When prospects say no: Sales recovery for digital marketing agencies

When prospects say no: Sales recovery for digital marketing agencies

One of the biggest challenges digital marketing agencies face is both generating leads, and then turning prospects into customers.

In the State of Digital Agency Report carried out by Databox and HubSpot, 60% of digital agencies named “finding new clients” as their top pain point.


It’s estimated that only 20% of leads are considered legitimate, and only 5-20% of prospects ever convert. A lot of time, effort and money can be wasted on engaging a crowd that may never make a sale.

So how do digital agencies respond to prospects that say no? Well, the answer in many cases, nothing.

But in some cases, there are tactics they can employ. If they’re quick to identify lost leads, they can begin to unravel why they’ve dropped off, be in a better position to re-engage them and turn them into valuable clients.

Find out what went wrong

When you lose a prospect, it’s natural to want to move on. No-one likes to dwell on failures.

This isn’t uncommon. According to Griffin Group, 71% of companies have no process for understanding why they lost their prospects:


That said, there’s often a lot we can learn from our failures.

With a bit of digging, you might find that the prospect is still interested, but it’s just not the right time for them to convert. Or you might discover there are fundamental cracks in your service, and your prospect has gone directly to your competitor.

Whatever it is, you’ll need to identify when and where the relationship broke down.

Look back at the last dozen or so deals that you successfully closed. Identify the steps your sales reps went through with the prospect.

Make a note of the following:

  • The length of time each deal took from prospect to close.
  • The amount of time between each stage of the process.
  • Each touch point your prospect had with your agency.
  • The information provided at each stage of the process.
  • The action to move prospects from one stage to the next.

Now, do the same with the prospect that’s said no. At which stage did this happen?

Compare their journey against your successful journeys, and try to identify what happened:

  1. Did you leave it too long between communications?
  2. Did the whole process take too long?
  3. Were you providing irrelevant information for their stage in the journey?
  4. Was there a missing action point?

Use your CRM

Every time a sale falls through, your CRM can tell you what happened. Use your data to identify the pitfalls in your sales process.

Ask your customers

If your prospect has told you they’re not interested then find out why. You might be surprised by the answer, or you may identify a misunderstanding that can be worked out.

For broader feedback, you could send out surveys to your dormant prospects using surveymonkey.com. Be careful not to pester leads that you know don’t want to hear from you.

Get your process in place

According to the Sales Management Association, 90% of all companies that have adopted a formal, guided sales processes are the highest performing.

So, it stands to reason that companies who have a sales process see more revenue — 28% more, according to a study done by Harvard Business Review.


Your sales process should be unique to your company, although it can be loosely defined by 5 main stages:

1. Prospect –

where you’re researching the prospect online or at networking events.

2. Connect –

where you initiate the first contact, usually by a discovery call.

3. Research/evaluate –

where you find out more about the company in general, and how likely the prospect is to close.

4. Present –

where you conduct a formal and tailored presentation, pitch or demo the prospect.

5. Close –

where you deliver a quote, proposal or negotiation to come to a mutually beneficial contractual agreement.

Whatever your process looks like, what matters is it helps you:

  • Avoid prospects slipping through the net, and;
  • Know how to activate them when they say no.

Start by mapping out the sales journey from initial contact/prospecting, all the way to close and follow-up. List out:

  • All the touchpoints at each stage of that journey.
  • All the goals and potential obstacles at each stage of the journey.
  • All relevant information points at each stage of the journey.
  • The proposed action that moves prospects from one stage to the next.

Your buyer’s journey should be fully documented whether manually or in a CRM. But it must also be flexible and iterative. Your sales process will evolve and develop as you learn and grow.

Use your CRM (and set up automations)

Your customer relationship manager (CRM) is a fundamental tool if you’re about to take your sales process seriously.

  • HubSpot is the most popular inbound marketing CRM, and prices range from free (on a very limited plan) through to $1200/month.
  • Salesforce claims to be the “World’s #1 CRM”. Prices range from $25 to $300 /month.

For tight budgets, shared documents like Google Sheets are free-of-charge, although they lack the sophistication of a CRM.

Whichever you choose (and there are a ton to choose from), CRMs help you to track your leads from prospect to close. They let you monitor all interactions, look at revenue potential and identify where prospects are won and lost.

Most importantly though, your CRM will let you automate tailored communications that will both prevent prospects from saying no, or quickly recover them as they hit roadblocks.

The kinds of automations you might consider are:

1. “Remember us!”:

One reason your prospects might have disappeared is that they’ve become distracted and forgotten to follow up on their initial contact.

For example, they could have registered a firm interest in you by filling out a form on your website. Or they might have only shown a vague interest by browsing your website.

Set up automation based on your chosen parameters (based on their activity, certain timing, etc). And your automation could range from emails to social messages and SMS.

