By Kawania H. Wooten CMP
Last year, I had a consultation with a potential client that went extremely well — We instantly connected, laughed together, and my business presentation was on point. Per our discussion, I sent this prospect a proposal, along with a gracious “thank you for the opportunity” note. The potential client followed up to thank me and share how much they enjoyed meeting me. She even referred to me as “one sharp lady!” I thought, “I nailed this!” Communication continued with a few questions about my proposal, then poof! This prospect disappeared into thin air and I was met with radio silence. I followed up via e-mail and phone, but she ceased all communication with us. Back in the day, I called this “bad manners” (well, I still do), but my very wise millennial team informed me that this potential client “ghosted me.”
“Ghosting” is a term typically used in the dating/relationship/tinder world, and it’s when a person simply stops all form of communication with you without any explanation. And, you are left in your world wondering what happened. Oh by the way, other names for “ghosting” include “vanishing,” “flaking out,” and the “fade-away.”
Now that I have an official name for this behavior, I thought I should share my real life lessons learned on why these “ghosting” scenarios occur and what you can do to avoid them —
A Potential Client “Ghosts” You After The Consultation or Proposal Presentation. You may have “rocked” your consultation, but the potential client may have stopped communicating with you because your fees are much higher than what they expected. Or perhaps, all of the stakeholders don’t agree that you are a good fit. Or, perhaps, the project is getting delayed altogether. It could be a number of very good reasons, but the bottom line here is that your potential client doesn’t like delivering “bad news.” So, they avoid you altogether and hope you “get the message.” Your Take-Away/My Lesson Learned. I have one word for you, “Pre-Qualify.” Before you book an appointment to meet with a potential consultant, do a little research (ahem, google). Try to find out if they fit within your target market. Ask the potential client in advance about their budget. And, try to find out who else they have worked with in your industry — Industry colleagues will be able to tell you who all of the stakeholders are; the time they take to make a decision; and what is truly important to them.
A Prospect “Ghosts” You Because They Got Busy. Okay, full disclosure — I have been the offending party in this scenario on more than one occasion. I reach out to a contractor or a potential consultant. They submit their proposal to me. I am all in! Then, life gets in the way. I have every intention on getting back to the contractor or consultant so I save their e-mail for follow up. Next thing you know, a couple of months have passed. I eventually book the contractor/consultant, but I practiced the same bad behavior that I am writing about. Your Take-Away/My Lesson Learned. Always follow-up. When I meet with prospective clients, I ask them if it is okay for me to follow up with them. Then, I follow the steps in my sales plan to follow up via both e-mail and phone over the next six weeks. Some of my industry colleagues will create a sense of urgency by telling potential clients that someone else is interested in their event dates — That may work, but that can also backfire. The risk is up to you.
A Client “Ghosts” You When It Is Time to Pay You. During the early days of my consulting business, a former college classmate asked me to do some event work for her firm. I was thrilled, so I started working immediately. When my work was done, I handed over my invoice to this former classmate and she informed me that she would have her accounting department cut me a check right away. The check never came, so I sent “gentle e-mail reminders” to this classmate over the next few months. This classmate would reply with e-mails apologizing and blaming the delay on her assistant or the accounting department. After a few months, she stopped answering my messages, texts, and phone calls altogether. Your Take-Away/My Lesson Learned. Before I start work on a project, I request signature on a contract created by our attorney. This contract lists the authorized parties, and it details the scope of services and the terms of payment. The contract is not considered valid (and work doesn’t begin) until both parties sign the contract and a retainer payment is made. This may seem like overkill for some of our small projects, but our time and expertise are our resources. And, we have to protect our resources in a manner that all businesses should. (And yes, I expect classmates, friends and family clients to sign the same contract and pay me in advance too. Lesson learned!)
An Industry Vendor “Ghosts” Your Client. Picture this: Your client’s communications director needs a recommendation for a photographer for an upcoming fundraiser. You recommend a photographer. The communications director loves the photographer’s work, so the communications director books the photographer right away. A few weeks later, the communications director calls you because she hasn’t been able to get a return e-mail or phone call from the photographer since the contract was signed. You are embarrassed because you trusted that person to appreciate the referral and do their best job. Your Take-Away/My Lesson Learned. Before I recommend a vendor to a client, I reach out to the vendor first. I want to make sure it is okay for me to refer him or her. I also want to make sure that s/he is available to do the work. And, I want that vendor to know that the referral is coming from me — Not because I want to boost myself up, but because I want that vendor to know that we are now partners on this event and s/he should let me know if anything is upcoming that may affect his or her service to our mutual client. Then, the client won’t feel like s/he got “ghosted.”
Final Take-Away. Don’t Burn a Bridge. Just because someone else “ghosted you” doesn’t mean you should do the same. If that potential client ever gets back to you, show some class and be gracious. Because in the end, none of us truly know why people behave the way they do.
Kawania Wooten is the principal consultant at Howerton+Wooten Events, LLC. Known to her friends and family as Kay, she uses artistic skills, her keen attention to the smallest details and her strong commitment to customer service as the hallmark of her business. As the founder of the company, Kawania strives for professionalism, creativity and impeccable organization within every function planned by Howerton+Wooten Events.