There's nothing like having what you thought was a good conversation with a potential client only to have them unresponsive to your messages. You understand people get busy but you also want to know if you should continue working on the proposed project. You don't want to make a bad impression but you also want an answer.

I've been there. I've made connections and had great meetings with people who want to collaborate. Yet, midway through the work, I stopped hearing from them. Most of the time it turns out to be a message that got lost somewhere (especially given how most of my colleagues are often traveling themselves). Yet, it's not always the case.

But in order to know that, I had to develop a few communication strategies that had a high chance of getting me an answer. In turn, it helped prevent my team and myself from wasting time. 

Before going into what you can do, let's discuss possible reasons why you aren't getting a response. Knowing this can help you in being empathetic in your approach. Plus, it may help you strategize for the future.

For one, they may be busy with a major project that has taken priority. They may also be bogged down with emails. Perhaps yours got buried in the mix or went to spam. Or, they are waiting on an answer from someone else in another department.

Alternatively, they themselves may be unsure of their decision. There is also the possibility that they have come to a decision and the news will not be in your favor. One final consideration is that they used you.   

1. Have a organized proposal with an emphasis on deadlines.

If you present an easy to follow yet detailed proposal with specific deadlines (and an emphasis on the critical ones), you can keep everyone on track. There is a chance that the client will not adhere to each one. By emphasizing the critical ones, you stand a better chance for success.   

Personally, I find it helpful to lay out a timeline. I explain that by meeting the target deadline within x amount of days, we can implement the next strategy x days later. Usually showing some type of cause and effect keeps the project running.

2. Keep it simple.

Following the clear proposal you've just presented, send a recap and the next steps that are required of them. When you follow-up, make it easy for them to answer. If you do this over email, be clear.

My team and I have a system where one of my team members emails me a weekly overview of what they're working on every Monday. Unless I send anything specific back by Monday afternoon, he knows he has the green light to go ahead. Be aware of how valuable their time is and you'll likely have a better result.

3. Call them.

Emails are good but sometimes a phone call is necessary. You can clear the air quickly and either come up with a solution or move on. You can also give one final sales pitch, if necessary.

I find that some people work much better over phone calls than emails. On the flip side, I appreciate a phone call when I've been unresponsive to emails. It's easy to read an email on mobile and forget about it. But when someone has attempted to reach me on both, I more likely to respond.

4. Evaluate the work.

Take a good look at the work and try to understand it from another point of view. Is it clear what you need from them? Could it use any tweaks? Does it have everything that you've previously discussed?

I have been given projects that did not have clear directions in regards to what they needed from me. To avoid that confusion (or maybe even procrastination on their end), give clear instructions as to what is needed -- a signature, approval, edits to something personal, etc. It'll save time and is a better communication strategy.

5. Consider going to another person.

This option isn't the funnest but CC'ing a boss or higher up can get the ball rolling. If there is someone else whom you've had a positive relationship with before, try reaching out to them. Don't place blame on anyone. Instead focus on the urgency of the deadline.

If there is no one else to contact, consider it a loss. In situations where there is more at stake like payments or signed contracts, consider consulting a legal expert. Otherwise learn from the experience and move onto the next.  

Published on: Jul 25, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.