When Prospects Go Dark… And How To Re-Engage | Episode 56

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The sales team is working actively with a hot prospect. They watched demos, enthusiastically engaged in communications and requested a proposal … then suddenly, nothing. They stop responding. It’s frustrating for sure, but there may be many reasons why it happens. Don’t automatically assume they went with a competitor and stop pursuing.

Listen to this episode to hear our conversation about why some prospects go dark, what to do and how to work with marketing to help revive talks that go silent. Hear why successfully re-engaging a prospect involves demonstrating ongoing value and relevance to their business without pressuring them for an immediate decision.

00:20   Reason prospects go dark and how to re-engage them
01:32   Shifting priorities, lack of urgency, indecision and information overload
06:58   Early warning signs that a prospect might go dark and how marketing can help 09:23   What strategies sales reps can use to keep prospects engaged
10:47   Why personalized and relevant content is important
12:46   Continually demonstrating value
15:00   How marketing programs can help sales re-engage
18:49   Getting feedback on lost opportunities to improve future prospecting
20:01   How to have patience and demonstrate value without pressuring an immediate decision
20:29   Developing content that speaks to buyer needs

(00:00:01) – Hey, everybody, it’s Jenni from GrowthMode Marketing. You’re listening to Demand Gen Fix podcast, where our team of GrowthModers and our guests discuss the ins and outs of demand generation, and why we believe it’s the key to long-term sustainable growth, especially in the HR tech industry.

(00:00:20) – Hello, Greg and Deanna, and welcome back for another episode of The Demand Gen Fix. So, today we’re going to talk about when prospects go dark, and how to re-engage them. And I know what you’re thinking. I thought, this is a marketing podcast. This sounds like a sales topic. The reality is, as marketers, when sales aren’t moving forward and pipeline is low, a lot of times the sales team comes back. And so, we’re going to try to frame this in a way where some of the stuff we talk about might be specific to sales, but we also want to think about how can marketing help support that. What happens at a lot of organizations, I mean, you talk to any sales rep, they’re probably gonna say, yep, this happens, and it’s very frustrating, is hot prospects that initially show interest and then suddenly go silent.

(00:01:07) – It is a common and frustrating experience. And these prospects, maybe they come in, they request a demo, they ask for proposals, they engage enthusiastically, and then crickets. They just stop responding. So, to start, let’s dive into why prospects go dark, and then we can share some strategies to re-engage them, and think about how marketing can potentially support our sales friends.

(00:01:32) – I think a lot of times what happens, there’s a shift in priorities at the company. There’s something in what they were originally looking for gets put to the side or something came up with their budget, or strategy change, or something like that, and they don’t necessarily tell you what’s going on.

(00:01:48) – Yeah, they don’t necessarily tell you, or tell the sales person, and so it leaves the organization sitting back wondering like what happened because this person seemed really excited. I see it happen as a marketing agency when I’m talking to prospects in the HR tech space where they come in, they seem very motivated to make a change, to do something, to help them move the needle from a revenue perspective, and they’re looking at seriously investing in marketing. It happens all the time. They all of a sudden stop responding, even when they’re like, let’s have another meeting; can we have a follow-up discussion? I’d like to discuss these things with you, so it happens. It happens quite a bit, actually.

(00:02:34) – As Greg said, it might be a shift in priorities. It may be a budget issue. It could be decision-making challenges within the organization, especially if you’re looking at the HR tech space. A lot of times, especially as you go into larger organizations, there’s going to be multiple stakeholders involved, and there may be disagreements among stakeholders, or so many people involved in the decision-making process that it’s hard to move it forward, or it may get more complicated. The person that you’re talking to may be fully on board and ready to move forward, but at a larger organization, they might have to go up through multiple levels to get approval, and maybe the head of that division is the one that puts the kibosh on it.

(00:03:22) – Also, I think sometimes there’s a lack of urgency. So, there are certainly prospects out there who are just seeking information and weren’t actually ready to buy, or perhaps they don’t have a pressing need or deadline. And so, the motivation to proceed with a new product or service can wane, and that can really drag out the decision process, or make it not move forward because they’re getting their information and they may be really interested at some level in your product, but they never actually were going to move forward at that time. And they just didn’t clearly communicate that to you, or you didn’t ask the right questions to find out whether that was the case or not.

