A few months ago, I decided it was time to move forward with a significant home improvement project. I began the process by calling several companies who had done similar work in the neighborhood. Every company was eager to send a representative who spent considerable time with me reviewing the project and gathering the information necessary to submit a proposal.
All of the representatives I met with were friendly and had the expertise and experience I was looking for, and their companies had impressive resumes of similar projects they had successfully completed. I was very clear on how fast I wanted the work performed and everyone agreed that my expectations were within reason. This was going to be a difficult decision…or so I thought.
After all that work, three of the reps were never heard from again. I’m guessing everyone has experienced this frustration, but I’m still amazed when it happens to me.
There aren’t many people on earth who have lots of extra time on their hands. Why in the world would a rep invest over an hour with a prospective buyer and then not follow up? Was the project too small? Did something more profitable fall into the pipeline? I guess I’ll never know. A quick phone call or email explaining the situation would have gone a long way toward gracefully bowing out and saving your brand’s reputation.
While I had some reps bail on me, other reps sent competitive proposals in a timely fashion and then immediately went into hard-close mode. Asking for my business came easily for these reps but asking for my thoughts and reaction wasn’t as easy. I started to feel like I was buying aluminum siding and decided that wasn’t much fun. So I soon eliminated those reps from further consideration.
What is the “secret” to effective follow-up? And how can you ensure that you don’t push too hard, too little or not all at? Here are four simple but valuable ideas to help you gauge your effectiveness:
Don’t put it off.
Remember that your prospects are also prospects of your competition. When it comes to follow up, do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you will do it, or don’t say anything at all! Everyone gets busy and it’s easy for follow-ups to fall through the cracks. Don’t put it off. Use some form of contact management software to help you track commitments. Don’t like what your company uses? Buy your own! It will be the best $200 investment you make this year. The discipline of keeping your commitments costs pennies, but the regret of having them slip can cost thousands!
Ask great questions!
Most sales people believe that “listening” is the most important sales skill. It’s important…but it isn’t number one. Asking great questions is the key to moving opportunities forward. “What did you like the best about my proposal?” “What was missing?” “What, if anything, was off target and needs to be re-worked?” “In an ideal world, what would this look like as we move forward?” Follow up is your opportunity to learn and reposition. Don’t blow it by forgetting to ask high impact questions. Your goal is not to sell something but to help them make a great buying decision. Remember to keep your focus on them by asking great questions.
Be persistent, not pesky.
Be sure that you have a good, productive reason for every contact. Not many people are interested in having their sales rep “check in” to see if they’ve made a buying decision, but they are interested in having you follow up to add value to their decision-making process. Share relevant, new ideas or have one of your existing loyal customers (see all raving fans) call to discuss their experience in working with you. Prepare for every touch point by creating a simple agenda or outline for the conversation. Sharing this with your prospect at the beginning of the call demonstrates that you’ve done your homework and respect their time. Don’t just wing these conversations.
Just say no!
If, for whatever reason, you decide not to pursue an opportunity, contact the prospect right away and let them know. Introduce them to someone else in your organization or refer them to a competitor. Prospects appreciate the truth just as much as you do. Don’t just disappear! Learn the art of a graceful exit and save your reputation and personal brand. Remember that word of mouth marketing is a powerful tool, but it cuts both ways. Everyone appreciates the truth…it’s the trademark of a successful rep. Focus on speaking more truth with prospects who aren’t the right fit—they will appreciate it and it will free you to focus your energies on other opportunities.
Your ability to master the skill of effective follow-up is crucial to your long-term accomplishments. Most reps are great at the first few contacts, but very few know how to truly nurture an opportunity. Learning the art of effective follow-up builds clients, success and your personal brand. Are you mastering these skills? If not, you should be.