This is a cautionary tale.

You’re working away happily, doing whatever it is you do, and the phone rings. Someone wants to give you business. They need a proposal quickly, and they often ask for highly favorable terms—for them.

In any case, there you are, salivating over the prospect of work, visions of “low-hanging fruit” dancing in your head. You’re excited. You’re ready to go. My advice is to take a deep breath and cool down. Jill Konrath, my favorite sales guru, sketches out the textbook scenario for a situation like this, and it’s absolutely true.

Hot—and then not

What happens is this: You hustle up a great proposal and then, nothing. You follow up by email and phone, trying not to make a nuisance of yourself. If you’re able to get in contact, you generally find out that your hot prospect has gone with another vendor or perhaps decided to do nothing at all.

Coming late to the party

Ms. Konrath has found, and I agree, that your hot prospect probably has another vendor in mind but wants to look objective in the eyes of his boss. Or he may be testing the market to see if he can get a price he can use as leverage. You’ve essentially come late to the party. If you know this, you won’t waste your time. The best way to find out what’s really happening is to ask who else they’re looking at. Not always an easy question to ask, but worth it.

So know that your best prospects are those where you’ve done the work to establish the relationship or where you get in early. Kinda like arriving at a party before the drinks run out and there’s still plenty of food.

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