Contributed by Donald Fomby
Donald Fomby is a writer and editor. Although he is capable of writing and researching on a variety of topics, he specializes in B2B sales content. He hopes his writing provides readers with actionable points. In his spare time, Donald enjoys woodworking and spending time with his dogs.
This is it. You’ve finished your sales pitch or presentation. It’s time to close the deal. Then you hear those fateful words, ‘We’re interested, but not right now’ or ‘Let us go back to our team to discuss it.’
It’s a bit crushing, isn’t it? Now, you just sit back and wait. Right?
Absolutely not! If you hesitate now, you leave room for someone else to steal the potential customer you’ve already engaged. That’s why you need to deploy a fail-proof sales follow-up technique.
The Purpose of Following Up
Everybody wants to make the sale the first time. Unfortunately, that rarely happens. Most sales require at least one, often several, follow-ups. These are calls, emails, or other forms of contact made to check in with the customer in an effort to keep the process moving forward.
Why is follow-up hesitation so common?
Even though follow-ups are so necessary, many salespeople are hesitant to engage more than once or twice after the initial meeting. That’s easy to understand. Sales professionals already struggle with being perceived as pushy or aggressive.
There’s just one problem. Data shows that it takes multiple attempts at following up to make a sale. You just can’t give up too quickly. The key is implementing the right techniques.
Get the Timing Right
In many cases, prospects aren’t bothered by multiple follow-up attempts. They are annoyed when repeated follow-ups happen too quickly. That’s where the perception of high-pressure sales tactics comes into play.
So, how long should you wait before following up the first time? When should you follow up again? Unfortunately, there is no single answer to that question. It’s all very circumstantial.
There are three things for you to consider:
- How complicated is the process for making the purchasing decision?
- How much will it cost?
- What is the potential impact?
How complicated is the process?
It’s one thing to sell a single product to a retail customer. It’s quite another to sell a product to a corporation where there is likely to be an approval process that must be respected. In some instances, the purchase may be tabled pending an upcoming board meeting. Making contact over the deal in rapid-fire succession just doesn’t make sense.
How much will it cost?
Here it isn’t the sticker price that you should think about as much as the cost in relation to the customer’s budget. Remember that the average person will spend 79 days gathering information before they make a major purchase. Give them some breathing room.
What is the potential impact?
In some cases, a bad purchasing decision is simply no big deal. In others, it is very much a big deal. These are the kinds of purchases that require a long decision-making process, and your respect for that process. Nobody wants to be responsible for saying yes to a purchase that turns out to be absolutely wrong for their business or their family. There may not be an easy way to recover from that mistake.
The solution: It’s all about balance.
Look at things from the customer’s perspective. How long would it take you to make a decision? Schedule your follow-ups appropriately to engage customers rather than appearing tone-deaf.
Make Sure There Are No Surprises
Always let the customer know what they should expect in terms of the next steps, and be as detailed as possible. Here are some examples:
- I’ll email you some product data sheets by the end of the day next Friday.
- My IT staff will send you the key to try the software out for a couple of weeks. I’ll be in contact after that.
- There are some great product demos on YouTube. It should only take a day to review them. Someone from my team will follow up to answer any questions you might have.
No prospect should feel blindsided by your efforts to stay in touch with them. When you open the door for future communication, your customer will be more receptive when that contact happens. They may also be prepared with questions and concerns for you to address.
Respect Their Time
Every minute of time you get from a prospective customer is a privilege. Remember to be as brief and to the point as possible. Limit emails or texts to just a few lines. Gong.IO analyzed more than 100K outreach sales calls that connected with users. While successful follow-up calls were slightly longer than rejections, they were still kept to an average of 5:50. The study also found that the caller had about five seconds to engage the prospect. Challenge yourself to communicate your most important message as quickly as possible. Don’t waste time on fluff, but do ask them how they’ve been. This can lead to a 6.6X higher success rate.
