How well do you hustle your business? Taking someone from “I’m interested” to “sale” can be a very long road of multiple follow ups. I reached out to sales pros and asked them this very question. How do you follow up effectively? What techniques do you use to increase your chances of a successful follow up from a party that’s shown interest in your product?
All conditions are different and different points of the sales cycle require different kinds of follow ups. Regardless, here are twenty somewhat universal tips that can work in a lot of follow up situations.
1: Give them something sweet
“Whenever you’re trying to engage with a potential customer, don’t just contact them and ask if they’re ready to buy, instead, present them with a taste of cheesecake,” said Rafe Gomez (@vcincmarketing), Owner of VC Inc. Marketing, quoting a sales mentor, the late Steve Florio, former CEO of Conde Nast Publications.
What Florio was getting at was the need to present them with something sweet, appetizing, and irresistible that would be of value and interest to the prospect. This could be a new product development, competitive information, market intelligence, original research, a new customer success story, or new business from a company in a similar industry.
“When you present valuable cheesecakes that are ‘baked’ with the prospect/customer in mind, and are specific to his/her unique needs, goals, and challenges, it becomes very simple to move quickly to a close,” said Gomez.
2: Don’t be a distraction. Ask “smart questions.”
“Knowing as much as possible about their business and asking “smart questions” that reflect you have done your homework will use the little valuable time you may be given to optimal success,” said Arturo Riera, Marketing Consultant for Academy of Art University. “Busy people need mission critical information, not distractions. If you bring value to each interaction then your value will rise for the prospect.”
Providing value is an excuse for continued dialogue.
3: Hit ‘em with the huge ROI potential
For months, Black was trying to get a client to scale their operations. At an ad:tech conference, Black recognized the company’s CEO from his LinkedIn profile picture and asked him, “How come you guys are X big and we aren’t making 100-fold with you guys as we should?”
The CEO went back to HQ and Black closed that 100X sale.
4: Get a foot in the door with a simple “yes”
A standard sales tactic is to just get agreement on anything. The more times you can get the prospect to say “yes” to a series of questions, especially if they require some sort of action on their part, the more they invest in your relationship.
A simple request is to ask to connect via LinkedIn.
We all ask for LinkedIn connections, but most do it like we’re collecting baseball cards. How do you follow up on that connection?
If you have a robust profile (you should if you don’t), encourage your newly connected prospect to read your reviews to better understand how your customers feel about your work, suggested Gerson who also posts thought leadership pieces to LinkedIn which populates his prospects’ newsfeeds, keeping him top of mind.
5: Use Newsle to track prospect mentions on the open web
After you agree to connect via LinkedIn and Facebook, sign up for Newsle, to see which of your contacts are making news. Whenever they’re quoted in a story, send them a personal email congratulating them. If appropriate, add a comment on the post as well, said Alec Dinner, Major Account Manager at Ricoh Americas Corporation.
“All businesses are relationship businesses. You’ve got to find a way to connect with your prospect on a personal level. Find creative ways to season your communications with things that will engage them personally,” advised Dinner.
6: A handwritten thank you note combined with a well-timed email
Many people threw out the advice of sending a handwritten thank you note. With emails flooding in by the hundreds every day and everyone’s first tactic is to just delete as many messages as possible, a personal written message is an anomaly.
Alec Dinner suggests you go even further to take advantage of the best timing possible. Send the handwritten note out the same day of the meeting. On the day you think the letter will arrive, put a reminder in your CRM (customer relationship management) tool to follow up with an email on next step tactics. This makes it easy for your prospect to follow back with you.
7: Provide a free audit
“One creative way we guarantee sales follow-up is by showing potential clients where they are lacking and how we can help them in those regards. We provide a mini site analysis and competitor review at the proposal stage,” said Danielle Kutchuck (@coalitiontech), Digital Strategist for Coalition Technologies. “This way they get to see our commitment to our clients, our willingness to go above and beyond, our breadth of knowledge, and how their current tactics are probably further behind in the Internet game than they even thought.”
“Showing that you are willing to provide some services ‘on the house,’ makes clients more inclined to continue communications with you,” agreed Lynn Mitchell (@911Restoration), Lead Sales for Vital Restoration.
8: Position the ball for the next shot
“Professional billiard players plan two or three shots ahead to position the ball for success. It’s imperative for salespeople to follow the same strategy by planning the follow up during the meeting with the prospective client,” said Allen Guy, author of “Playing to Win: The Sport of Selling and How You Can Win the Game.”
