Uncategorized August 15, 2011

Remember that 'follow-up' is one of the essential parts of the sales cycle

Summer is well and truly upon us. People are generally in a good mood due to holidays, improved weather and for some a much improved business environment. The summer does however highlight one of the most important yet frustrating parts of the sales cycle – Follow-up. During summer, the combination of prospects’ annual leave timed perfectly so that they return the day you go on annual leave, can result in an entire month disappearing before contact happens.

This article’s aim is to be a strong reminder of the danger of becoming lazy in your follow-up despite it being challenging to get hold of people after they have shown initial interest.
Most of us naturally find follow-up beyond the first couple of attempts quite uncomfortable as we perceive ourselves turning into the “stalker salesperson” who never leaves us alone even though we have told them to stop. This is rarely the case but we convince ourselves it is. Business developers have to accept that at the best of times prospects are not very good at getting back in touch, not because your offering is not important, but more often than not, because there “always” appears to be something more urgent that they need to deal with.
If you have approached the sales process in the correct way with good preparation before a meeting, healthy dialogue with lots of listening in the meeting, agreed next steps from both sides and a proposal is requested from you, why is it so hard to get hold of people after the sales meeting?
• People are not very organised themselves & rely on you calling them back
• People are busy & their time is focused on reactive events
• Prospects often intend to call you back but it rarely gets to the top of their to do list
• Prospect may not be the decision maker & is having a tough time getting hold of the true decision maker
• They may have forgotten the value you offer as other things have taken over
The fact is that when you eventually get to speak to the prospect, as long as you have been polite and genuine in your follow-up messages, 95% of the time they are apologetic and say something like, “I’m really sorry, I’ve been meaning to get back to you but things have been very hectic”. A very productive discussion then ensues, where you gain a better understanding of their situation or involvement of other key players, etc so you can make necessary changes to the proposal and decide the best next steps in the relationship.
Below are 5 key habits to ensure you are on top of your game and do not waste the hard efforts you have put in to get this far. Naturally, all the points are based 100% on the assumption that the prospect has not told you to stop calling or that they are not moving forward with you this particular time.
1. Never leave a meeting without agreeing actionable next steps
This sounds so obvious but often it is the simple things that we forget. Having shadowed a number of sales meetings with our clients, SBR Consulting still too often observe a meeting finishing without tangible next steps. Before the meeting decide what your objectives upon leaving should be and, if applicable, ideally always set up a following meeting, even if provisional, as this means you keep the dialogue continuous and it keeps you in front of the prospect.
2. Use different methods of follow-up
Different people respond differently to communication. Nowadays, we have so many ways to interact, make sure you are using different methods. Many use email as their main follow-up and although this may work, there is a danger the prospect’s inbox is full of emails that they do not get around to dealing with.
Always make sure you get direct dials AND mobile numbers. So many sales situations can be moved on in a mutually beneficial way by following-up on a mobile. This is totallyacceptable as you have been asked to follow up and in doing so you help prospects move their own plans forward or, if applicable, put them on hold, but at least you know what they are thinking.
3. Remember to have the client’s/prospect’s best interests at heart
The statement, “Selling is a transference of conviction” applies to all business development. When you know the clients situation and you truly believe your service provides true value, it is important to keep communication open. Keeping your prospect’s interests at the centre allows you to feel more confident to follow-up more naturally.
4. Add a “Follow-up” category in your Action / Task List
A great top tip is to add a “Follow-Up” category to your task list so you will not forget all the calls you need to make which often fall by the wayside as they straddle all the stages of the sales pipeline. Print out your updated task list regularly and keep track of who you need to follow-up with using the same rigour that you apply to your lottery numbers or tracking your expenses!
5. Make “Follow-up” a habit – choose to be good at it
Polite Persistence is a key attribute for anyone involved in Business Development. There are certainly boundaries we do not believe should be crossed but those who understand the importance of hanging in there a little longer than others will reap the benefits as long as it is combined with a bit of emotional intelligence.

In conclusion, all business is built on strong follow-up with clients, prospects and relationships and you have to decide that there is no substitute to personal contact and that this is part of your routine. Remember, our job as business developers is to be aware of where prospects and clients are in their buying cycle and ensure that our follow-up is in line with their real needs.

This article has been provided by SBR Consulting. Contact Lars Tewes with your sales challenges and questions at ltewes@sbrconsulting.com

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