A good follow-up is critical to building strong relationships with your prospective clients. Unless you are offering them an immediate fix to an issue they have right now, a prospective client will not normally buy from you on your first contact. It takes time. In most cases, buying is an emotional process, so it will take time for the trust to be built between you and your client. And as a wise mentor once told me: “Trust is a must in any business relationship.”
The way I learnt to build these trusting relationships was to be very clear in my follow-up with prospects clients. I began to understand that a no today might in fact mean a maybe tomorrow; or a “Not right now, call me again in six months’ time”, could be a “Yes, I am ready to work with you”.
Being committed to following up your prospects can be the difference between an ordinary business and an extraordinary one. When I hear clients say that they don’t have the time to carry out a follow-up, my response is that you can’t afford not to have the time. It’s an important aspect to any successful business.
Let’s look at this: A prospective client calls you to find out more about what you can do to solve some of their current challenges. They may have been referred to you or found you via your website. You may have even cold called a potential prospect, in the hope of doing business with them. This is the first contact you have with the person and although they think what you have to offer is great, and you followed your sales plan close 100 percent, they decide not to pursue your service.
What you do now is important! You can either file it away in the ‘too hard’ basket, like a large majority of people do, or you can put it straight into your follow-up system. Remember to develop a system that puts the focus on building a trusting relationship with this prospect.
Now what does this system look like? Firstly, whatever you use as your follow-up system, make sure it is easy for you to use. If it’s easy, you will be more likely to stick with it. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
Here are some tips I use in this process that I know will help you in your follow-up and succeed with today’s ‘maybe’.
If you don’t have a Customer Relationship Management System (CRM), put together a spreadsheet to track all of your warm prospects. On this spreadsheet, have the following headings as a minimum: name, contact details, business, referral source and status update. Keep a note of what you both spoke about; include not only the business you were discussing but anything they may have told you about themselves personally as well. By gathering this useful information now, it will in future allow you to tailor your follow-up specifically for this individual. Remember to keep this list up-to-date!
Make a note in your diary to follow up any warm prospect within 90 days of your first contact. For that first initial follow-up, I would encourage this to be less than 90 days.
In Wendy Evans’ book How to Get New Business in 90 Days, she mentioned research conducted by Saatchi & Saatchi that found people who were re-contacted within a 90-day period had a clearer memory of the previous call. After 90 days, they were less likely to remember the previous call; it was as though the mind had cleared itself of all memory.
When the follow-up day falls, make sure you actually do follow up, then and there. Don’t leave it for another day.
Follow up with these warm prospects but do so in a way that reflects you. Don’t feel you need to ‘sell’ in these follow-ups if you’re not comfortable with that. It can be as simple as: “I’m just checking in to see how you are” call or email. I’ll be honest with you – I’m not comfortable with the push sell, but I am comfortable following up with warm contacts to see how they are doing, updating them on what I‘m doing, and generally learning more about them.
One way I like to break up the phone calls is to send out useful information to these prospects. After I have learnt more about what is happening in their business, if I see something that I think they may find interesting I will send it off to them. If there is a specific holiday that I would like to recognise, then I may send off a card as well.
This approach mixes things up a bit, takes the pressure off constant phone calls, and is seen as a more personal approach, rather than just contacting them by mail (whether that be conventional post or email). You’ll also find they will be surprised or delighted that you remembered something about them that wasn’t in relation to closing the sale.
Keep following up within every 90 days until your lead becomes a client. Don’t take them off your follow-up system if they still say no. It may take time for a conversion to happen; in fact it may even take longer than a year.
Now, the only times you want to take prospects off your follow-up system is if the no becomes a definite no, or you decide that this person is not your ideal client. Remember at the end of the day, you can choose the clients you want to work with.
Here’s an example of how this worked for me. When I was consulting to large organisations, I made contact with a woman (who we shall call Joan) in one of our largest FMCG companies. When I called her for the first time, I got a no, so I placed her on my warm follow-up list and every 90 days I would check in to see how she was doing, find out what was happening within her company and update her on my products and services.
These calls lasted for no more than five minutes. After about 14 months from our initial call, my phone rang one morning and it was Joan on the other end, letting me know that it is time for us to work together. So after being persistent and checking in on a regular basis, I landed a project with this company that was worth well over $100,000. One of the reasons she mentioned that she called me was that as well as being well qualified for the project I was the only person who was consistent with my follow-up, and interested in more than just selling her my products. This taught me a very important lesson about the value of following up, and being consistent in how you do it.
In summary, a balanced follow-up program that combines both phone and mail with a variety of information, gives you a good starting point for each time you connect with your prospective clients.
–Deb Pilgrim works with entrepreneurs who want to take their business from ordinary to extraordinary. She is a business mentor with more than 20 years’ experience.