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Follow-Up is vital.
Strong relationships in business and life are formed over time across multiple interactions. Yet so many people invest tons of time and energy into going out to events, meeting new people, then doing practically no follow-up at all to build the relationship from there.
If you stopped going to half the events you go to and instead invested a fraction of the time you save into properly following up with the people you've already met, you'll at least double your results. I promise.
This weeks 5 Minute Marketing Tip is all about follow-up: something very many people struggle with.
I'm sure you've been in the situation where you've had a meeting with a potential client about an opportunity to work together. Or you've submitted a proposal. Or you've discussed something with them and you're waiting for them to take the next step.
But, of course, the deadline for their action comes and goes and you don't hear back from them.
You're now in a dilemma. Do you chase them to ask what's happening and run the risk of annoying them and being seen as a nag?
Or do you leave them alone and run the risk that it drops to a low priority because no one is reminding them about it?
Watch this week's video to see how to break free of that dilemma…
As businesses grow, they very sensibly begin to delegate or outsource “administrative” tasks. One such task is often the inputting of contact details from business cards into the contact management or CRM system. The task is typically delegated to junior staff, or nowadays a virtual assistant or service such as Shoeboxed.
As a sole practitioner I need to outsource as many administrative tasks as possible to preserve my time to focus on marketing, sales and client work. But inputting contact details is one task I keep myself.
The task isn't hugely onerous – but it does take time. I'm prepared to invest that time for three reasons:
I always recall useful details of my interaction with the contact that I can enter in my system – but that I didn't capture at the time in a way an assistant would be able to transcribe. Like many people I write useful notes on the back of people's business cards. But, of course, I never capture everything. Typing in the contacts details often triggers useful memories which I can then put in the system.
It embeds the contact's details in my mind and makes it easier for me to remember them in future – particularly if I spot something interesting for them, or think of something I can do to help them. As I've discussed before, I review my contact list monthly (weekly for high priority contacts) to try to see if there's anything I can do to further my relationships. By embedding the contacts details in my mind, a lot of this activity happens automatically during the month anyway.
It triggers me to think about immediate follow-up. If there's something useful I can do for them within a few days of the event we met at, I will become much more memorable to them and be remembered with gratitude rather than just as a contact. A few minutes invested in thinking about what they said, the needs or interests they expressed and about the resources I might have access to that could help them always pays dividends.
Now, of course, you could get an assistant to type the raw details in, and then review yourself and do the tasks I've just talked about. But that has really never worked for me. I need the physical prompt of being forced to type the details to make me get round to thinking about the contact and potential follow-up.
So for me, this admin time is time very well spent indeed.
A topic I've blogged about frequently is the importance of good follow-up and of nurturing relationships over time.
In The Importance of Good Follow-Up I highlighted the futility of the “Nice to meet you, if you ever need our services…” email follow-up to networking meetings and suggested a number of value-adding alternatives.
One trend I've noticed recently is the increasing use of email newsletters as a follow-up mechanism. It's a trend I whole heartedly applaud – my business is driven by email marketing. But only when you do it right.
And signing people up for your email newsletter without their permission is absolutely the wrong way to do it.
On at least half a dozen occasions recently I've found myself subscribed to email newsletters from people and companies who I've met briefly at networking meetings. I've given them my business card and they've plugged it straight into their email distribution list.
This is a follow-up mechanism that has the potential to add value if the newsletter is of high quality and relevant to me. But how does it make me feel to have my details “harvested” in this way?
To be honest, not great.
It feels impersonal. I've not had an email or call from them. Nothing mentioning any connection we made at the event and no thought from them on tailoring the message to my specific needs. I've just been fed into their email marketing machine.
I wondered whether I was the only one who felt this way, so I posed the question on Twitter to see how others felt:
As you can see from this sample of responses, people's feelings are almost universally negative. They range from “I want to *smack* them!” and “it sucks!” to at best, “my junk filtering can soon take care of them if they fail to send me anything interesting or useful”. And remember, these negative responses are to something as seemingly innocent as adding someone's name to an email distribution list after meeting them. For me, Kneale Mann summed up the sentiment best best when he replied: “A handshake does not make you a customer”.
Obviously, Twitter followers are not a sample that's representative of the public at large. But I do believe they represent an important and growing sensitivity to the appropriate use of information.
So what's the alternative?
Well, since you are interacting face to face with them, there should be ample opportunity to offer to send the newsletter and get their permission.
If the time isn't right when you meet them, then send them an email afterwards with a sample copy of the newsletter suggesting it might be of interest and giving a link to sign-up if they are. Personalise the emails – recalling topics you discussed or better still – add value by suggesting ideas for questions they posed or challenges they highlighted when you were talkign with them.
