“Ghosted” is a relatively new term.  It is also know as the slow fade.  Ghosting is the ending a relationship by simply disappearing without an explanation.  It is now a part of the lexicon of the dating world.

Research suggests that technology and on-line contact is making it easier for people to ghost because of a lessening of  “human” engagement.  Polls show that between 11% and 25% of Americans have ghosted.  Of course, not responding without an explanation has been around from the earliest conversations, but the fact that it has been labeled and entered into the world of polling shows that it is more acceptable and growing.  It seems to me that this trend and acceptance in the social world, where relationships have some level of intimacy, does not bode well for the business world and especially for sales.

Every salesperson has experienced the ultimate silent treatment of a prospect, and sometimes even a customer, who had been highly responsive and positive, go quiet.  Research into the ghosting phenomena can provide some insights into why ghosting happens: lack of feeling accountable or responsible, fear, immaturity, not knowing how to extricate from a situation or deal with it, not wanting to feel like the bad guy/gal, not wanting to disappoint, easier than having the conversation, a way to avoid confrontation. I think it is also important for them to consider what they might have done or not done to cause ghosting, but certainly not to over analyze or hold on to a fragment of hope too long. None of the reasons are eye opening.

But what is new is the attention ghosting is getting in newspapers such as the New York Times, articles and blogs, etc. The question is if ghosting increases in sales situations, what can you do to forestall or change it?

Most salespeople who have been ghosted say things like, “I don’t get it.  He/she was so interested.”  Most say that there were no signs.  But in my experience, when prospects go dark, there usually have been signs that were not recognized, or there were signs that could have been recognized with the right questions, or other contacts could have been established to tap into.

The way to help avoid being ghosted is to do things such as observe, ask the hard questions, nail down next steps, and look for signs such as an uneven pattern of communication, lack of sharing of information, evasive answers…  Test the waters with anti-acting ghosting questions such as Why are you focused on/opened to looking at this now?  If you thought this were of benefit, what obstacles might arise to prevent this from going forward? What other priorities are there? Who in your organization would be impacted by this? What would the outcome mean to your organization/you? What is your evaluation process?

It has never been more important to add to what prospects know, to prove value in financial terms, and connect personally to keep them engaged and keep the conversations moving to the close.  It is up to you to be alert and make it hard for your prospects to break up with you silently or out loud.  One salesperson shared with me that when his prospects go quiet, and after multiple and varied attempts to reach them, he leaves a voice mail in which he apologizes in the event he has done anything wrong and offers to be available to discuss.  He says it is rare that his message of apology does not prompt a quick call back.

It is worth noting that prospects aren’t the only ones who ghost. 50% of prospects, who engage in conversations and express interest at trade shows, never hear from the sales organization or salesperson.  Technology has radically changed sales, but knowledge, follow-up, persistence—and courtesy are still vital elements of sales success.

While you don’t have full control, there is much you can do to prevent your prospects from going quiet and if they do, do not be surprised if they vanish…