Use Different Methods to Follow Up
When it comes to communicating, preferences vary widely. Some people would rather get a text or email. Others want the personal connection of a phone call. Of course, as a salesperson, you should be comfortable with any option. Here’s a good breakdown of preferred communications channels according to generation:
- Gen Z: Prefers digital communication above All
- Millennials: Leans towards messaging and email.
- Gen X: Uses SMS and email.
- Baby Boomers: Initially lean towards in person communication, but adopt digital methods as well.
- Traditionalists: Prefer to stick strictly to in-person and phone interactions.
As you follow up on leads, the best approach is to use various means of contact. Try sending an email, then hitting the person up via text message. This could include understanding the differences between MMS and SMS for business communication. Don’t forget that you can use social media platforms to make contact as well.
Offer Something of Value
‘Are you ready to make a purchase yet?’ That’s the question you want answered every time you follow up with a potential customer. However, that’s not always what you want to present. Instead, remember that you can offer something of value to help push customers through the sales funnel. This is why it’s important to understand the customer’s pain points.
Here are some ways to both deepen your relationship with a potential customer and better understand exactly what they need from you.
- Remember issues they have brought up, then ask them detailed questions about those.
- Share content that is likely to be relevant to them.
- Ask them about their current business situation.
- Provide them with information about the support you are willing to provide after the sale.
- Renew their interest with a reminder about a special deal or upcoming event.
Of course, the best scenario is that your follow-ups end in a sale. If not, you’ve at least created goodwill and shown yourself to have a sincere interest in your prospects. That’s the kind of behavior that can lead to references and referrals.
Grab Attention With Your Subject Line
The good news is that customers are opening more emails than ever. The bad news is that they are also swiping them away, unread nearly as often. That last part should make it more than clear that subject lines really do matter. If they aren’t compelling, then the recipient may not think your follow-up is important enough to read.
The first thing to avoid is subject lines that are generic and overused. ‘Checking in’ or ‘Just following up’ both fall into these categories. You should also avoid spammy, over-the-top subject lines. These could get your emails rejected or simply filtered into the spam folder.
Here’s an example of a good subject line: ‘Some Resources to Help With Your Conversion Concerns’ This one delivers something of value, addresses a pain point, and shows you were paying attention when the customer was discussing their concerns.
Now, one that would likely get swiped away, if not caught in the spam filter: ‘!!!Warning!!! Your Cash Price Expires Soon!’ There are a few problems here. The exclamation points may seem attention-grabbing, but they are commonly used to send junk, and can trigger spam filters. It also starts off the communication with a bit of a veiled threat.
Take your time in writing the ideal subject line. It has more impact than you may realize. You could even use professional editing from TrustMyPaper to help with this task, or even with writing your follow-up emails to ensure maximum professionalism.
Know When to Take the Hint
At some point, it should become clear that it is time to move on. Pursuing the issue further only makes you seem pushy and only serves to annoy your prospect. It’s better to walk away with a good relationship than make the prospect feel pressured or irritated. This way, you at least retain the possibility of a future sale or recommendation.
Yes, it’s frustrating if you’ve spent a significant amount of time chasing the sale or putting yourself out there. You may even feel a bit ‘led on’. Just shake it off, and spend your energy where it is going to be fruitful.
Follow Up with More Than One Person
Who is involved in the sales process? Find the answer to this question, then work to develop a relationship with all of them. Remember that each stakeholder may have their own set of questions and concerns. It’s your responsibility to communicate with all of them, not just your primary point of contact. However, you will want to be careful to ensure that your contact person never feels as if they are out of the loop. This could cause a sticky situation.
Most sales require some follow-up effort. To increase your chances of success, remember to:
- Respect the customer’s decision-making process by avoiding contacting them too often.
- Have something of value to share with them when you do make contact.
- Show an awareness of their needs.
- Write follow-up emails that they want to read.
- Connect with every stakeholder.
- Reach out through different channels.
- Know when to walk away.