Check out this email I received soon after browsing HubSpot’s pricing plans. They sent an email reminding me and provided more detail of the services that might interest me. They personalized the email by addressing me by name and referencing my website (although I blanked this info out below):


2. Triggered events

This can be difficult to manage without coming across as a stalker, so watch out! Even so, keeping abreast of your prospects wider life and career movements might help you to send strategically triggered messages to remind them of you.

For example, you might be aware that your lead has been to an industry conference. You might want to use this as an opportunity to reconnect and jolt their memory.

You could also use it in the scenario where a prospect’s email keeps bouncing back. They might not have said no to you, but you know that they’ve moved jobs, and their email is now obsolete.

Advanced use of your CRM, or data enrichment tool, will help you to broaden your search for this client so that you either source his email address at his new company, or you locate his replacement in the existing organization.

Be careful with your tone in these kinds of messages though. As I said, it can be tricky not to be creepy in this scenario.

3. A limited offer

If your prospects are either taking a long time, or they’ve recently said no, then an exclusive offer might give them the impetus they needed to make a decision in your favor.

This works particularly well if your prospect has gone far enough down the sales pipeline that you know exactly what they want. If so, then make the offer as irresistible as possible, providing only a short window of time to take it.

4. Keep in touch

If your prospect has made it clear to you that they are no longer interested in your digital services then there’s not much you can do without further entrenching their stance.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with keeping in touch on an occasional basis to remind them that you’re still there in the background.

After all, while no meant no at this point in time, it doesn’t mean it’s a no forever. Businesses evolve and priorities change, and quarterly or annual email from you might keep you at the forefront of their minds.

Having said that, just popping up to say hello isn’t enough. Your email needs to be substantive, letting them know of a new service or expert, that might interest them. Use your email to let them know that you’re relevant, growing and, importantly, interested in them.

Align sales and marketing efforts

Agencies lose prospects when sales and marketing teams aren’t aligned. In fact, research presented by Marketo and ReachForce, demonstrated that sales and marketing misalignment costs businesses worldwide more than a trillion dollars a year.

This growing concern has given rise to the term “smarketing” which refers to the joining of sales and marketing teams in a bid to generate more leads, retain customers, and achieve more wins.

This begins with ensuring that you have one and the same buyer’s journey or sales funnel. They should look exactly the same, describing the same buyer personas, the same opportunities, touchpoints, pain points and goals.

Your “smarketing” approach should take a “marketing first” approach because it’s proven that buyers respond better to carrying out their own research – particularly in the early stages – rather than talking to a sales rep.

And the crux of this approach is to ensure that sales and marketing messages are kept consistent.

Communication tools such as Slack, project management tools like Asana, as well as your CRM, will help to keep your teams aligned on a day-to-day basis.

Keep the conversation going

Whether your prospect has directly said “no”, or they’ve just stopped connecting, it’s important to keep up contact for as long as possible.

As I’ve said, very few prospects are ever truly “dead”, but are often in the wrong time and place to be converting.

Keep your dormant prospects warm using the automation I discussed before, but also through your peripheral sales and marketing media.

For example, you can employ your social media to engage in social selling, keeping up conversations with prospects. According to a Sales for Life report, 65% of salespeople who use social selling fill their pipeline compared to 47% who do not.

You can use your email marketing to keep them in the loop with changes in your company that might be of interest.

Targeted lead revival campaigns using software like insidesalesbox.com will let you track your prospects and help you with templates for voice calls, emails, and text messages.


When you successfully reactivate a prospect the trick is to move quickly either with a direct call or an email. You only have a small window of opportunity to reach out and re-engage them.

Know when to let them go

According to the previously mentioned Marketo and ReachForce report, 50% of sales time is wasted on unproductive prospecting. In some research, it’s been shown that it takes 50% longer to lose a deal than to win one.

Don’t waste time on prospects that’ll never convert. Instead, mark them as “dead” in your CRM and move on to more promising ones.

In summary

Selling your services to new leads is bound to result in lost prospects along the way. Not everyone is ripe for conversion, but this doesn’t mean that they’re lost forever.

Your sales process should take this into account and should include tactics to ensure both continuity of service, as well as ways in which leads a prompted along their journey.

Your CRM should be at the center of your process, both giving you access to the data to tell you why your prospect has said no, as well as the information to help you to automate targeted and personalized re-engagement messages.

Aligning sales and marketing teams around your CRM will help you to redouble your efforts to generate more leads, avoid lost sales and, as a result, achieve more revenue in the long term.

Aaron, CEO of a worldwide digital agency Louder Online is, according to Forbes, among the world's leading digital marketer. Working with clients such as Salesforce, Coca-Cola, IBM, Intel, and scores of stellar brands, Aaron is a Growth Marketer - a fusion between search, content, social, and PR.

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