Every business owner will encounter a client who becomes unresponsive when it’s time to begin a project or pay a bill at some point in their career. Not only is it a frustrating situation but, sometimes, it is tough knowing how to handle it in a professional manner. However, there are effective strategies you can use to make sure a project stays on track and you get paid.
It might be a tricky situation to tackle, so here are a few common scenarios and tips to help you through the process.
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.”
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More often than not, they haven’t 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:
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.
On average, securing a deal may require up to eight sales calls. If you’ve only had a few calls and communication drops, don’t let it discourage you.
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 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.
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 dared 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 a co-working session, depending on your relationship.
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 quickly 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 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 it to me for approval?” This works sometimes, but when it comes to LinkedIn reviews and Google Reviews, both are incredibly important for “social proof” — they need to log in 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.
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 honest with yourself: is there anything you did during the project that could have been done better? Is there anything you think they could 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 in their shoes — even if you feel annoyed by it — and try to get them on the phone to talk it through. Communication has the potential to solve most issues of discomfort or dispute.
Solution: A staged approach is preferred. Try to do three gentle reminders — at seven, 15 and 28 days, via an automated invoice reminder system. Only after this time has passed should you 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.
Before initiating a lawsuit or hiring a debt collector, consider sending a final demand letter if your client hasn’t paid. State clearly the intention to sue if payment isn’t received.
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, or other access points. Much of the advice above applies:
But don’t let yourself get the “stalker” label — at some point, you will have to let some customers walk away and chalk it up to experience.
Keren Lerner contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.