By John Tabita

When a Prospect Really Isn’t a Prospect: Do You Have a Plan B?

By John Tabita

If you’ve been following my series on Putting a Stop to Abusive Clients and you took my advice about having a preliminary conversation with a prospect before rushing off to meet with him, then you’ll soon find out (if you haven’t already) that not every so-called “prospect” actually is one.

“Prospect” is a misnomer. We use the word too freely, as if everyone with a pulse who asks about our services qualifies as one. The proper word ought to be “suspect.” It’s only after you’ve had a chance to question your suspect that can you determine if he’s really a prospect or not.

It’s disappointing when someone you hoped was a prospect isn’t really one. But it’s important that you realize it sooner rather than later; otherwise, you’ll continue to try and force him into your sales process, only to frustrate yourself even further. As the old sales axiom goes, if you’re going to lose, lose early.


But all is not lost—if you recognize what’s happening and switch from selling back to marketing, that is. Here’s where Plan B comes in.

I define “marketing” as everything you do to find and be found by your potential clients. But it’s also about staying found. Just because this hot prospect didn’t turn out to be one doesn’t mean he won’t down the road. Perhaps he’s not far enough along in the buying cycle. Even if he or she never becomes a client, they may become a source for a referral. But first you must give before you get.

Here’s a thought: if you’d like someone to give you a referral, how about you send them one first? After all, if you’re speaking to a lot of people, trying to sell your services, you’re bound to meet people who need the products and service of your existing and future clients.

Plan B is simply a way to stay top-of-mind with anyone you’ve had the opportunity to meet in the course of prospecting for business.

Here’s what I mean. I once met with a photographer about a website. But it turned out that he really didn’t want a one because he couldn’t handle any more business. It wasn’t that he had so much of it. He just wasn’t very good at managing and organizing what business he did have. A couple other people at the chamber meeting where we’d met mentioned that he takes a long time to deliver the photos, once he took them. What he really needed was an assistant. Do you think it was in my best interest to help him find one?

You see, having a Plan B isn’t just referring those who don’t buy to your blog or Facebook page. It’s anything you can do to help them overcome the business obstacles they’re facing. And, believe me, if they’re in business, they’ll have a few of them. It’s nurturing those relationships that’s going to gain you future business, more so than asking them to follow you on Twitter.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not down on social media. It’s a great way to stay connected to people. It’s just that it’s extremely difficult to cut through the clutter. If your potential prospect is active on social media, the signal-to-noise ratio is a challenge. How do you get your Tweets and posts to stand out? Business owners and decision-makers are busy people who are busy running their company. Just because you send them a link to your latest blog post doesn’t mean they’ll read it. What’s your inbox look like? Mine’s pretty full. I subscribe to newsletters all the time and most never get read.

Here’s something from my playbook. Feel free to steal it or write me off as an idiot. Mail a printed newsletter. That’s what I did eight years ago when WordPress wasn’t WordPress yet and blogs hadn’t become mainstream. So I had an ’Articles’ section on my website. How quaint.

But I wanted people to actually read what I’d written and email marketing had reached critical mass. So I mailed a one-page, double-sided newsletter each quarter. Most of the information was a condensed version of a larger article on my website, which I invited them to visit.

Even though I did that eight years ago, I’d do the same today. Even if it didn’t get read, it’s a tactile reminder of who I am. After all, they have to touch it to throw it in the trash.

Image credit

It’s not too late to get my free guide, 27.5 Must-Ask Questions for Consultative Selling. Just follow me on Twitter and I’ll send you a link.
  • You’re right! Connections mean everything! Even when a prospect is just fishing, he’s likely to know other’s who might be interested. Getting yourself noticed is what the game is about. It’s also important to get noticed in a ‘good’ way by not screwing things up on pricing, support and value for money. Honesty is the best policy.

  • Reading this article couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I have just had a really bad run in with a client where he got really offensive and i had just about given up clients full stop. These kind of moods have a profound effect on how I myself myself and market myself. so this has put a bit back for me. but it also puts forward a great thesis that i always stand by in business. If you seel someone your product – they may buy or not – but then they will leave. If you sell yourself – that is someone who is interested in their business as a whole and how you can meet their challenges – they may buy – they may not but you have created a strong foundation and possibly even recommendations in the future.

    Great article.

    • In reality, clients aren’t so much buying what you sell; they’re buying you.

      Glad I could help.

  • Interesting that you sent out a hard copy newsletter 8 years ago and you think you would still do the same today? For real? I’m not so sure about that, unless you have a business address. Think about how much junk mail you get at home and office. Very limited at the office, so I definitely think office would be better for such a shortened condensed hard copy brochure.
    As far a clients that are abusive, ya, for sure you gotta fire them. Fire maybe is a harsh word. “Decide not to work with them” would be better.

    • Compared to how full the typical email inbox is, yes, I’d still send a printed newsletter today—addressed to the client at his place of business, in a plain white envelope so he has to open it.

  • kenneth

    Good article. But suspect? What differs opposed to lead? You qualify leads. That makes prospects. Just my five cents on sales jargon. :)

Get the latest in Entrepreneur, once a week, for free.