Family holidays were always interesting with my Grandma Alice. She was a quirky and stylish woman who lived on a peach and chicken farm in Yuba City, California. She had life philosophies like “Buy good quality frozen food, heat it up and put it on good china. When people compliment you on your cooking, just say ‘Thank you!”
When she came to visit us for the holidays, we loved hanging out with her.
Then, suddenly, we would turn around and find her missing. “Where did Grandma go?” we would say.
Looking out the front windows, we would see her waving out of her car window, already pulling away from the curb without saying goodbye. Somehow she had slipped out the back with her suitcase without us noticing.
Grandma Alice was an epic ghoster.
Since she hated the emotion and fuss of a drawn out goodbye, she would just leave.
What is Ghosting?
Ghosting is a phenomenon well-known in the dating scene which can play out like this:
1. Meet a person
2. Have incredible conversations with person
3. Have an epic date with person
4. Text after date with person until …
5. Person suddenly and inexplicably stops responding.
It is very confusing and sometimes heartbreaking.
Ghosting in Business
In a business context, ghosting is also very common. It often plays out like this:
1. Meet a person who seems a perfect fit as a client
2. Have an incredible sales conversation with the person
3. Person either says they are ready to work with you or expresses interest in a proposal
4. You excitedly send the proposal or sign up link
5. Person suddenly and inexplicably stops responding
Why Ghosting Happens and What to Do About It
I have seen 4 core reasons why people ghost, and over the years have learned ways to prevent it from happening.
An important caveat in the conversation about ghosting in business is that your goal is always to build strong, respectful, mutually beneficial relationships with ideal clients. When you work together, you are entering into an important partnership that requires clear, honest and open communication. You never want to chase after someone to work with you, nor do you want to coerce them into working with you.
With that foundation, let’s look into the reasons we get ghosted in business, and what we can do about it.
Ghosting Reason #1: There was chemistry, but not business urgency
You might meet with a prospective client and really hit it off. Maybe you love their work, and they love yours. You both love Star Wars and hate reality television. You might know and work with a lot of the same people, building trust and rapport.
But in order to have a healthy and natural momentum in a sales conversation, the client has to have a business reason why they need to get this project done. Otherwise, there is no time anchor that gives them a reason to make a decision.
What to do about it: Qualify more effectively
Develop a more detailed qualification process for prospective clients that helps you understand an urgency or strategy-bound reason why they need to get the work done with you.
- They need to refresh their website before a big conference where they are speaking
- They need to complete their books so they can apply for a large grant with a looming deadline
- They want to finish cleaning up their business operations before they go on an extended vacation
If you are trying to move a project forward by good chemistry alone, it is unlikely the work will be a priority for them, and as good a fit for you.
Sometimes this means recommending to a prospective client you love that now is not the right time to work together, which can feel counter-intuitive. But it is the best thing for the long-term health of the relationship.
If someone is an ideal client but not quite ready to work with you, you can lay out the steps they need to take to prepare for the engagement. You can set a follow up conversation 3 or 6 months later to check in.
The worst thing you can do is to try to push forward without a business case, because that may lead your prospective client to avoid a conversation with you or keep rescheduling it. This can feel like ghosting.
Ghosting Reason #2: They don’t realize they are ghosting you
If you don’t have an explicit conversation with your client about communication, their style may be to do things like:
-Not open or answer stacked up emails in their inbox until they are ready to deal with them
-Forward your proposal to someone on their team who sits on it, not realizing a decision needs to be made and communicated
-Avoid the uncomfortable conversation about telling you no, since they do like you as a person and don’t want to hurt your feelings
What to do about it: Clearly communicate your follow up process
Clarify in the sales conversation how your communication process works, and what you need from each other to make a final decision about working together. Be very explicit about how and when you will follow up, and what will happen if you don’t hear from them. Set an expiration date on a proposal (say for 30 days), after which prices or timeline may shift (which often happens — when you provide a proposal for a project in a specific timeline it means you are budgeting with the resources available to you now. Later, you may not have the time or the resources that is the foundation for the work, which means you may need to shift the payment structure to get the work done)
You: “I work with a new big client each quarter, which means that I need to book clients at least 60 days in advance to get my team lined up. Today is May 15 which means if we want to work together, we will need to make a decision by May 31. Does that work for you?”
Client: Yes, sounds great.
You: “Great. I will send a proposal after our call, then will check in on May 20 to make sure you have all the information you need to make a decision. If I don’t hear from you, I will assume you are good, then you can evaluate the decision by May 31.
I would love to work with you and you would be an ideal fit for me and my team. But if for any reason you do not want to move forward, just let us know. May 31 is the date to make a decision, yes or no, so we can both be clear about next steps.
If I don’t hear from you by June 1, I will assume you are not ready to move forward and I will release the slot for another client. Sound good?
Client: Sounds good!
Now you have a plan in place, and a logical next set of steps.
If you would like to set a fixed number of follow ups after June 1 (like on June 15), then put that in your calendar now.
You don’t want to spend time chasing after a client that is too busy to get back to you.
If they come back in the future ready to work, you can decide if you are still a good fit, and just make sure to clarify the importance of timely communication.
Ghosting Reason #3: You didn’t present a strong enough business case to build trust
A client might ghost you if you have not done a good enough job at presenting the business case and presentation that will build their trust. Although I still feel they should get back to you with a “no thank you” decision, sometimes folks don’t take your work seriously if it is not presented in a professional way.
What to do about it: Build a stronger business case
Look closely at your sales materials and flesh them out with more detail to make the case for your services. Include things like:
-Examples of work and case studies of successful engagements
-Clear and effective sales copy
-Logos of companies you have worked for that ideal clients will respect
-Referrals to or testimonials to past clients
Ghosting Reason #4: You were played
Very rarely, someone might pretend to be interested in working with you to learn more about your business. They might string you along for you to provide a detailed plan of action, wanting to learn your approach so they can do it themselves, or hire someone far less expensive once they know your strategy.
What to do about it:
Research your prospective client before you meet with them. Check out their website and social media and look for engagement and transparency.
Most importantly, when you submit a proposal, do not give away an entire strategy or blueprint. A great proposal summarizes the business case, describes a process for doing work together and outlines deliverables and timelines. It does not give away your whole methodology, otherwise unethical folks can just swipe it without paying you to do it.
It never feels good to get ghosted, but if you know how to prevent it, it will happen much less often.
Finally, don’t take it personally. We can make up grand stories about why a client would not have ghosted us if we had just written our email a bit differently, or went to a better school, or worn the blue shirt instead of the green one in that photo shoot.
Their ghosting is about them, not you.
Healthy business and personal partnerships are built on mutual respect and open communication.
Manage ghosting inside a process, then let the Caspers go in pursuit of a more ideal client.