Is your client dodging your emails and calls? It might be time to move forward. Here's how to handle the situation.
We all hate being ignored. But in business, when working with clients, it is very common. When we send our clients a proposal, an update, a request for information or a request to be paid, we open ourselves to potentially being ignored.
I sometimes feel riled up, defensive, and start to invent scenarios in my head. But let’s put all those emotions aside and get practical here. It’s in your interest to move forward, and it's in their interest, too.
Here are a few common scenarios where a client might not respond, and what you should do about it.
Are you waiting for them to give you a go ahead on a project?
Too many of us interpret silence as, “Oh, they must mean to ignore me because they don’t want to go ahead with the project, or they found someone else.”
More often than not, they haven’t actually made a decision yet. You may not have communicated your value strongly enough in a way that makes them think – as sales strategy coach Melissa Pharr says – that this is a “now” thing.
Some of the reasons people hesitate on business decisions include:
- They don’t see it as an urgent thing, not above other things on their plate.
- They aren’t sure if there will be a clear ROI.
- They feel this is going to take up their time, and they don’t see space in their upcoming schedule for the time – even headspace can be an issue.
- They have others who are involved in the decision-making process, who aren’t as convinced as they are.
Solution: Don’t jump to conclusions. There are limits to how many times you can follow up with the same, “Just wondering if you’ve read my proposal” message. If you have taken the time to get to know them, then you can use any number of other ways to keep in touch and you can try to find a way to get some time with them. The time you do get should be discovery time. Find out more about their issues. Listen to them and see what is making them question things. Once you’ve gathered all this information, you’ll be much more likely to offer a way to reassure them.
Are you waiting for them to give you feedback on your project?
This could be because they are busy and haven’t had a chance to look and give it their full attention, or they don’t trust their own opinion and need to ask their business partner/spouse/clients/friends. Sometimes, however, it does mean your worst nightmare – they really don’t like what you’ve done and are embarrassed to tell you.
Solution: Book a call or meeting and remind them that it’s rare when you show first drafts that they are the final version. Let them know you want all their feedback, even if it’s radical – and you’re committed to giving them a result they will love. You can also try asking for feedback differently, so they feel you genuinely want it.
Are you waiting for them to send you information?
You’ve delivered your bit, and then you’re waiting for them to send you the final details. Chances are they feel a bit embarrassed that they are holding things up. While it could be something else – they aren’t happy with a stage of the project, and they haven’t had the courage to mention it to you – it’s most likely this embarrassment factor.
Solution: Make it clear that this is quite normal and remind them of the reasons you started the project in the first place. Say you can book a call and will be able to suggest ways to help them with this blocker. Aside from being motivational during this call, you can make practical suggestions. This can include external support, a session with you, help with getting information from the third party who is causing a bottleneck, or co-working session, depending on your relationship.
Are you waiting for them to give you a testimonial?
For the most part, when you ask for a testimonial, you will choose the clients you had a great time with, the ones you find have had the most success as a result of the work you did. However, despite this mutual love, it’s common that you will not get that testimonial, or Google Review as quick as you’d like.
Why do people hesitate? It’s usually not even about you. They are busy, like all of us, but there is another very common reason: They often don’t know what to write! Some people find it easy to write testimonials and reviews, but others get writer’s block. They don’t know where to start. This is why it’s so common for people to say, “Can’t you just write it for me and send to me for approval?” This works sometimes, but when it comes to LinkedIn reviews and Google Reviews, both incredibly important for “social proof” – they really need to login themselves.
Solution: Make it as easy as possible for them. Take it in stages – first ask if it’s OK to ask them some questions about your work together and reassure them that it won’t be more than two to three questions, and that they can have full editorial approval.
Are you waiting for them to pay you?
Having your invoices ignored can be the most frustrating thing ever. Why do people avoid paying you? They may be having money issues, so you may want to suggest a payment plan to help them out. They may just be busy. They may be unhappy with a part of the project, but don’t feel brave enough to tell you.
Now, before you get self-righteous, be totally honest with yourself – is there anything you did during the project that could have been done better? Is there anything you think they could possibly be upset with you about? Even if they’re wrong, open your mind to these possibilities and see if you can try and put yourself into their shoes – even if you feel annoyed by it – and try and get them on the phone to talk it through. Communication has that potential to solve most issues of discomfort or dispute.
Solution: A staged approach is preferred. We do three gentle reminders – at seven, 15 and 28 days, via our automated invoice reminder system. Only after this time has passed and we know they have just ignored us do we start with actual human polite emails. But – if emails are ignored, pick up the phone. As a last case scenario, debt collectors may need to get involved.
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There are of course other times when you are ignored, like when you get in touch with an old client out of the blue and suggest a meeting. Their response (whether you have one or not) depends on how strong your relationship is, that old “busy” excuse, how often they check their email, LinkedIn, etc. Much of the advice above applies:
- Putting yourself in their shoes
- Trying another method of communication (your message might have gone to “Junk”)
- Being honest with yourself about your relationship
- Varying your approach
- Using motivational language to invigorate them
But don't let yourself get the "stalker" label – at some point, you will have to let some people float away and chalk it up to experience.