The Waiting Game aka Corporate Ghosting: What Gives?

Picture of the ground that has the words "wait here"

I’ve always said that biz dev is one of my favorite aspects of running a small agency. I attribute my affinity to what some may deem the most challenging part of ownership to being a bit of an adrenaline junkie, myself. I like the rush of anticipation I get before delivering a presentation and I love sharing what sets my SEO and paid media agency apart from our competition during a pitch. I’m in my comfort zone speaking in front of a group of people and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment after it’s all over.

Nothing Compares to the Excitement Surrounding New Business

Even a well-honed biz dev effort doesn’t guarantee a win every time, but I’m okay with that. I appreciate having a chance to offer prospective clients a glimpse into our marketing team’s capabilities and receive their feedback in real time. Understanding how we measure up to our peers in the marketplace helps us get better at what we do. You never know if your presentation will resonate with prospects, but we hope they’ll give it future consideration down the line.

The Dreaded “Waiting Game” During a Sales Deal

There’s one element of biz dev that I’m less enamored with. I call it, The Waiting Game. Anyone involved in sales knows what this is. Allow me to paint the picture: You hear about an opportunity that you think fits your agency perfectly. You put your heart and soul into the pitch, researching the client and their industry, maybe even traveling to deliver your presentation in person. All along, you engage members of your team to support this effort and take time out of your regular day to day business to prepare. It’s a big lift, but you do it because it’s how you feed the pipeline.

On pitch day, you go in, blazing hot! You look around for facial expressions and body language to give you a clue as to how your pitch was received. Without much feedback to go on, you tell yourself it went well. You follow up with a thank you email right away and then a few days later, when you don’t hear back, you ping them again…and then you wait a little longer. One day passes. Two days. Three days. A week. What’s a girl to do?

Ghosting in Business Seems to be More Common Than Ever

I’ve seen a lot of recent articles lamenting this exact scenario. It’s often referred to as ghosting or professional ghosting, along the lines of dating app behavior, which makes sense. Whatever you call it, it puts owners like me in a difficult spot, not just in terms of the biz dev pipeline, but also for company morale. Especially in a small team, we all live and breathe these opportunities and it’s not unusual to ask everyone to contribute something to a pitch one way or the other. That just means when we don’t even receive a reply, much less a win, it hits everyone hard, not just me.

neon lights that say waiting four times

How to Handle the “Waiting Game” According to LinkedIn

I found a LinkedIn article that suggests ways to handle those prospects who engage in ghosting behavior. I’m sharing these tips along with my own comments. While I appreciate the points in the article, I find some of them to be a bit confusing.

Allow me to unpack my thoughts here:

Tip 1: Understand why they ghosted
That’s tricky. I wish I knew why people ghost us! Perhaps it’s because I’ve never asked the ghosts? I’ll try to be more direct at the outset and find out what type of follow up they’d prefer.

Tip 2: Choose the right channel and timing
For sure, follow up is key but which is the best channel to use? Email, text, phone…what about carrier pigeons? I’m ready to tie my note to the bird’s leg!

Tip 3: Provide value and curiosity
Didn’t we offer value in the initial pitch? Weren’t we sufficiently
curious about the prospect’s organization without appearing
uninformed? Okay, more value and curiosity coming up!

Tip 4: Use humor and empathy
So far I haven’t found the comical side of ghosting, but I’ll keep trying!

Tip 5: Create urgency and scarcity
Is there any research on how most people respond to ultimatums? I thought so.

Tip 6: Know when to move on
Here’s one tip I agree on. There comes a time when giving up is the only option.

How Do You Avoid The Waiting Game?

Humor aside, there’s no way to avoid The Waiting Game, but we should at least prepare ourselves for the possibility it might happen. At the end of the day, we simply can’t control how others choose to behave. And the reality is that most new business prospects are hiring us because they don’t have expertise in the disciplines we handle. That means they may not have a full appreciation of the work we do and perhaps they don’t understand all the effort that goes into assembling a comprehensive proposal demonstrating our marketing skills and talents.

I’d love to hear from others about tips and tactics you employ when a seemingly great pitch or presentation turns into the Sounds of Silence. And feel free to share a few of your own stories if you like. There’s strength in numbers.

From one business owner to another, I encourage all of us to keep our heads high and our dignity intact. Let’s not let being professionally ghosted define us. It’s simply an indication that what we were pursuing ultimately wasn’t the right fit.

The pragmatist in me says, “Don’t worry about the ghosts!” There will be other opportunities. Yes, there always are.

Anne Richardson

Anne Richardson is the owner and media director of Richardson Media Group, an agency specializing in media planning and buying, advertising campaign management, and SEO.

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Anne outside the door of the Richardson Media Group office.

In addition to her role as owner and media director here at RMG, Anne authors the majority of our blog posts and hosts our BSuite podcast. Favorite topics for both platforms include the entrepreneurial journey, sustainability + social responsibility, media planning, media buying, and forming productive agency partnerships.