Four Strategies to Increase Response From the Unresponsive

Ilise Benun , the founder of published this article in AdAge.

Don’t you hate it when people don’t respond?

It’s happening more and more lately, almost to the point of becoming normalized practice for agencies or businesses pitching other businesses. Silence, in fact, seems to have become a de facto “no” from those who may be too cowardly to come right out and say you weren’t awarded the project.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t disrespectful.

Disrespect comes in many guises and is one of four client red flags I identified in my presentation at the Ad Age Small Agency Conference in Austin. (The others are chaos, no budget and cluelessness.)

But silence is the trickiest manifestation of disrespect because it’s so, well, silent.

It’s not a client treating you or your staff like a pair of hands. It’s not a client bullying or even abusing you verbally. It’s literally nothing, no response, which leaves a lot open to interpretation—and misinterpretation. And that’s where we get ourselves into trouble, by misinterpreting the silence.

One of the attendees at the Small Agency Conference came up to me afterward and said, “Why don’t they just say no? I am a big boy. I can take it!”

But silence isn’t always a “no”; that’s why it’s important not to jump to conclusions.

So in an effort to prevent even a little of this miscommunication, let’s break it down. You see, there are actually two sides to this issue of silence: why they’re not responding and what you can do about it.

Why the Silence?

Instead of getting mad when a colleague ignores an email request or a prospect goes silent after you send a proposal, consider what might be going on for them.

For example, maybe they don’t have an answer yet because someone else is making the decision. If the situation is out of their hands, they may even be embarrassed by their lack of decision-making power.

It’s also possible that they’d really like to respond but they want to give it some thought. So they put it aside for later but never get to it, as your message sinks deeper into the bowels of their inbox.

They may have actually drafted a response but never sent it or, worse, thought about what their response would be but never put it in writing or actually responded. I’ve heard of this happening more and more lately. That speaks volumes about the state of our communication.

Or maybe—and this happens a lot—they never saw your message in the first place.

4 Strategies to Increase Your Response

Here are four tips that will increase your chances of getting a response. None of them guarantees it, mind you, but taking action is always better than seething passively. Try:

  1. The 1-2 punch. Reach out more than once, like a 1-2 punch. Don’t even consider them two separate efforts. They’re two parts of the same effort, and the repetition says “I’m serious.”
  2. More than one medium. Since people are fielding messages through phones, email, social media and more, reach out through various media. For example, send a text giving a heads-up to watch for the email message you just sent. If you give them more ways to respond, they are more likely to do so.
  3. A confirmation request. This works especially well with email. Ask your recipient to simply confirm receipt so you know they got it, even if they aren’t ready to respond or decide.
  4. Be the change you want to see. Practice the Golden Rule: Don’t be someone who is unresponsive. And thank people who do respond for responding. Reinforce the behavior you want repeated, like training your dog.
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