(00:04:02) – Any one person could also have something pop up and distract them from approving that purchase, right? Or at least getting you to move ahead. So, there’s all those distractions of just day-to-day business that could come up. Some fire came up, and everybody has to run and take care of it;  sales.

(00:04:18) – The other thing that could be happening is they may be looking at alternate solutions, and they may find that those better meet their needs or their budget, and they’re not communicating the shift because they want to avoid giving you bad news.

(00:04:34) – But I think that communications breakdown happens all the time, where as a prospect, it might feel easier to just go silent and not respond to the marketing and the sales rep because they don’t want to be the bad guy. Unfortunately, that leaves a company and a sales team hanging because they’re like, I was relying on this deal. I thought it had really good potential, like, it’s better if you’re a buyer to just be straightforward and honest and communicate upfront. As soon as you know that you’re not going to do anything, that company can then move on.

(00:05:12) – Yeah. And communication, it also goes into just misunderstanding, or they’re dissatisfied with how things are going and they feel comfortable telling you or whatever.

(00:05:23) – Or maybe it’s they’re overwhelmed by information overload. If there’s a lot of information and the sales process is complex, they may pause communications just to take a step back and evaluate their options, or simply due to like, oh, this is too difficult of a decision to make. And I think indecision is a big reason why companies lose at an opportunity.

(00:05:49) – It’s not that the prospect went and picked a different solution or organization. They just didn’t make a decision at all. Which in and of itself is a decision, right? Like, if you don’t make the decision to proceed, you’re actively, whether you know it or not, making the decision not to proceed.

(00:06:09) – It happens, and you try to pay attention to warning signs, or anything, or you trying always, as a salesperson, is dealing with the prospect. Sales people know better than I do because I’m not necessarily a salesperson, but you can see the things that start to happen, right? Like their responses aren’t as quick as they used to be, they’re a little bit delayed. And then that’s a sign that, what’s up? What do we need to change here?

(00:06:32) – Right, and the marketing team, you don’t necessarily have direct insight into the things that are happening that are early warning signs that prospects are going dark, but what you can do is have a conversation with the sales team to understand what type of leads or prospects tend to go dark and not moving forward, and see if you can help them identify like what’s happening with those leads.

(00:06:58) – Because maybe it’s a matter of better qualifying those leads up front before they are passed to the sales team. From a marketing standpoint, maybe it’s looking at how much of the activity that they had that made you qualify them as a lead to pass to sales, actually demonstrated buying intent. And if this is something that your sales team is seeing quite a bit of, where there’s cancellation of meetings after it’s being scheduled, the prospect’s avoiding to discuss the next steps with them. They’re not getting clarity around the decision making prospect from those buyers. If you can get that information as a marketing team, you can help solve for this problem by taking a step back and looking at what are the characteristics of those leads where this is happening, and if there’s trends, okay, we see that typically leads that come in through this channel. This happens a lot where they schedule a meeting, like to book a demo or something like that, and then they cancel it or they go to the demo, but it never moves forward.

(00:08:03) – Okay, we know that the lead quality may be an issue from this particular channel, so from a marketing standpoint, let’s look at other ways to continue to nurture those prospects.

(00:08:15) – Your example of they do a demo, but then it doesn’t go any further. Like, maybe there’s something that is a disconnect from what they had before the demo, and then when they saw the demo, and then they said, well, hold on a second, this doesn’t make sense.

(00:08:28) – Yeah, so how do we help the sales team prevent prospects from going dark? We can look at leads and the criteria we’re using to qualify those leads to pass on to sales. What I’m about to say is probably more for sales reps than for the marketing team, but I think it’s important for us as marketers to understand those steps so we can think about how to build marketing programs that can help with all of these things, but from a sales perspective, to prevent those prospects from going dark. They need to be having regular follow-ups, so it’s about establishing a consistent, reasonable schedule of follow-ups and using those opportunities to check in, but to provide additional value, such as sharing relevant industry insights, case studies and news that might be of interest to the prospect.

