The Follow Up

Opportunities for new business don’t often knock at your door. More often than not, it’s you that has to do the knocking. And as any experienced sales person knows, you have to knock on plenty of doors before one opens up. That amounts to a considerable investment in time and effort.

For that reason, once you have an opportunity, make sure the door doesn’t slam shut. The reality is that many of us let opportunities slip between the cracks because we just don’t follow up.

Sales people have many reasons and even more excuses for their failure to follow up.

One of the biggest reasons is fear. For some, making any type of call (whether on the phone or in person) is painful. Let’s face it, telemarketing is tough work, and not everyone is cut out to do it.

Procrastination in making phone calls is a common manifestation of fear-avoidance behavior. Sales people often link follow-up calls with imagined unpleasant consequences, so they avoid making the call.

You may want to use psychological leverage, sort of a mental jujitsu, to execute a reversal in behavior.

In your mind, you need to link not making the call with an unpleasant consequence.

For example, imagine not making the call with losing the sale to an aggressive competitor. Think about how painful it will be explaining how you lost the sale to your boss. Or imagine the lost revenue that could have helped you pay your bills and avoid bankruptcy.

Some of us are afraid that frequent follow-up calls can be perceived as being pushy and will lose us the sale. I will agree that getting a call from a sales person who “just wants to follow up” is a waste of my time and an annoyance.

The best way to avoid being a pest is to make your follow-up call for a reason that gives the prospect some added value. That value added might be ideas on how the prospect’s current design could be modified or an alternative material used for manufacturing the prospect’s graphics.

Remember that your job as a sales person is to aid the prospect in his or her decision-making process. The best way you can do that is by providing useful information to aid in either the development or the implementation of the graphics program.

Many sales people just give up before they should. Of course, you will encounter some prospects that are lost causes, but those will be few and far between.

The general rule of thumb in sales is that you will make an average of five calls before closing a sale. So if you have not made at least that many calls on a viable prospect, you have not tried hard enough. So keep on calling.

Perhaps the most common reason that sales people do not follow up is that they just forget. The primary reason that people forget is that they do not have a good follow-up system in place.

A follow-up system can be as rudimentary as a deck of three-by-five-inch note cards or a tickler file. It can also be as sophisticated as a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program, such as Salesforce.com. It really does not matter whether you use a low-tech or high-tech system. What is important is that you have a system and that you make using it part of your daily routine.

A CRM system allows you to build a profile of your prospects so you can better understand their needs and how you can provide value to their company.

A customer profile should contain information such as key contacts, phone numbers, email addresses, and the scheduled call back date. Some programs will also provide you with a tool for assessing the effectiveness of your sales and marketing efforts.

In working for a fleet graphics company, our CRM program allowed us to easily track how many leads were entered into our system each week and how many phone calls were made. We gauged our weekly performance against specific goals that we established for our marketing program. Using this system, we could also print a report for each sales person, listing the follow-up calls that they were required to make.

In addition to making follow-up calls on new prospects, do not forget to regularly call your existing base of customers, or they will forget you.

Calling your existing customers is a great way to identify new needs. It is also a great way to recognize potential threats from your competitors. That way, you can take corrective action so you can preserve the business and minimize your attrition rate.

Follow up is not restricted to phone calls or face-to-face meetings.

To complement your telemarketing and sales efforts, you can also incorporate newsletters, email blasts, and a company blog as part of your follow up. These communications should provide your customers and prospects with interesting and useable information.

If your business is primarily fleet graphics and building graphics, you could write articles using a case study format to chronicle the programs that your company developed. A problem-solution storyline is usually effective. The problem might be an outdated identity or a competitive marketplace. The story could also revolve around difficulties in implementing previous graphics programs. The rest of the story covers the solutions your company provided. It should also reinforce why the customer or prospect should do business with you.

While email is a cheap and easy way to reach a large audience, much of it does not get read.

While many consider snail mail outdated, advertising executive Drew McLellan of the McLellan Marketing Group believes that direct mail is often more effective than email. A well designed direct mail package can deliver your graphics message better than electronic marketing because it is much more visual and takes a little more effort to discard than just pressing the delete button.

Direct mail does work. Famed car salesman Joe Girard, who set unbroken industry sales records, used direct mail and telemarketing to build his business and ensure a steady flow of customers.

Each month, he sent out postcards to key prospects to keep his name in the forefront of their minds. When the prospect was finally ready to buy, who do you think they called? Joe Girard! You can do the same.

When I worked for a large fleet graphics screen printer, we mailed hundreds of direct mail packages each week. A few days after mailing, we followed up with a phone call. Combining the phone call with the mailing dramatically improved our response rate.

Conclusion

According to sales guru Andy Paul, CEO of Zero-Time Selling, “Forty to fifty percent of all inbound sales leads are never followed up.”

It is hard to get a hit if you do not step up to the plate and take your swings.

Responding in a timely manner is also critical to sales success. What does timely mean? For most customers and prospects, it means right now.

In a face-to-face sales call, it makes a good impression on a customer if you can provide him or her with an answer immediately.

There is nothing wrong with phoning from the customer’s office to make an inquiry. Now that is “follow up.” And if you can get a customer an answer right then and there, in many cases, it provides you with an opportunity to close the sale.

Often your response in answering a question is a race against the response that a competitor will provide. Providing fast, complete, and reliable answers will build trust and credibility in the prospect’s mind and can earn you the business. Coming in second place in providing information can cost you the sale.

By making follow ups with your customers and prospects part of your daily routine, you will have an edge over those competitors who do not follow up. And this will reward you with an increase in business.

By Jim Hingst

Photo: Shutterstock.com


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