You had a great conversation with your prospect.  Maybe even a few conversations.

Emails flew back and forth.  You had done your research, figured out their challenges, and developed solid solutions.  You had shown the ROI that would come when they bought from you.

It was going great.

Or so you thought.

Because one day they just weren’t there anymore.  Emails didn’t get returned, phone calls always went to voicemail, and your letters were sent back marked “return to sender.”  (OK, maybe not that last one.)

But you had to accept the fact: You had been ghosted.

The Pain of Getting Ghosted

The term ghosting comes from the dating world when someone abruptly cuts off communication without warning or explanation.  Usually, it stems from one partner trying to leave the relationship without conflict or having to deal with the negative repercussions. And now the practice has infiltrated the business world as well.  Instead of telling salespeople or potential professional partners “no”, prospects cut off communication and become impossible to reach. This isn’t the same problem as when you are first reaching out to a prospect.  That has always been a challenge and will remain so. Ghosting is different because it happens once the conversation has already started.  And not only has the conversation started, it’s usually going well. There can be multiple phone calls and emails where the prospect is excited, and it seems like there is a legitimate chance to move business forward. That’s why getting ghosted hurts on both a business and person level.  It’s a surprise that doesn’t seem to make sense. Everything is going smoothly and then radio silence.

Why Do Prospects Ghost You?

Here’s the biggest challenge for salespeople when prospects ghost them: You can’t know why someone ghosts you. If you did know why they ghosted you, then it wouldn’t be ghosting.  That makes it harder to reconcile on an emotional level, but it also means it’s really hard to manage and prevent. There is a wide range of reasons why they might stop reaching out to you.  It could professional, personal, or a mix of the two. It could that your prospect:

Never had the authority to make a decision and didn’t tell you.

Got yelled at by their boss to not work on your project.

Doesn’t like conflict and doesn’t want to tell you no.

Found a review on your company that wasn’t flattering.

Had a death in their family and are out on leave.

Those are just a few.  There are a slew of other reasons that could lead to the relationship going cold.

3 Proactive Ways to Prevent Ghosting

Trying to anticipate or manage all of these different scenarios would be exhausting and ultimately futile.  Instead of trying to prevent every possible option, it can help to follow a few guidelines that minimize that chances that you get ghosted.

  1. Finish Every Conversation with a Next Step

One of the ways to avoid the relationship limbo that leads to ghosting is to be specific and clear about what the next point of contact will be.  Instead of leaving your next conversation up to chance, schedule a time to continue. Be clear with what will happen between now and then. (Bonus points if you can get a specific meeting on the calendar before you leave your current conversation.)

“This has been a great conversation and I think there are some ways that we can help you drive efficiencies.  Let’s grab another conversation in two weeks. I can get the specific numbers you needed and you can poll your internal stakeholders.  Let’s keep it simple and get that next meeting on the calendar. How does the afternoon of the 17th look for you?”

  1. Follow Up Promptly

If you don’t have a specific meeting scheduled, don’t let it go too long before you re-engage.  I’ve heard too many professionals say, “I emailed them three weeks later and they didn’t get back to me.”  There’s a lot that could have happened in those three weeks and you’ve probably been relegated to the junk folder.

The professional world moves quickly and it’s super-busy.  The longer you wait to re-engage with someone the more likely priorities will shift or new situations will crop up.  Don’t fall off their radar. Sure, you don’t want to be a pest but touching base regularly, even once a week, can be better than going radio silent for a few weeks.

  1. Have More than One Contact

This isn’t always possible.  But to the best of your ability, branch out beyond your initial contact to other people within their organization.  Even if you aren’t going to engage with the others much, they can act as a good “backstop” in case your original path into the company goes silent.

It’s good to have someone (or a few someones) you can reach out to with, “Hi Sue.  I was talking with Mark about the new HR solutions and hadn’t heard back in a few weeks.  I wanted to make sure everything was OK before I kept pestering him.”

How to Handle Ghosting When It Happens

No matter how many processes and backstops you put in place, though, ghosting will still happen.  When it does, your response can help you manage the disappointment and frustration.

  1. Switch Communication Channels

It seems like it shouldn’t work, but it does.  Change the channel you are using to talk with them.  If you had been emailing, send them a note on LinkedIn.  If you were calling, try texting.

Putting your message into a different context will sometimes provide an opportunity for them to respond differently.  For example, if you are just one of the hundreds of emails that they get every day, it’s easy to ignore. If you send a text or a Twitter DM, it might cut through the static.  And yes, pick up the phone and call them!

  1. Be Pleasantly Persistent

It can feel good to write the “break-up email” where you try to call them out on their ghosting.  There are reams of articles on the internet that promise the perfect way to be snarky and indignant so that your prospects call you immediately.  But would they work on you? And they don’t work on your prospects either.

If a prospect would respond to snark, they would also respond to your consistent, persistent, and genuine attempts to keep the conversation going.  So be persistent, but don’t let your frustrations come through in your communication.

  1. Don’t Take Offense

When someone ghosts us, it feels personal.  But it isn’t. In the grand scope of your prospect’s life, you are just a little piece.  Don’t get too bent out of shape and don’t dwell on it.

Yes, it’s frustrating but remember that your prospects are just human.  They are busy and overloaded and dealing with challenges in the office and problems at home and everything that you might be dealing with.  Cut themselves, and yourself, a little slack. That can help take the sting out of being ignored.

So breathe in, breathe out.

And talk to the next prospect on your list.