“Don’t leave me hanging!” – a desperate cry for normality

Don't leave me hanging

For some time I’ve been considering writing a post about something that I see increasingly more often and it gets me very worried: buyers never revert to suppliers or salespeople, therefore the negotiations are left “in the air”. The title of this post, “Don’t leave me hanging”, comes from a supplier I met not long ago who literally begged me to give him feedback about his offer, no matter if it was a positive or a negative one. He said it smiling, trying to pretend it was a joke, but I could feel his bitterness, probably coming from previous unhappy encounters. 

In my 25+ years working in business, most of the time I was on the side of the buyer, but my current job and another one I had about 10 years ago were in sales. And not any type of sales: the second most difficult type of sales: sales of marketing services, which, in my opinion, is surpassed in difficulty only by insurance selling.

The issue sellers face increasingly more is the lack of feedback from the potential client after submitting an offer, or after an initial contact. From personal experience (mirrored by other salespeople’s experience too), about 80% of my time at work is dedicated to follow-ups with clients and potential clients. Because they simply do not revert in any way to messages. Why does this happen? And why does it happen increasingly more?

·       people don’t feel comfortable giving bad news; it takes effort and energy to tell someone (s)he is rejected. I recall a situation some years ago when I was running a tender together with a junior buyer who, when facing the stage of announcing the winner and the losers, said that she would like to call the winner and email the losers because it is not comfortable for her to give bad news. I told her that she must treat all of them equally: either email everyone or call everyone. Similarly, many people prefer the easier path – simply not reverting to the sellers, rather than saying “no”. Cowardice? You may say so….The result is a guaranteed loss of image for the person doing it, but also for the company he/she represents. So, beware of these consequences before engaging in this wrong attitude!

·       people are increasingly busier and may choose not to spend the appropriate amount of time to give feedback to the seller. I sympathize with the time issue – I feel it myself daily, but to me, this is not an excuse. A simple, 2-line polite negative reply will not take more than 30 seconds but will work miracles for your (and your company’s) image.

·       the decision-making process in the buyer’s company is very long/very slow. I’ve been in multinationals and I know that sometimes you need a bulldozer to move things, yet this should not prevent the buyer from sharing with the seller the process and its length. In this way, the buyer builds trust and realistic expectations from the seller. To give you an example, I closed a deal with a multinational company and the contact person told me to expect that the contract signature will take between 6 to 9 months. While I did not like it, I respected the transparency. 

·       some people simply don’t care – and to me, this is the worst possible reason because CARING is not trainable – you either have it or not. Also, when facing such a person, ask yourself whether you want to do business with him/her. 

I may be too blunt, but I believe all 4 reasons above boil down to whether the buyer is PROFESSIONAL or not. Being professional means that you:

·       appreciate the effort put by the seller into the offer, no matter how poor the offer is (or how less engaging the approach of the seller is)

·       treat the seller in the same way you would like to be treated

·       give honest, fair, and impartial feedback, with the intent of helping the seller improve

·       close  the discussion/negotiation no matter what (be it with a YES or with a NO, but close it!)

In my negotiation training, I always recommend buyers to work at least one month as sellers, to see how it feels being “on the other side”. I guarantee them they will feel different and they will see the life of a salesperson through a different lens. When I joined an advertising agency as Business Development Director about 10 years ago I thought sales it’s going to be fun and enjoyable. Sadly, it was too seldom like that, because most of the buyers treated me in any way BUT professionally. But my biggest gain out of that experience was that I learned how NOT to behave when I’m the buyer. And, a few years later, when I became Procurement Director for a large FMCG company, I swore to myself that I would never forget the learnings from my sales experience. 


recently caught myself shocked by someone’s fast reply to my intro message and by the invitation to a face-to-face meeting in the following week. Then I realized that I was shocked by NORMALITY, by PROFESSIONALISM, and this truly saddened me, because normality should be the norm (like the name says it), not the exception!


So, what are my key bits of advice to the buyers and sellers who read this post?

·       buyers – please treat sellers with respect, set expectations and always give them feedback, in a reasonable timeframe. Don’t ever forget that the seller must also want to do business with you (in other words, the seller must buy you and your company as a client) – so you have the opportunity to differentiate from your competitors by simply being professional! I lived myself the situation when suppliers refused to participate in a tender organized by the company I was working for because the reputation of the company was extremely bad (caused by the frequent pitching of the assignments, therefore not allowing a supplier to fully prove its capabilities).

·       sellers – don’t give up and follow up with buyers, kindly asking them for feedback on your offer or business proposal. Ultimately, don’t be desperate and accept any client! Think very carefully whether you want to have a certain company as a client or not.

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