What to Do When the Prospect Keeps You Waiting

by | March 31, 2009

One of life's more infuriating interludes occurs when a sales prospect fails to meet at an appointed time. You're offered coffee, you read the The Wall Street Journal, you call your office, and you watch the casual goings-on of the environment. But, still, the prospect does not appear.


What to do?

In my undergraduate days, students were empowered to leave a class if the instructor didn't show up within 15 minutes of the scheduled start time (full professors were accorded 20 minutes, a paltry concession to their more exalted status). I find that those standards work well for me now.

I give a prospect a quarter of an hour. If he or she doesn't appear, I ask the secretary to notify them that I'm on a tight schedule and I can wait another five minutes, but after that, the remaining time would be insufficient to do justice to our meeting. One of three things then happens:

1.     The prospect appears, apologetic, and cites an unforeseen crisis, personnel issue, or other excuse, and escorts you into the office. In this case you now have a bargaining chip, and the ensuing conversation can take whatever direction you choose. For example, you could say, "Well, let's get down to business then, so that we make the best use of our remaining time together," or you could say, "Let's not rush things. What kind of crisis was it? Do you want to reschedule?" The choice is yours.

2.     The prospect sends out word that it will be just a short additional interval, and then he or she can see you. In this case, I give it the five minutes more (for the full professor) and, if ushered in, pick up as in #1 above. If nothing occurs in five minutes, I tell the secretary that I've got to be going, give her my card, and ask that the prospect call me in the morning to reschedule.

3.     Either nothing occurs or the prospect sends word that he or she will be with me as soon as possible, but can't promise anything specific. In this case I take route #2 above.

This is a business about peer-level relationships, not begging or pleading.


If the prospect is a good person with serious intent, the prospect will call, make amends, and reschedule. After all, unexpected problems do arise. However, if the prospect is cavalier and views you as a vendor, he or she will sit back and assume you'll call again and will treat you badly again. That is no basis for a relationship.

The same holds true for phone calls. If I'm on hold for more than 60 seconds, I call back and ask either to be connected immediately or that a message be delivered as to how to reach me. If I've been asked to call, and after I do the prospect never returns the call, I leave one more message informing the prospect that perhaps the original message wasn't received, so I'm leaving one more, but this will be my last and I'll interpret non-response as a lack of interest.

Don't waste your time on fools, and some prospects are fools, are rude, and are even malicious. You can usually tell what a client relationship will be like from what the prospect relationship is like. If the prospect treats you badly, and you somehow persevere and are lucky enough to close the business anyway, you can make book that the ensuing client will treat you badly, as well.

People will take their cue as to how to deal with you from your early behavior. It's up to you to demonstrate from the beginning what you stand for and what you value. Boorish prospects make boorish clients - the ones who don't pay on time, quibble over minor details, don't give you proper credit, and renege on their own promises of support.

Is this risky in terms of losing potential business? I doubt it. But how risky is it to lose your self-respect?

Filed Under: Job Search


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