Sunday, February 21, 2010

Frustration in the Darkness

The economic frost of the past 18 months has weighed heavily on the psyche of sales and business development representatives at professional services firms.

Although its use in prose is tired, it is certainly true that misery loves company. That’s why my dinner on Saturday night with one of the Washington, DC region’s most accomplished commercial real estate executives was so comforting.

“Q4 of last year was the worst business climate I have seen in the two decades I’ve been working in my industry,” he explained. “I got so desperate I started digging through old files in storage to identify contacts I could call. Made a lot of outreach. No responses. No deals.”

I can attest to that as I have just weathered the longest sales dry stretch in my career. Though Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) picked up additional assignments from a number of existing clients, we failed to win a single piece of new business for nearly six months.

It was not a case of falling short in PR agency reviews. In fact, we only elected to participate in a single formal evaluation. Rather, this desert of sales closes was attributable to the early adopter phase of corporate adoption of social media marketing, combined with the uncertainty created by the down economy.

I did move a handful of deals to the cusp of closing only to have them derailed for some unexplained reason.

Why unexplained? That’s because at the moment of decision my prospect went completely dark. No reply to voice messages. No Email response. There was simply no communication whatsoever.

While I realize telling someone “no” or “not now” isn’t pleasant, simply falling off the grid of communication with someone you’ve built a relationship with is unprofessional and intolerable. At the very least, the honest disclosure of the factors that influenced the no buy decision is incredibly valuable for any sales rep.

Am I just venting? Yes…maybe a little. Yet, I suspect most sales and business development execs reading this post are nodding their head in sympathetic recognition.

Oh, my cold spell is over as Strategic has picked up several new client assignments just this month. Please look for the posting of press releases on our corporate Web site in the coming weeks.


Wonderwoman0126 said...

Marc: I spent many years in B2B telecom sales before coming over to the dark side. When prospects went cold, I learned that often it was due to internal politics that you can't control (example: someone's first cousin twice removed is owed a favor and knocks you out of the running). As the pitchman, you can control a lot, but this is seldom an area that you can influence because you are not privy to the internal conversation. And who knows? The person with whom you had the relationship could have his/her job on the line, not want to rock the boat, or could be job hunting and on the way out. Just a few tidbits for thought. Frustrating, yes, but I never found it worth a lot of hand-wringing. Best of luck with your NEW prospects. Onward and upward.

ed alexander said...

I only tend to get explanations for lack of closure from prospects with whom I have developed a level of rapport that extends beyond the business relationship. In other words, there is a reasone to continue the relationship beyond talk of the deal. While that's not reasonable in all cases, it does appear to be a differentiating factor in terms of the depth and extend of feedback I receive. It builds respect into the equation.