#1 Strategy For Sales Reps to Prospect Unresponsive Leads


The problem that we’re going to solve for today is prospecting for B2B sales reps: how to prospect the account, not just the individual. 

Even with inbound leads coming into their pipeline, sales reps often still struggle to make contact with the individual in that account. 

When continuously pursuing the individual proves fruitless, what should we do next?

If you prefer to listen to a conversation about this topic, please feel free to check out sALES with ASLAN podcast episode 97:


The Problem

When an organization’s marketing department does a great job, sales reps have solid incoming leads. But even with inbound leads, the individual prospect is often unresponsive to the sales rep’s subsequent outreach. 

There are essentially two types of leads that come in with B2B selling:

Type 1 – “Learn”

We classify these leads as downloading a “learn resource” because they are looking to gather information. They may download a Whitepaper, cruise your website… they’re “kicking the tires,” they want information, but have no real intention of speaking to a sales rep or buying your solution. 

Type 2 – “Intent”

We classify this second type of leads as an “intent resource.” They’re interested in a brochure or some other asset with specifics about your offering. These individuals actually do want to speak with a sales rep. 

We call these leads “raised hand” leads, because they want to be contacted. They may fill out a contact form or request a meeting. These are good leads. 


Sales reps, when you get these “raised hand” leads, you know what to do. But shockingly, even when the prospect initiates contact and asks for more, we often fail to get a response. Why is this?


Prospecting in a Digital World

This is where the digital world, the world of virtual selling, both helps and hurts sales reps. It’s easy for interested prospects to reach us, but it’s also easy for people who have no interest to reach us (i.e. that first type of lead, the “learn” type). 

We pursue these leads via phone, email, and LinkedIn outreach, and still, no response. As sales reps, this is frustrating. At some point, it’s tempting to throw in the towel and write them off. What other option do you have? 

We don’t want to waste our valuable resources, our time, pursuing dead leads. But we don’t want to lose out on an opportunity to serve. 

Let’s unpack why we may not be getting a response from interested leads.


4 Reasons We Fail to Engage Prospects

We’ve come up with three main reasons, based on our own sales teams’ experience:

1. Logistics, i.e. timing and number of attempts to engage (or “touchpoints”). 

Insidesales.com, now Xant, published some research a couple years back that found the following: with less than 3 or 4 contact attempts, you are “selling yourself short,” (pun intended). 

With each attempt past 4, your chances of making contact increase. But conversely, research has found that when you get past 7 or 8 attempts to engage, the law of diminishing returns kicks in

Essentially, with your ninth, tenth, eleventh, etc. attempts to make contact with a prospect, and you’re still not getting a response, you’re beginning to waste time – yours and theirs. They’re not interested. Obviously this varies by industry, but that’s a general rule of thumb. 

As for timing, LinkedIn has done research about how quickly sales reps respond to a prospect’s initial outreach and the impact it has on advancing the opportunity. If you wait too long, they lose interest. LinkedIn suggests that if you reach back out quickly, even within 5 minutes, it can work in your favor. In today’s world, it shows that your company has its act together. It indicates that you are available and ready to help. 

How often should you reach out to prospects? That depends on your business and your industry. You will get a feel for it over time. Be consistent, but don’t “stalk” your prospects. No one likes a stalker. 


2. Your Approach

Sales people often assume that the prospect is more interested than they actually are. We forget that our biggest competition is not our competition, it’s our prospect’s other priorities. 

The person who reached out to you has dozens of other things on their to-do list. It’s important for sales reps to acknowledge that, without being patronizing. Don’t use the canned, insincere: “I realize you’re a really busy person…”

Just give them a good reason to talk to you. At ASLAN, we call this an Other-CenteredⓇ Position. It means sharing a message that starts with a problem on their whiteboard, followed by a disruptive truth (an unknown insight about the problem they may have), and then a proprietary benefit (something unique that your solution can provide them). Communicate why it may be worth their time to have a conversation with you. 


3. Follow Their Process

Many sellers are focused on their selling process instead of the prospect’s buying process. 

Sales guru Shari Levitin recently shared a great personal story about buying a new car that perfectly illustrates this idea. You can check out her quick video here. She says, 

“Here’s the lesson, too many sales people think about the selling process instead of the buying process. And today, customers don’t buy linearly. It’s not like the old days. We have to meet them where they are and use as many channels of communication as we can.”