(00:09:23) – And I think that’s where marketing can support them  because we can help the sales team by creating content and identifying things to say, hey, here’s a playbook when prospects go dark and you have to continually follow up with them. Here’s value-added content that you can use as a reason to continue to follow up with them, so that the sales rep isn’t just following up and saying, hey, are there any status updates on this? Or hey, I haven’t heard from you in three weeks. Is this still something you want to move forward with? Instead, they could be reaching out and saying, hey, I wanted to share this really relevant industry insights, or this research that my company just completed with you because I thought it might be valuable to you. By the way, are there any updates? Are you still looking to proceed? So, that it doesn’t just feel like, from the prospect side, that the salespeople are just pestering them and reaching out and saying, have you made a decision yet? How about now? Have you made a decision yet? Instead, they’re continuing to provide value, which in the prospect size, if they’re seeing that and they’re finding good information, that’s continuing to help nurture them as they are making that decision, and maybe it will help re-engage them if they’ve gone dark.

(00:10:47) – Yeah. And that’s an opportunity to really personalize it too, right? Like as far as what you’re sending them can be really focused on what sessions have been about, or what their particular niche is. They’re sending the same email to everybody because it doesn’t apply to anybody.

(00:11:02) – I think a great example of how to put that into play, like a lot of organizations in the HR tech space sell to a wide variety of audiences, and they may say, okay, there’s three verticals or five verticals that we have a lot of prospects in, or we go after. Create some content libraries that are specific to those different ideal customer profile types, or those different buyer personas that your sales reps will be talking to, so that they can create a more kind of personalized communication and things that resonate. So, for example, if you’re selling your HR technology solution a lot of times into health care systems, okay, have a bunch of content that would be relevant to that HR leader, and the influencers involved in that buying process by creating content that’s specifically speaking to those that are in the healthcare industry. And that will really help the sales rep have relevant content that they can put out.

(00:12:05) – I think it’s also important, any tools that you provide them will help continually clearly articulate the value proposition. Give them content where they can continue to reinforce as they’re reaching out like, hey, this is how we help organizations, this is how we can help you. Like case studies could be a great example, right? Where if they have a really solid library of case studies that the sales reps can use, they can say, hey, we have this new case study demonstrating the results that we’ve got for other organizations. I know that XYZ was your problem that you are working through and why you’re considering our solution. Same thing at this organization and here’s what we did for them.

(00:12:46) – And same thing with any other educational type of content that if you have a webinar that talks about what their issue is, or somebody in their industry that having a similar issue that you worked with that can put you in a good light, again, providing value back to them instead of just a follow up on where’s my SOW.

(00:13:05) – I think from a content perspective, as you think about the marketing tools and content that can be provided to the sales team to help them not just keep a prospect engaged and have reasons to reach out to them, but throughout the entire sales process is to develop a library of content that really focuses on the problems that prospects have, why they’re coming to you, and creating content that speaks to that, so that the sales rep can continually demonstrate to that prospect that, hey, you have problem XYZ. Here’s how we bridge the gap between the problem that you have and the solution that we offer you to help you achieve the outcomes you’re looking for. I think, a lot of times, HR tech companies and tech companies in general will create a lot of product focused content that’s very feature focused, that has a lot of information about it does this, this and this, and we have this widget and this module, and it uses AI and all of those pieces. But from a prospect’s perspective, honestly, they don’t care how you do it.

(00:14:20) – They just want to know you can solve their problem, right? Like, that’s the number one priority. At some point, yes, you got to be able to say, and by the way, here’s all the functionality that exists in our product, but tying it back to, and that’s how it solves this problem that you have because so many organizations in this space just talk about the technology. And when that happens, I think you end up sounding like a lot of the other options in the market because everybody’s doing it, and it’s just not how prospects think about their options in most cases.

(00:14:54) – So what do you think about re-engaging the prospect after they’ve gone?

(00:15:00) – Yeah, so obviously there’s things that the sales rep can do. We look at it from the marketing perspective and we’re like, okay, how do we help the sales rep re-engage them with marketing programs? And so, if the sales rep is giving them space, it’s important that they’re not just following up every other day with this person, trying to get an answer and sales reps, they have quotas to meet; they start to get panicked.

