One of the most frustrating moments of the sales process is the all-too-common "no-show"—when a prospective customer fails to show up for a meeting or isn't available to take a scheduled sales call.

When it happens, too many salespeople mistakenly assume that a "no-show" is just not interested in their offer, and so they move on to other prospects.

However, a recent study of hundreds of sales conversations from Strategic Sales and Marketing (SSM) discovered that no-shows don't always mean "no." Many no-shows happen for different reasons, such as scheduling conflicts, illness, internal disorganization at the customer's company, and more.

Just because your prospect is a no-show doesn't mean they're not interested in buying from you!

In fact, no-shows are a hidden source of future business opportunity.

We conducted a study over two years, surveying 330 prospects who were no-shows for their sales appointments but who agreed to reschedule the meeting. We were curious to hear more about why the no-shows had happened. Since these prospects were still interested enough in the sales offer to reschedule the meeting, we wanted to know why they had not been able to show up for the initial sales conversation.

The study results were surprising.

As far as we know, this is the first study of its kind to go deep into the reasons sales prospects don't show up for scheduled sales appointments. These findings can be useful for salespeople and entrepreneurs who want to understand the true causes of sales no-shows.

  • 56.0% of prospects missed their sales appointment because they were "overwhelmed by internal events."
  • 10.0% got called in to another meeting.
  • 6.0% had an emergency.
  • 5.2% had a technical issue with the meeting invitation.
  • 5.1% had unexpected travel.
  • 5.0% were out sick.
  • 3.9% had a previous meeting that ran too long.
  • 3.0% had a weather issue that derailed their schedule.
  • 2.4% were double-booked.
  • 1.5% forgot about the meeting.
  • 1.2% had a personal issue that caused them to miss the meeting.

Now that you know why your sales appointments may be resulting in no-shows, what can you do about it?

Here are a few tips for gaining the confidence to move past no-show frustration.

Make sure your sales appointment invite is easy to understand

Some 5.2% of no-shows happened because of a technical issue with the sales meeting invitation. That is a surprisingly large amount, and it's a reminder that your company needs to have a backup plan in case your meeting invite or conference software doesn't work.

Follow up with a phone call if your prospect isn't appearing on the screen. Be ready to adapt to clients' needs in case they can't understand, or they're having technical issues with, your sales meeting software or conferencing system.

Offer a range of meeting times

It's no secret that prospects are often incredibly busy, but the study shows just how chaotic a prospect's daily schedule can be. Fully 10% of no-shows got called into another meeting, 3.9% had a previous meeting run long, and 2.4% realized that they were double-booked. That's a total of 16.3% of no-shows caused directly by scheduling issues.

To counteract this issue, offer a range of meeting times instead of expecting your prospects to be completely punctual. This is especially true for meetings with a higher-value prospect or a higher-ranking executive who is particularly hard to get on the schedule.

Always assume that your prospects' time is more valuable than yours. Be patient with them and be prepared to adjust at the last minute.

Expect the unexpected

It's surprising to see just how many unexpected events cause people to miss their sales appointments: 7.2% of prospects missed their meeting because of an emergency or personal issue, 5.1% had unexpected travel, 5% were out sick, and 3% had their schedule affected by weather. Those unexpected events were responsible for a total of 20.3% of no-shows.

That's a powerful illustration of just how much of our daily business life can be vulnerable to disruptions for reasons beyond our control—illness, personal emergencies, or even the weather.

As a salesperson, you can't control or prepare for every emergency or scenario that might pop up, but knowing that up to one-fifth of no-shows can be caused by emergencies, illnesses, or weather and travel issues should help you maintain perspective. Lots of your sales prospects still want to talk with you—but they might be stuck on a runway or home with a sick child or dealing with other issues.

Keep calm and keep calling!

Use the cause of the no-show as a selling point

Fully 56% of no-shows happened because the prospects were "overwhelmed by internal events." That is so indicative of what is wrong at too many prospects' organizations: Lots of companies are overwhelmed. Too many workplaces are chaotic, overscheduled, and hyper-intense.

Several recent studies cited by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that workers are feeling above-average levels of job stress, and they are feeling spread too thin by technology and blurring boundaries between work and personal life.

But this major cause of no-shows is potentially also a key selling point for you: What can you do as a salesperson to help make your prospect's life less overwhelming?

  • Can you offer them greater efficiency, time savings, simplicity, or serenity?
  • Can the solution that you sell bring a better degree of organization to your prospect's life?
  • Can you be careful not to call or email them at a stressful time of day, or otherwise make extra efforts to be respectful of their time and their personal life outside of the office?
  • Can you offer to talk with the prospect about their overall business challenges and see how your solution can fit into the operations of their overall team, department, or company?

You are in the business of improving your prospects' lives. If they're feeling so stressed and overwhelmed by internal events that they cannot make it to a sales appointment, that is a great sign that they need to be talking with you.

* * *

The evidence is clear: Sales meeting no-shows often still want to have the sales conversation, but salespeople need to be agile and adaptable to meet their prospects' complex schedules and ever-changing challenges at work.

So, don't assume that a no-show means prospects aren't interested; they are often getting derailed and thrown off schedule for reasons that have nothing to do with you. Don't be resentful or disappointed when a no-show happens; use it as an opportunity.

Salespeople need to stop categorizing no-show appointments as unqualified leads. Many of these no-shows are still happy to have the sales conversation if you can just get on the phone at a time that works for them.

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Sales Meeting No-Shows: It's Not You, It's Them (And What You Should Do Next)

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image of Al  Davidson

Al Davidson is founder of Strategic Sales & Marketing, a leader among lead generation companies, providing appointment-setters for global clients.

LinkedIn: Al Davidson