Sales: They Won't Call Me Back

Jan. 8, 2016
How to handle non-responsive prospective clients

About the author: Kelly R. Thompson, MWS, CI, is president of Moti-Vitality LLC. Thompson can be reached at [email protected].


You had the appointment and it went really well. You narrowed down the customers’ needs and felt like you were open and honest with each other. You really felt that you had a great rapport with them.  

As you were leaving, they told you they were almost certainly going to purchase the system, but they needed to look at a few things first. You assume it is whether to pay cash or use financing. They suggest that you call them tomorrow at the office or on their cells to schedule the installation. You leave feeling good—good enough to tell your relieved wife that your commission check is going to be decent this pay period after all.

You call the customers the next day on their cell phones, but get their voicemails. So you call the office, where a receptionist answers. You ask if the customer is available and the receptionist says she will check. In a moment, she comes back on the line and asks if the customer can call you back in a few minutes. “Of course,” you answer.

A few minutes turns into an hour and then several hours. You know that the customers have lives and that in the grand scheme of things, you may not be their top priority. You get that—but you start to worry just a little bit.

This normally would not be such a big deal, but you have had two months in a row when nothing seems to close or everyone wants to wait until spring to buy something. Your savings account is hemorrhaging money, and you have a huge bill due next month.

The next morning, you call the cells again and leave more messages. You call the office and get the same response. You repeat both calls in the afternoon, beginning to feel a bit like a guy waiting for a call from a girl he really likes after having what he thought was a successful first date.  

You tell yourself not to panic, and you continue to pursue other sales opportunities, but this was a big sale and you just do not know why they will not call back. You had thought everything went so well.

As time goes on and they never return your call, you grapple with emotions ranging from disappointment and frustration to simple curiosity. You might even have a little anger mixed in. After all, you were taught that it is rude not to return a phone call. You know if the customers called you and you did not call them back, they would be upset, so why can’t they show you the same courtesy, even if it is to tell you that they are not going to make a purchase? What would make people who seemed so nice and respectful ignore your calls and show such a lack of respect?

Reflection & Response

Upon looking in the mirror, the answer I am forced to give myself is that they are probably not the ones who were rude and disrespectful. In fact, the rude and disrespectful person may be staring back at me, giving me an answer I may find difficult to hear.

This was something I dealt with as a straight commissioned water treatment sales professional and a situation other sales professionals in the industry often ask me about.

The reaction or solution to the problem varies by individual. There are some out there who simply say “Screw ‘em! You can’t please everyone,” and move on, not really caring why this happens or just attributing it to rudeness. I must admit, there are times when I have wished I had the ability to simply let things go like that, but it is not in me. I want to please everyone, and when I can’t, I want to know why and what I can do to fix it next time.

I recently had a similar situation involving a client with whom we have done business before with excellent results. I have known the owners of this company for quite a while, and believe them to be good and decent people. I have never seen any evidence of them being rude or disrespectful. So when they stopped returning my calls and emails, I had to look in the mirror and ask myself, “What did I do that caused these good and decent people to stop wanting to speak to me?”

There are some reasons that may not have anything to do with me. Maybe they are busy. I struggle with this one, however, because it only takes a moment to tell someone this. I would be satisfied with a quick email saying, “Not ignoring you, just very busy,” or even, “Stop calling. We don’t like you anymore.” At least then I would know it was something I had done. But I also know that time can get away from us, and maybe what seems like an infinite amount of time to me does not seem that long to them.

Of course, there are some people who are simply rude and disrespectful. I don’t think we can do a whole lot about those people. However, this scenario occurs far too often for it to be placed entirely on the shoulders of the customers.

There are many people who do what they can to avoid confrontation. Unfortunately, a lifetime of experience has taught them that it is easier to just ignore the salesperson than justify their decision. That is something that those of us in the sales profession, especially those of us with strong personalities, need to be aware of. When a customer tells us they just want the softener and not the reverse osmosis system, we need to appreciate that we have the opportunity to serve them and not make them feel guilty for their decision. We need to appreciate that they say they are going to wait until next month to move forward, even when we need the commission this month. Sales should always be about serving the customer and not about the salesperson’s needs. I am acutely aware of how easy it is to forget that, especially when times are tough. But it is not our customers’ responsibility to feed our families, and putting that unfair pressure on them is, of course, going to make them want to avoid talking to us.

As I stand there looking in the mirror asking myself what would cause good and decent people to treat me so disrespectfully, I realize that the obvious answer is that I may have stopped treating them with respect. Now it is time to do what I can to make amends and hope that they will see that my desire to serve them is genuine.

Moving Forward

There comes a point when you have left messages or emailed so many times that any more communication begins to sound desperate. The fact is, customers will either use your services or not. They are aware of you and know how to reach you. It may be time to move on.

I am not suggesting that you never communicate with them again, but rather that you give the control back to them. Send a final email or handwritten note. Let them know you enjoyed meeting them and look forward to serving them in the future, whether or not they buy anything.

They may not be returning your phone calls because they see you the same way they see every other salesperson they have met. That means they do not expect to hear from you again. But if you surprise them by reaching out every few months with a personalized offer to help (not sell), they may come to see that you are different.

I suggest remembering what it feels like when someone is waiting for your returned phone call. If we strive to show others the respect we want for ourselves, together we can change the cultural expectations of our industry.

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