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5 Reasons Clients Are Unresponsive and What to Do About It

By Michael Zipursky

As consultants most of us will have the “pleasure” of dealing with an unresponsive consulting client.

Maybe you’re dealing with one right now? If not, you likely have and can remember the situation.

I’ve been a consultant for 13 years and I’ve found unresponsiveness in general to be getting worse.

How Things Go Down

This usually occurs in one of three ways:

1) You’ve submitted your proposal and are waiting to hear back from you buyer, but don’t.

2) You’ve won the project and are hard at work. You need access to a resource or additional information to keep moving the project forward. You need to get a hold of your contact but they don’t respond.

3) Your work on the project has been completed and your client owes you the remaining payment. You’ve submitted your invoice and are waiting for payment. But it’s late.

You’d think that with the growth of technology and how ‘efficient’ we’ve all become (haha, yeah right!) that communication would improve and time between communications would speed up.

I’ve been a consultant for 13 years and I’ve found unresponsiveness in general to be getting worse.

So let’s explore five reasons why clients are unresponsive and then I’ll offer suggestions on what to do about it.

Why Clients Are Unresponsive

Percentages: You may very well be spending 25%-40% or more of your time on one client while the project is going on. On the other hand, to your client this may only represent 5-10% of their time. So while you want the project to move along more quickly and you’re thinking about it a lot, to your client, it’s just a small piece out of everything they have going on. So while you’d like them to respond now, they may have 10 other things they have to respond to and take care of first. If each task takes them an hour or two to get through, it may take them several days if not more to respond.

Uncertainty: More than anytime I can remember, these days buyers are holding off making commitments until they are sure. With all the economic challenges much of the world is facing, buyers are often doing what they can to slow down the buying process. Not speed it up. They need to be accountable for every dollar they spend. And they’re not going to rush anything unless they absolutely have to. They want to be certain they are making the right decision.

Technology: It’s counter intuitive, I know. But I believe that all the technology we’ve wrapped ourselves in is making us less efficient. We’re being bombarded with notifications and calls for our attention. When your buyer got 20 emails a day they were much more likely to see it and respond to it quickly compared to now when they get 200 a day.

Value and Respect: One of the biggest challenges and the most important to deal with right away is when your client doesn’t respect you. Maybe they did but don’t anymore. Or maybe they never really did but hired you because of pressure from someone else, or they felt they had no choice. Whatever the reason, when your client doesn’t see you as a trusted advisor and doesn’t value what you bring to the table, they won’t mark your emails or calls as priority.

Your client likely has other matters going on that they feel are more pressing and need to be dealt with right away. “It’s business, not personal.”

The Unexpected: Sometimes clients are unresponsive not by choice. Meetings, family and health issues, the possibilities are many. The reality is, many times when a consultant is worried about their client not responding to them, it’s for no reason other than something came up and the client didn’t intentionally put off responding.

What To Do About It

Have a Plan – Jamie, a very successful salesman I know shared with me one of his keys to making more sales. He always sets the next date and plan with the client before leaving the meeting. That way, each time when you finish a meeting or call you and your buyer have your next meeting scheduled. You’re accountable for it and have it in your schedules. This saves a lot of time and hassle as you don’t have to chase the buyer to arrange the next meeting.

Switch Shoes – As always, you want to put yourself in your client’s shoes. Before you get too concerned and stressed out, try to think about what they may be going through and understand their situation. Often you’ll realize the situation isn’t as bad as you first thought when you bring things into perspective. And often it’s not personal. Your client likely has other matters going on that they feel are more pressing and need to be dealt with right away. “It’s business, not personal.”

Every consultant should be ‘letting’ their worst and most unpleasant client projects go each year.

Give Value – One of the best ways to continually show your value to your client is to continuously be thinking of them. Look for ways to provide on-going and unexpected value. If you read an article that you think would be of interest to them, why not send it over? Maybe you thought of a new idea, or just heard about an event they may like. Share it. Of course, you don’t want to be emailing your client daily. They have enough going on already, remember? When you think of your client and put them at the forefront your dedication and interest will shine through and will help you on your way to earn a spot on their list of trusted advisors.