“Before concluding that conversation with your prospect, gain your prospect’s agreement to the next step. This can be as simple as asking, ‘What is our next step,’” suggested Wendy Weiss (@wendyweiss), The Queen of Cold Calling for Cold Calling Results.
“If you don’t solidify your follow up move while meeting with the buyer, then you’re not positioning yourself for the next shot at the sale,” said Guy
And before the conversation about your “next step” concludes, make sure you schedule your response. If they are not the decision maker, ask them when they’ll have a chance to speak with that person. Make them commit to it and get your follow up with them on the calendar, said Weiss.
Agreement and scheduling on next steps allows you to preempt the follow up and avoids the need to chase after prospects.
9: Add them to your mailing list
Sometimes follow up requires you to just be top of mind and aware of your services when they need you. This can take the form of connecting via social networks, but even more effective can be a newsletter.
“This can help accelerate their introduction to my ideas, perspectives, tips, and advice and give us some common ground during future one-on-one follow-ups,” said Josh Richards (@jtr), Principal for Josh Richards Consulting.
10: Align content delivery to stages of the buying cycle
By asking questions that look at the customer’s point of view, you’ll be able to deliver content prospects are eager to see when they need to see it, said Natalie Wood (@ThoughtNetInfo), Principal of The Thought Net.
That doesn’t mean send them a whitepaper of your products and services upon first engagement. Leave that for later in the discussion.
Instead, Wood suggests asking questions such as:
- Did the last product/service you purchased in this area work well? If so why or why not?
- What would you like to see happen if you could create the product/service yourself?
- Are you following anyone or any company in the industry that you think has done a good job at this?
- If you could, who in the industry would you want to talk with to get more insights on this?
- What types of information would be most helpful to you in your buying cycle with this product/service right now?
If you get answers to any of those questions, especially the last one, you’ll be able to deliver content they want, and more importantly, fill a need at each point of their buying cycle.
For more about how to deliver content at different stages of the buying cycle, register and download “Be the Voice” – Build Your Business by Becoming your Industry’s Thought Leader.
11: Crash the party
It’s easy for someone to delete your email. It’s not easy for them to tell you to go away if you’re standing right in front of them.
Peter Mullen (@pemullen), an independent business developer for startups, was looking to land some business for his client Bizzabo, a mobile app for events, with TiE Silicon Valley for its annual global entrepreneur conference, TiEcon.
Mullen took the aggressive, but risky tactic of trying to crash a weekly management meeting at their Silicon Valley office. He waited in the outer office section, not really sure if he would even get a chance to talk to anyone with authority. When the management meeting concluded, he was introduced to one key person who admitted he was already far down the path of selecting a competitive mobile event application, but still agreed to take a look at Bizzabo. Mullen demoed the app, which led to further conversations and ultimately a three-year contract with the conference after a subsequent and extensive review process.
“I always push for a face-face meeting as a preference as it gives you the best opportunity to view body language, and establishes more credibility, investing my time and willingness to go the distance to show them I’m fully engaged with their needs,” said Mullen.
12: Improve the timing of your follow up
Friday may not necessarily always be the best time, but knowing the moment when someone is looking at your information is the best time to follow up. That’s why Kerr uses Right Inbox, a Gmail tool that lets you schedule emails, plus request return receipts and get notices when emails are opened and links are clicked.
“My favorite trick is to request a read receipt and call the prospect right when they open my email,” said Kerr. “I’ll often hear, ‘Oh, I was just thinking of you.’”
13: Blame it on bad technology
14: Make it easy for them to try you out
In some cases you may have a prospect that happily uses a competitor’s service and has no need for your solution. Wes Smithe (@GamedayHousing), Vice President and Director of Marketing for Gameday Housing, a service that lets people rent out their homes for big groups near big sports venues, faces this problem with potential customers who rent residences through other competitive services.
Even though they’re with the competition, Smithe pries a little to find out if they’ve had any negative experiences with the competition or if they have any available dates for rental. He offers to let them try out his service for any available weekend they have free.
“When it is free to list, less hassle, and they can set their rates as high as they’d like, they really have nothing to lose,” said Smithe.
15: Make it about them, not you
“Too many sales people start follow up emails with ‘I wanted to follow up,’ ‘I wanted to check in,’ ‘I want, I want, I want,’” said Mark Wallace (@mwallcomm), Founder of Justellus. “Make the follow up about them and not you. If you avoid using those words, your follow up response rates will quickly increase.”
