sales system somewhere.

Do you open the e-mails?

They usual have an attached invisible web beacon, which phones home to let them know you're still listening...

I think I might have sometime in years 3, 8, and 14.

Ethan,

Had I been told budget purposes and nothing else, I prob would have given a really high price and never followed up. Budget purposes are famous time wasters for sales folks. If we can have a serious qualifying discussion that involves an actual need, time line, and decision making process, then the whole process mostly takes care of itself. Shot in the dark follow ups are a sign of inexperience. More than likely someone else driving him to do it.

I agree with you, but assuming you do all that and they stop answering you, the question still stands: how long do you continue trying?

Ethan, sorry, first reply was from me not finishing reading the entire post...errr, so I edited. 3 attempts max. 3 mo is way too long. Year later is sort of weird, but at the cable level prob CRM driven like Brian suggests.

Ideally you capture information in your initial call about timeline, budget (do they have budget already approved and ready, or are they getting quotes so they can get budget), and critical decision making factors.

For security systems I think it is safe to assume most buyers intend to make a purchase within 3 months for an average to small system, and somewhere around 6-9 months for larger systems. Larger systems are more likely to have to go through more product evaluation and budget approvals, thus the longer timeline.

If your prospect has been responsive over several calls, and then goes dark for a period that is ~2x the decision time (so, 6 months for a small system, ~1 year for a larger system) you can mark it as "Closed/Lost".

However, part of a good sales management process is "lead nurturing". I think even if you are assuming it is a lost opportunity it can make sense to followup in a year. Maybe the previous decision maker left the company, and now a new person is in place and picking up the project. Maybe their previous budget got cancelled and they just didn't like answering pesky sales people, but intended to purchase something later. Maybe they purchased your competitors product but are now unhappy with it and want to switch vendors before going into a 2nd deployment phase.

This is where automatic emails, things like newsletters and updates can be valuable to do a "soft sell". You don't need to ask "Hey, are you going to buy this yet?!?!?", but you can remind them your company exists and has potentially released some new widget.

Companies with larger sales staff may also use inside sales for part of this role, making followup calls every few weeks to try and reach the buyer and get a definitive answer on why the sale never closed.

There are some schools of thought that you never really "give up", you just keep gently pursuing them until they decide to buy. In the past I have had leads that took 3+ years to close, some with significant periods of no communication in the middle, or customers that went with a competitor and then finally came around and realized that was a bad idea.

In your case the 1 year followup roughly makes sense, many providers may ask for a 1 year commitment. The salesperson might have been calling assuming you went with another option, and now after a year may be in a position to reevaluate your previous decision.

During my days as a sales rep for a security integration firm I would typically keep making phone calls and/or sending emails every couple weeks or so until I received some form of response. I've had situations where I've been blown off only to have a PO issued months later.

Some projects, especially larger ones, can tend to move extremely slow....

If you're in sales these days, you need to have thick skin, be patient and persistent (but not annoyingly persistent). ;-)

It depends on your CRM ;)

I think you should stop when you know the answer.

In manufacturing we maintain forecasts and funny enough it seems once you remove a sale, it comes in. The longest example I remember was 8 years after the original quote and dropped from the forecast just weeks before. They called "Hey, is that quote still good?"

I recall a $865,000.00 sale a security guy landed 8 months after the original proposal. This was beyond a multiple of anything he had ever quoted. He checked in every month and because if that he was awarded the project. Most thought it was lost because the contractor was non-responsive and it was his first quote to him.

If you ask "When should I quit doing free designs" the answer would be different.

I never give up. I've closed deals 4 years after a first meeting. I often win deals because I'm the only one who stays in the game.

If someone who shows signs of being a bad customer or wasting my time I will walk away. But if they're a legitimate potential client who's really interested I will send them an email or call once a month. Doesn't matter how big or small of a client they are. Now I'm not going to waste a lot of time driving out to the job site. But sending an email while I'm at the gym isn't a big deal. I've been in sales for 10 years now and I've learned a healthy balance of too little and too much communication.

While I don't usually follow up too hard on proposals, I don't really ever give up either. We keep pretty busy as it is, so hard closing isn't really something we feel the need to do. If we ever had a slump or downtime, I do send a friendly email to bring the idea back to the surface and see if the project still has a pulse. I usually follow up after a week with a first email. If I don't hear back in a month, I will try to remember a second. If no reply still, I will call to make sure I have the correct email address. If no answer on the call back, I will stop trying, as they either weren't interested, bought something else, or died.

If you are to the point where you have a lot of prospects, it can get to the point that you are wasting time on people who arent worth it. Basically I have a couple rules of thumbs before I delete them out of my montly call list. #1) If they tell me to leave them the heck alone #2) if they never answer the phone or return my phone calls or emails after several tries.

Other than that, I will keep trying, especially for new beast customers Im trying to pick up.