(00:15:26) – It’s probably tempting for them to follow up, but if from a marketing perspective we can say, hey, look, we’ve developed campaigns and some programs that if you have a prospect do this, we’re still nurturing them. We’re still getting in front of them. That will help ease the sales reps mind, I think, and also help the situation because an email campaign, for example, and re-targeting ads and different things that we can do from marketing are much less invasive, per se, than the sales rep continuing to call and leave the messages and continuing to send them emails personally. So, I think you look at it as how do we take a soft approach? Creating maybe a series of email templates for the sales reps where they can, on a certain schedule, send out an email or a message that acknowledges, like there’s been a lapse in communication, without having the pressure. Giving them tools where they can send those emails that are like, hey, I thought you might be interested in this great content on XYZ topic.

(00:16:32) – Those soft touches that they can keep sending things and offer value to the prospect. And then, I think, at the end of the day, after a certain time frame, a lot of times what happens in an organization like I’ve seen it in organizations that I’ve been in, when I’ve been on the corporate side, it’s like marketing works to uncover leads to hand to sales. They get handed to sales. They are no longer marketing’s responsibility, right? And that’s not true. Like, sales and marketing need to be working together to identify how to continue to nurture those prospects. But a lot of times they’re no longer in campaigns because the sales rep is actively working them. Well, if six months pass and that lead went dark, unless there is a formal program in place and you have your sales reps like understanding, like, hey, when that lead is done, even if it’s closed, lost, or it’s indecision, like, don’t just let it sit there, let’s recycle these leads and put them back into nurture programs.

(00:17:43) – So, creating like multi-step nurture campaigns and continuing to get content in front of them because whether they had it indecision, or they had budget issues, or they chose another solution, at some point they may be back in market and you want to continue to stay in front of them.

(00:18:02) – You already invested money to get them in the door, right? So, you don’t just discard them. You did spend money to get them, so even if they went dark now, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be dark forever. So, I would definitely agree with that. And like you sort of alluded to before, using our multi-channel type of approach or else you would normally be doing, so if they’re still in the ICP, they’re still going to be getting your social media and your ads and things like that as well. So, there’s still going to be that awareness and brand recognition building.

(00:18:32) – Right, and I think at the end of the day, when you think about leads, whether they move forward with your organization or not, you want them to leave with a positive impression of your company, so that maybe you weren’t a fit for them or the timing wasn’t right, but that will change in the future, and they’ll still remember the experience that they had with the organization.

(00:18:56) – And I would say, ask your sales team to try to get feedback from leads too. I know a lot of organizations will do, like win loss analysis, where you may have someone outside the organization actually reach out to opportunities that never went anywhere or that were lost, and get direct feedback from them to understand why did they make the decision they did, or didn’t make the decision they did, right? And taking that information from a marketing perspective to understand like, okay, this is the experience that prospects have. Yes, the sales team is in charge of the experience with those direct conversations, but marketing is supporting it all along the way. The content we’re creating supports that experience, and looking at that information and finding out are there things that we can do differently moving forward or gaps in the content, you know, gaps in the information that they’re getting from our organization that we can create to support the sales team, to hopefully have a different outcome next time.

(00:20:01) – So, at the end of the day, you know, you aren’t going to convince somebody who’s not ready to buy. You can’t convince them to move forward if they don’t want to. Re-engaging a cold prospect successfully often involves demonstrating your value and relevance to their business without pressuring them for an immediate decision. So, oftentimes you just, I know it sounds horrible, need to have patience because it takes time. And keep trying, right? I mean, like we were talking about, you know, go back and look at it and see where, if there’s a gap, or some disconnect, and try it again.

(00:20:29) – And everybody, sales and marketing, wants those leads to all close and close faster for sure, but taking the information you can learn from the experiences when prospects go dark on sales teams to continue to develop out content that will fit the needs of buyers will absolutely help in the long run with these challenges.

(00:20:52) – Thanks for joining us on The Demand Gen Fix, a podcast for HR tech marketers brought to you by GrowthMode Marketing. I sure hope you enjoyed it. Don’t forget to subscribe for more perspectives on Demand Generation and B2B marketing strategies. Plus, give us a like, tell your friends. We’ll see you next time.

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