How To Respond When Your Prospect Gives You The Stiff Arm

Hugh MacLeodSo, I received this email the other day:

Hi Todd, I’m pretty slammed right now with some projects and travel. Could we touch base in April? Hope all is well.

Yes, it was in response to an email I sent to a prospect.

To set some context, this is an organization that we’ve already done some project work with, and with some success, so this isn’t exactly a cold prospect that I’ve never worked with before. But I am clearly hoping to partner with them on some bigger projects down the road.

But here’s the problem with an email like this. A few sales people will read this, and their interpretation would be:
“Wow, looks I like might get a sale in April!”

Perhaps. But I think not.

Here is how realists should interpret this email:
“He’s not interested, and putting me off, punting, and buying time until April.” Or…
“He is just stiff arming me…a classic sales delay tactic.”

So that’s one interpretation. But here is what I really think is going on here:

“He doesn’t understand what I can do for him.” Or…
“He doesn’t yet see value in what I can do for him.”

Nothing more, nothing less.

Let’s face it, if the guy wanted to work with me, he sure as heck wouldn’t let a little travel get in the way of moving forward. Think about it, has that ever stopped you?

The email I received is very telling, and very important in determining my next moves.

[Feels like sometimes, a successful sales rep is just better at reading the signs, and interpreting the actions of their prospects.]

No. I don’t think the prospect above is ready to buy from me. He is either not interested and stalling me, or still doesn’t quite get what I can do to help him.

Two immediate thoughts:

Bad news: You haven’t done an effective job helping him understand your value.
Good news: You still can.

You could contact him and ask what questions he has to help him better understand what you bring to the table. But I wouldn’t do that. That puts the burden on him to communicate back to you, and many won’t lift a finger. That’s more work in their already busy schedule.

Plus, he doesn’t want to admit that he doesn’t understand. He’s too cool for that.

No, I say go ahead and send him some content that gives him achieve a better understanding of how you partner with them, to make them better.

He is either going to ignore you, or he will take a minute to learn (if he’s interested and curious about what you can do for him). And he will contact you and respond when he is ready. Even if he is on the road.

So, when you get the stiff arm from a prospect, it might mean they just need more time. It might mean they aren’t interested. But what it probably means is they still don’t understand, and don’t know how to proceed.

So take the initiative and send along helpful, interactive content that advances their understanding.


To learn more about my approach to sales, check out my book, The Zen of Sales:

Drawing by Hugh.

  • Gary S. Hart

    I like where you went with this Todd. The customer has not been made aware of the value in doing business with us because we did not effectively convey that — BUT we still can. Too often, salespeople confuse persistence with focus. One good call outperforms 10 determined calls. Good job!

  • Todd Schnick

    yes, Gary, the key IS WE STILL CAN. never too late to convey value… thanks for reading!

  • Ductz North Phoenix

    Great content and right on the money – we deal with these situations on a daily basis. We are always better when we follow up with relevant, value driven information for the customer – we want to give them a reason to want to buy from us!

  • Todd Schnick

    well, that’s the secret. and it isn’t rocket science. but troubling as to why most organizations don’t do it… thanks for reading!