It's a slow afternoon on the sales floor. Your calendar is so open you're worried someone might try to throw a pass to it.

After refreshing your inbox five times in five minutes, it hits you: "Whatever happened to Alex from Acme Corp.? They were a perfect fit, but then they ghosted me after our initial meeting."

Suddenly you have a purpose again. Opening up your inbox, you search for your last email thread. Staring at their response from two months ago, you are now faced with the following dilemma -- what can you do to create momentum again?

Prospects going dark is a fact of life. How you bring them back into your pipeline is what separates average salespeople from great ones. In this post, I outline the root causes behind prospects going dark, and what you need to know about sales follow ups to help your dead deals channel their inner Jon Snow.

3 Signs Your Prospects Will Go Dark

1) They're unwilling to book solid next steps.

No matter how well you think your call or meeting went, if the prospect is unwilling to commit to a rock-solid next step, you're wrong -- this behavior should be a huge red flag.

If someone is willing and able to make a purchase, then surely they can commit to a meeting to complete the purchase, or loop in the additional stakeholders necessary to get it done.

Root cause:

  • Odds are you're working with someone who could be bought in, but does not have the actual clout to sell the deal internally.
  • Your point of contact may know a reason why the deal is unlikely to materialize, but are avoiding bringing it up for one reason or another. Asking some pointed, disqualifying questions should help you get to the bottom of it (more on this later).

2) No need or urgency for the purchase

Whenever I bring a deal to my manager I think is going to close, one of the first things he asks me is, "Why are they buying?"

It is a simple, but powerful question. If I have a hard time providing a specific, convincing answer, then I know the deal is not as strong as I thought.

The question itself highlights an important criteria for a qualified prospect: Need. If you can't even tell yourself why the prospect needs the software -- and you are the one selling it -- what are the odds they understand it themselves?

Root cause:

  • The prospect likely does not fully understand the value the product/service creates for their use case.

You need to go back and make sure you fully understand their business and goals, and where your product or service fits into that landscape.

3) Lack of due diligence

Ever have a prospect who seems way too relaxed going through a purchasing decision making process?

  • Have they seen any competitors? "No, I don't need to."
  • Do they have any questions on how to set this up? "No, seems simple enough."
  • What are their thoughts on the price and is the purchase something they can budget for? "Yeah, it should be fine."

This is a huge red flag. If the prospect is this lackadasical when it comes to seeking out potential issues, how likely are they really to have spent time figuring out the value the product/service will offer them?

I like to call this one the "too good to be true" sign.

Root cause:

  • The prospect is not telling you everything. The evaluation could have been delegated to them, but they are not actually making the decision. They could be shopping around competitors, just looking to get price quotes. Maybe they are just bored and seeing what is out there, but not planning on taking any action.

3 Ways to Prevent Prospects From Going Dark

At the end of the day, you can only do so much to prevent prospects from going dark.

A lot of things are out of your control: Internal politics, staffing changes, economic restrictions, and so on can all impact deals regardless of how helpful and hardworking you are. That being said, these three strategies will help you uncover whether a prospect is going dark before it becomes too late to do anything about it.

1) Follow up diligently

It's simple, but worth stating: Make sure you stay on your prospect's radar by following up when you say you will. They won't be proactive about reaching out to you unless they're really feeling the business pain, so this goes a long way.

To avoid checking in for the sake of checking in, include relevant information in each touchpoint.

Instead of writing "Hey Phil, Did you get a chance to talk to your CTO about the proposal?", try this instead: "Hey Phil, I wanted to send over a resource I thought would be relevant to your CTO given the questions someone in her role usually has about our product. Let me know if she has any questions?"

2) Build urgency

If the prospect truly has a need for what you're selling, you are doing them a disservice by not effectively communicating how they would benefit by acting sooner rather than later.

Be sure to really dig in during discovery so you understand the value your offering would provide them, and make sure they understand the repercussions of not moving forward.

3) Proactively hunt for objections

Most of the time when a prospect goes dark on you for preventable reasons, it's because they've inaccurately represented their decision making process to you, intentionally or not. The best way to get prospects to take off the costume and show their true intentions? Trying to disqualify them.

It can feel a little scary at first, but try calling the prospect out.

They're not willing to agree to a next step? Ask them why. Don't think they understand the need they have for the software? Ask them to articulate to you the need they have for it. They don't seem to be doing their due diligence in choosing a product? Tell them you are concerned about it.

This way you can face objections head on, instead of having them surface when it is already too late. At best, you'll get to the root cause of their hesitation and be able to address it. At worst, you'll go your seperate ways knowing exactly why the deal did not go forward, instead of your prospect ghosting on you.

3 Ways to Bring a Prospect Back From the Dead

Even when you do everything right, prospects will inevitably go dark on you. So, what can you do as a salesperson to help them return like Lazarus to your pipeline? If you don't have a strategic approach to targeting prospects that have gone dark, you'll waste a lot of time digging up graves that have long decomposed. You can use the three techniques below to target and reach out to the prospects that actually are worth your time:

1) Send product or service updates

Have a prospect that was ready to buy, but just needed that one feature to make it a worthwhile purchase for them?

Leave a note on them and other similar prospects, and if the feature or service ever becomes part of your offering, you can reach out in a way that is timely and relevant with a an email template. Set up a 'Closed Lost Reason' field on the CRM record for your opportunities, so you know exactly why the deal did not go through. Here's a sample template I use:


Hi [Prospect],

When we last spoke, you mentioned that ______ was a key feature for your team because ________.

Good news! Our product team recently put this exact feature into beta this week -- do you have 15 minutes to walk through the update and catch up?


2) Trigger events

Trigger events -- like a recent round of funding or a key hire -- are great for identifying new prospects, but they are also a powerful tool for creating new momentum in stalled deals.

Maybe your internal champion was a manager, and they recently got promoted to director. This is a perfect trigger to reach out and see if they have the clout to get the necessary buy in from leadership.

Budget was an issue when you last spoke? An announcement for a new round of funding could be a perfect opportunity to pick up the conversation again.

3) Promotions

At many companies management will approve temporary incentives for slower times of year, or just to help kick start some action.

Some common examples are:

  • Discounts
  • Free training/onboarding
  • Flexible billing terms/commitments

These can be a great reason to get in touch with prospects who you know are on the verge of signing up, but just need a tiny little nudge to get them over the edge.

When it comes down to it, you will never be able to prevent prospects from going dark on you. However, oftentimes you can at least determine why they disappear, then use that information to bring salvagable opportunities back to life.

HubSpot CRM

Originally published Oct 31, 2016 7:30:00 AM, updated November 30 2017


Sales Follow Up