Pick Up The Phone – I know, phones are only used in emergency situations. Instead, we’re all using tiny digital keyboards that are too small for our fingers and are better suited for toothpicks. But hey, phones were invented for a reason. Use them. Seriously, sometimes picking up the phone and calling your buyer can be 100x more effective than sending an email. And if you’re dealing with a more complex issue than just a simple ‘yes or no’ and can make a face-to-face meeting, all the better.

Plan B – If you’re still not seeing the results you want, try my 3 step process for dealing with unresponsive clients. It’s not right for all situations, but it works (almost all the time) when you need it to.

Plan C – Plan C is for when the end is in sight. If you’re dealing with an unresponsive client and nothing is working and you’re spending more time frustrated and stressed out than feeling good about the project, it may just be time to end it. If you’re going to do this, always do it in a professional and respectful manner. Every consultant should be ‘letting’ their worst and most unpleasant client projects go each year. So don’t be shocked if you have to. Even if you take a financial hit in the process the feeling of this type of purification is well worth it. And hey, the time you spent with clients you don’t like can now be spent on clients that you’ll enjoy working with.

How about you? Have you had any unresponsive clients and how did you deal with them? Share in the comments below.

12 thoughts on “5 Reasons Clients Are Unresponsive and What to Do About It

  1. Neil says:

    Hi Michael, I do agree with the phone call strategy and have often used it with great success. It is till today most effective. On quite a few occasions the client has been upfront and told me they were flooded with emails from many others. From personal experience, if not high priority that reply just sits in a draft box which becomes the default ‘to do’ list!

  2. thisisdamion says:

    Nice tips here, thanks for sharing.

    One thing I’ve found quite useful if waiting for a response from a client is to go back and look at their previous email, and see if there’s any particular pattern to the times they email me.

    If there is, that might suggest the best window for me to reach out to them — one client was serially replying after 8pm, and I’ll still only mail them around that time in the (midweek) evening. Using a tool like Boomerang to schedule the sending of an email helps a lot here too.

  3. Pottsy says:

    Excellent post – I always let go of the unpleasant clients, (in fact I now don’t go for their business if think they are going to be that way) its not worth the stress’ and I am doing the consultancy role on the basis of “wanting to go to work” – the “purification” is great, even if its a bit of a financial hit, it also frees up time to go get the clients I want to work with.

    • Pottsy – thanks for the comment. Letting unpleasant clients go should be something all consultants do each year.


    Thanks Michael for the article. Help me to know the strategy to use when firstly introducing my consultancy expertise to my target clients.

  5. Robert Chambers says:

    Having been a software developer, a web-developer and a business consultant specializing in customer management, I have had many unresponsive clients. They have been unresponsive in many ways. So, I have developed techniques to curb their impact on my business.
    1) I never take a retainer. A retainer allows clients to control the agenda such that I would be expected to be scheduled at their whim.
    2) I always get a 33% or more deposit up front. If they are unresponsive I can stop work until they respond.
    3) I always establish expectations for both parties up front in a formal contract – with penalties. Unresponsiveness is a part of those contracts as is a change in scope.
    4) In software, I include an abort function that kicks in if final payments, delays or other responsiveness issues arise.
    5) For websites and other web development. I reserve the right to remove the web software for non-payment and include functions that expect an input from me to certify completion.
    6) For Coaching and other support functions, I simply notify clients that unresponsiveness will not be tolerated without prior notice.
    7) Finally, If a client is unresponsive, I place them in a lower priority than other clients and I inform them of that when I lower their priority.
    I don’t like chasing clients or having them change the rules of the game in the middle of things. I find it difficult enough dealing with start-up companies to have them devalue my services or not be professional enough to honour agreements. If it gets too bad, I will just stop and move on. I have done this twice and never regretted it.
    My practice focuses on getting and keeping customers and clients; but that also includes how to discourage unwanted customers and clients. I practice what I preach.

  6. Ausmerica says:

    Michael, great piece. From my experience, if you are not getting the response you want, it often means you are not delivering your message in a manner that motivates the client to respond.

    Restating the request (switching shoes) often works.

  7. SimplySocialMedia says:

    Great article. Today I notified a client that after 3 weeks of no response from projects they asked me to complete, I can assume they no longer wish to work with our organization and am issuing a final invoice. At a certain point it is just time to move on.

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