“When I recently ran digital marketing and customer acquisition, I was shocked at how many sales people who contacted me started their communications with those words,” said Wallace. “Nothing makes me, and other executives I know who are contacted all day by sales people, hit the delete button faster.”
16: Say “I am the Greatest” and deliver on it
“As a salesperson you have to deliver on your promises and this includes the follow up. If you’ve agreed with a prospect that you’ll get an answer to his or her question by Friday, call him Thursday afternoon and exceed his or her expectations,” said author Allen Guy. “This will set the tone for your relationship and prove you won’t let the customer down.”
17: Persevere even after you get rejected
Dating and long term client relationships don’t end after a single “no.”
“Sometimes ‘no’ just happens, but I never feel that “no” is the end. If we get a rejection, I always think of creative ways to add value to a client or a company to keep the relationship alive – especially if it’s a client I really like,” said Paula Hare (@paulahare), Founder of Hare Strigenz.
After one potential client rejected her on a proposed project, Hare still desperately wanted to maintain a relationship with a person and company she loved. In a matter completely unrelated to the original proposal, staffing issues, Hare offered some advice from “one business owner to another.” This continued with additional touch points and advice through social media.
“Because I persevered and took the time to understand their company and mission at my own investment, I am now a paid consultant and working with them on much larger projects and programs than ever,” said Hare. “We dated. I got rejected. I didn’t take no for an answer. And now we have a wonderful long-term relationship with a company and client that I knew was my ‘soul mate.’”
18: “What would it take to put you into this car today?”
When a car salesman asks this question, he really wants to sell the car right now and he’ll do whatever he can, within reason, to pull that off.
Similarly, you can ask the question, “What can I do to get your business today,” not in an effort to close the deal that day, but rather force all the questions you want answered, such as what are the sticking points and who are the decision makers that have to sign off on this deal.
“That’s a fair question and helps identify specific next steps – and if the answer is ‘Nothing,’ ask why. Do they have the information they need? Ask how you compare with the other solution providers. There may be some misunderstandings about your capabilities that still need to be addressed,” said Pat McGraw (@PatMcGraw), Principal for mcgraw | marketing, in a discussion on Quora.
19: Give yourself permission to call back again
The common and weak way to do this, explained Scott Sambucci (@salesqualia), Founder of SalesQualia in a discussion on Quora, is to leave a voicemail that says, “Hi, this is Scott with ABC Software. We said we’d talk this week to discuss next steps. Give me a call when you have a chance at 415-555-1212…”
Instead, the message should be, “Hi, this is Scott with ABC Software. We said we’d talk this week to discuss next steps. Because I’ve missed you, I’ll try you again this afternoon at 4pm and if we don’t connect today, expect a call at 8:30am tomorrow. In the meantime, you can reach me at 415-555-1212…”
The same principle holds for follow up emails, said Sambucci. “As you close your outbound email, give yourself permission to call again – ‘Thanks for your time. I’ll give you a call on Friday morning at 10am if you’re not able to reply back to this email by then.’”
20: “Dead-horse” a prospect
In a discussion on Quora, Daniel Estrada (@dcestrada), Technology Strategist for Spectrum Health, actually thinks there are times you should pull the plug and that may actually reinvigorate the sales process. He refers to the follow up strategy as “dead-horsing” a prospect. In the follow up call or email he says something like this:
I’ve followed up a few times regarding our conversation about … Since I haven’t heard back, I’m going to assume you’re not interested in moving forward. If something changes and you’d like to reconnect, please feel free to call or e-mail me. Otherwise, I’ll assume we’re done for now.
I wish you all the best.
Estrada claims this technique works very well.
“There’s something about the psychology of it – most likely that you’re threatening to shut the whole conversation down yourself – that makes people respond very quickly (and usually, apologetically),” said Estrada who claims he gets responses to these types of emails in hours if not minutes.
Conclusion: You’ll never lose a sale because of persistence
“You should never feel desperate following up,” said Joshua Waller, Hustler at ElasticSales, in a conversation on Quora. “I’ve never heard of or experienced a deal fall through because I followed up too much. If someone claims that they decided not to purchase because we followed up too much or too frequently, they were never going to buy and just needed an excuse. In most cases, I get complimented for being on top of moving a deal forward.”
Creative Commons photo credit to zigazou76, Secretary of Defense, Rennett Stowe, lindaaslund, MythicSeabass, GDVisuals, sirwiseowl, AlBakker, CoffeeGeek, realeyez, 2create, Social Media Max, killerturnip, and s myers.
Stock photo of guy on multiple phones courtesy of Bigstock Photo.