Understand where your customer might be in the buying process. They may not be ready for a meeting right off the bat. Prospects have questions, and sometimes, we need to answer those questions before they’re ready to meet with us. 

Think about their process, be Other-Centered, and you will have more success connecting with prospects. 


4. They’re Not the Point Person

It could be that the person who reached out, the lead, is not really the right person for you to talk to. It’s not necessarily their role, but they were curious about your solution. You may need to reach out to someone else in their organization. 


Prospect the Account, Not the Person

Now let’s move into the solution: to prospect the account or the opportunity, not just the individual who initiated contact. 

In the B2B space, it’s the account that matters more than a single person within that account. 

When you receive a lead, the simple question is: does this lead look like a qualified account? Today, sales reps can go to LinkedIn or Hoovers or ZoomInfo to find out if the lead fits their profile. 

But the more important, million-dollar-question that sales reps are trying to answer is this: do we think that the person who initiated contact (the lead) is reflective of the organization? Are they representative of a true need the company has?  A problem that you can solve?

Most of the time, sales reps can’t know that just based on a lead itself. 

So before you reach out to contact a lead with those 6 – 8 touchpoints, stop. Before you “close” a lead as “unresponsive,” stop. If they are potentially qualified, go one step further: prospect the account. 

What exactly does that mean? 


 1 – Find a coach.

The word “coach” has a few meanings in the world of sales. In this context, we are referring to someone within the organization who can give you information. They are someone who uses or would directly benefit from your solution. 

You may have to get creative in order to find your “coach.”

For example, you may call the company’s “Help Desk” and say something along these lines:

“Hi Jane, I’m Marc with XYZ Company, you’re with the Help Desk, is that right? The reason I’m calling is that Ms. _____ (the lead’s name) recently reached out to us and I’m trying to do some homework and get your perspective as someone on the Help Desk.”

The key here is to communicate that you’re looking for their perspective. You’re not asking them to speak on behalf of their company or the decision-maker. You’re calling them specifically, because you want their perspective and insight. 

“I know you’re busy, but could I take just a few minutes of your time to help better prepare for meeting with ______?”

Most of the time, they will say yes. What you’re trying to do here is find out about their role, their challenges, and how they currently solve the problem. Sometimes we’ll offer to send them an article or an eBook that’s relevant to their role, as a “thank you” for their time. 

Do this with a couple individuals and you’ll have a better picture. 

As a sales training company, we often do this with sales reps working for our potential customers. It’s a good way to find out if they’re currently working with another sales training company, how many sales reps they have, etc. It helps us determine if they might be a good fit for our offering and a worthwhile prospect.


2 – Find and contact other decision makers. 

Use LinkedIn to find other decision-makers within the organization, other people with the title you’re looking for. 

Now, when you reach out to them via email or on the phone, you can provide a reference to go along with your OCP (Other-Centered Position). 

For example:

“I was recently talking to some people in your sales organization, and my understanding is that their biggest problem today is ______.” Now you have their attention and you’ve given them a reason to speak with you. 

If you want to go deeper on political structure and prospecting, you can read more about how to identify political structure within your accounts here


When Not to Use This Approach

A bit of this approach relies on “going around” the person who reached out to you, if they’re unresponsive to your outreach. However, don’t go around your original contact if they specifically ask you to reach out to them. Attempt to engage that individual first. If they don’t respond, you can then look elsewhere within an account to make contact. 

But be careful about dismissing leads based on role/title and calling “above” someone. It could backfire. 


The Sales and Marketing Relationship 

The idea of prospecting the whole account is another concept that underscores the importance of the relationship between sales and marketing

Salespeople should be giving feedback to marketing on what they find with the inbound leads they get. This will help marketing streamline A) who they’re marketing to, and B) how leads are routed. 

Account-based marketing is on the rise. As a team, between the sales team and marketing department, you can decide how to market accounts in a more strategic manner. It’s just another way you can market entire accounts instead of individuals. 

When you have a qualified lead, why give up after 6 attempts to engage? Look elsewhere within the account. There’s too much opportunity. Don’t give up on good, qualified leads. 


What Next?

As President of ASLAN, Marc is responsible for all day-to-day operations including our sales and marketing efforts and growing our success in helping our clients be Other-Centered®.

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