What to Do When Clients Are Unresponsive

One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons was drawn in 1993 by Robert Mankoff. It shows an executive at his desk, fielding a telephone call from someone who wants to meet him. “No, Thursday’s out” he replies to the caller, adding, “How about never? Is never good for you?” Today, that cartoon hits especially close to home.

Even in the best of times, it happens: You call or email an executive, and they either don’t bother to answer or they give you the “I’m very tied up with other things right now” response. Now, when many organizations are dealing with urgent challenges and even existential threats to their survival, the problem is compounded.

Some of my clients are making the situation even worse than it has to be. They assume that the clients they serve don’t want to be bothered and don’t have any money to spend. This attitude creates a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you believe this, you won’t be anywhere near as proactive as you should be in reaching out to clients on a regular basis, and you may even preemptively give unasked-for discounts—I’ve seen both behaviors in the last two months.

I can’t reprint Mankoff’s cartoon, but I can print one from my new book, It Starts with Clients—it’s from Week 13: Build Senior Executive Relationships (drawn by the very talented Elizabeth Cupich):

Here are eight ideas for dealing with clients who are unresponsive:

  1. Reflect on why they aren’t responding—but don’t lose sleep over it. Sometimes—and especially right now—clients are just too busy with other short-term priorities. Because they are getting potentially 200-400 emails a day, if this is the case they may just ignore your message. But, they might not be responsive for other reasons. Perhaps they don’t perceive you/your firm as having the capabilities they need right now (see point 3, below). Possibly, they feel they have no budget for you and so there’s nothing to talk about—but of course, it’s also true that for the right product or solution, they might be able to come up with the budget. Regardless of the reason, however, don’t just give up.
  2. Change your attitude. If you’re good at what you do, then you have insights and solutions that your clients need. Are you really “bothering them” to share ideas for addressing important challenges they face?
  3. Send a short email twice a month with value-added ideas and stories. Put yourself in your client’s or prospect’s shoes. Based on what you know about them and their business—and about what similar clients are grappling with—write down a list of the most challenging issues you think they are facing right now. For each issue, come up with three to five ideas. Draw these from your own experiences, brainstorm them with your team, and/or do some online research to get your creative juices moving. You’ve now got the raw material for a series of emails that you can send over the next three or four months (e.g., cite the issue, share your ideas/client stories/etc.). One of them may very well resonate, and you’ll get a positive response. Worst case: none of them elicit interest, but the receiving executive can’t help but get the impression you are being helpful and proactive—even if they don’t feel that any of the specific ideas are suitable right now.
  4. In your communications, change your narrative voice from “I” to “You.” Talk about things from your client’s perspective, not yours. For example, Instead of “I’d like to share with you a proven solution we have for assessing and improving the customer experience,” say, “I thought of you, recently, while reviewing some very successful work we just completed with a client on transforming their customer experience. Their experience suggests some interesting strategies that I think might be very relevant for you.”
  5. Find out what’s going on from another executive in the organization. Who else do you know in the organization? Maybe you can glean some intelligence about the person you’re trying to connect with.
  6. Reconnect on a non-commercial issue. This could include—if appropriate—suggesting a conversation to just catch up personally, a research project you are doing, an article you’re writing, a non-profit interest, an introduction you’d like to make for them, and so on.
  7. If you’re waiting to hear back about the follow-up from a recent meeting or a proposal you submitted, don’t act desperate or needy. If the business development process suddenly goes cold, try to find out why. But if, after several inquiries, your client doesn’t respond, then send a polite email or handwritten note inviting them to reconnect if and when the issue under discussion becomes a priority for them again.
  8. Don’t give up, especially if it’s a high-value client or prospect. I’ve played tag in some cases for years with a potential client, finally landing a major engagement when all the stars had aligned. Don’t spend huge amounts of time pursuing executives who clearly aren’t interested, but for the right client, be willing to invest. Remember my maxim: Treat a prospect like they’re already a client, and they may very well become one.

Learn More

If you’d like to learn more strategies to grow your client relationships and revenues, get a copy of my new book, It Starts with Clients, Readers have been truly enthusiastic about it. It gives you the precise strategies–and action steps–needed to master 14 essential client development challenges and grow your client base in any market conditions. You can buy it here, and also join my 100-Day Client Growth Challenge.

All the best—and please stay safe and well.

Andrew Sobel

PS: If you would like to personalize your hardcover copy of It Starts with Clients, just shoot me an email with your full name and mailing address, and I will mail you a beautiful, personally-signed, custom bookplate that goes into the front of the book (note–you’ll have to get the hardcover yourself–I’ll mail you the signed bookplate. A few readers thought I was giving away the book itself with this offer).

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