The Art of Follow-Up

All salespeople, especially successful ones, know that follow-up with a prospective client is one of the most important steps in the sales cycle. By the way, if you’re one of those people who runs a business and you’re still not convinced you’re main function is salesperson, you need a reality check, but I don’t want to get into that right now.

Right now, I’m curious about the art of follow-up. I have been following up with a few prospective clients this morning, and I was reminded of how I’ve always found the art of follow-up intriguing.

Some people have mastered this seemingly simple, yet dauntingly difficult task. When I think about it, I am always reminded of what it was like to achieve the goal of getting a girl’s phone number in college, then trying to tackle the debate I always had with my friends: when do you call her, what do you say when you call, etc.

In the business world, salespeople experience this same debate on a regular occasion. They might meet a prospect at a local chamber of commerce event and want to follow-up with them to discuss how they feel they can help the client. They might have only spoken with them on the phone once prior. They may have a proposal in the client’s hands and are following up to try and close the deal.

The power of focus

Each of these circumstances presents different challenges to a successful follow-up process. I think, though, the process can be made easier by a clear focus. By focusing on what the real objective is with the follow-up the process is immediately clearer. So many salespeople are stuck on “just following up” they forget to be politely persistent about what the primary objective is. They are fearful of being too forthcoming about what they want to get from the contact.

Clients appreciate the honesty of a salesperson telling them exactly what they want to get the client to buy. It is liberating in a way, the expectations have been put clearly on the table, and both sides can get down to handling whatever obstacle or objection is preventing progress.

When to follow-up

Knowing when to follow-up is a non-scientific art. Though there are undoubtedly numerous studies that have been conducted that provide guidelines on when to follow-up, we have to remember that every prospect is also a person, and every person on the planet is different in some regard than every other person on the planet. This means that, though we can follow the general guidelines, each situation is different, and we have to think about how we might need to change our approach based on the individual circumstances.

Knowing what to say when following up

Just like knowing when, knowing what to say is also an art. In my experience, there are two main schools of thought, here:

  1. Get right to the point. Don’t waste your breath asking personal questions or trying to make small talk. This is best used for clients that are busy, and actually appreciate the bluntness. You will actually (though it seems wrong) improve your rapport with this client because they appreciate the fact that you respect their time.
  2. Be more personal. Other clients like to know that you care about them as a person. They want you to ask about their kids and about their weekend plans. Assuming you have a genuine interest in this information, make the small-talk and enjoy the conversation. The objective of the call must always be remembered and focused on, though. Make sure you get to the point in a timely fashion. Rambling about everything else under the sun is not productive.