Now don't get me wrong, this is my opinion as to what you should do rather than something that is proven to have better results. I haven't done any testing to see what results in better long-term subscriptions, click throughs on the newsletter or eventually sales.
But for me that doesn't matter. If you want to establish a reputation as someone who can be trusted then you mustn't do anything early on in the relationship to suggest an abuse of trust. Auto-subscribing people to your newsletter without asking is hardly the crime of the century – but to many people it suggests that you will not treat them as individuals with their best interests at heart.
Personally, I'd rather lose potential newsletter subscribers than lose that reputation of trust.
PS Many thanks to all the Twitter users who replied to my poll on this topic – your answers were most helpful.
We all know that good follow-up is vital in sales. According to the Gartner Group, almost 70% of leads are mishandled in some way. So great follow-up will give effective professionals, business owners and sales people a huge advantage over less rigorous competitors.
But how many times have you come back from a meeting or networking event and received this sort of email?
It was lovely to meet you earlier today. If you ever have need of our services in the future, feel free to contact me on xxxx xxx xxxx.
Yours, Mr Never-likely-to-get-a-call.
Have you sent out something similar? I hope not. How can anyone think this sort of follow-up is going to bring results?
Most people we meet casually, or at networking events tend to fit into the “might do business with, but might not” category. For most of us, we don't have time for a “follow-up coffee” with people in this category – we have to reserve our in-person follow-ups for people highly likely to give us business themselves or refer business to us.
And it's the same in reverse. Many people who we would like to build a relationship with may not immediately see the value in building a relationship with us. But we can significantly increase our chances of this if we follow-up effectively.
The best follow-up is one that adds value to the recipient. Perhaps some thoughts to help them, or links to useful resources. The more it's clear you've thought about them and how to help them, the more likely they are to classify you as “someone to trust”.
Of course, in order to do that, you need to understand what might be useful to them. And that means that you need to ask them questions during the event (and remember or take note of the answers) to identify what would be helpful. Understanding their business challenges or goals is critical to this.
If you can't add value straight away tell them you'll be looking out for them in future – and specifically name what you'll be doing. For example “…I found your ideas on growing your business through relationships with accountants in your local area really interesting. If I identify any accountants who fit the bill in future I'll be sure to pass on their names to you”.
And of course, you really must make good on your promise.
Personally, I keep a list of all my “interesting and important” contacts with bullet points on the sorts of things that would be useful and helpful for them. I review this list monthly so that my radar is always active and on the lookout for how I can be helpful. For high priority target clients I review this weekly and frequently build in time to my schedule to actively look for resources to help them.
It's not guaranteed to have impact – but it's a darn site more likely than the more common “…if you ever have need of our services…” email.
For my comprehensive guide to follow-up, click here:
Early in my career I learnt a very simple tactic which made a significant difference to my sales – and I noticed recently that I had stopped using it. So as well as restarting its use for myself, I thought I'd share it. It's most appropriate for consultants or other professionals who have to prepare proposals to sell what they do.
Here's the tactic: when someone asks you for a proposal, instead of meekly agreeing and heading off to do it; set a meeting date with them then and there to review it together.
Simple and obvious, and as old as the hills. But easily overlooked.
When you're in a sales meeting with a client and you've talked about what they need and what you can do and they pop the question: “can you write that up as a proposal for me?” – it's so, so easy to agree and to rush off to do the proposal just as they've asked.
Assuming doing a proposal is actually the right thing (often it isn't – often the problem itself requires further exploration with the client – but assuming it is); as we all know, our chances of selling something increase exponentially if we present the proposal personally rather than just sending it in.
However, calling after you've done the proposal to set up a meeting very often results in the client asking if you can just send the proposal in for them to read first – then they'll set a meeting if needed.
Of course, without you there, the proposal doesn't have the same impact, the meeting never happens, and the sale is lost.
But if you ask for the meeting then and there you're leveraging three things:
It's harder to turn someone down face to-face
You've built up a degree of rapport in the meeting
They've just asked you for a favour – so they're likely to reciprocate by agreeing to a meeting
It's an obvious and pretty easy thing to do – but very, very often it's not done.
There are many reasons for this. I've seen sales people simply forget in the heat of the moment. But more usually, there's an underlying fear preventing them asking. They fear that the client may say “no” – and then they'll lose the chance of proposing and of winning the sale.
But if a client is going to say “no” to a simple request like a meeting – how likely is it they're going to buy anything? In reality it's much better to get a “no” right now than it is to waste time on the proposal.
Another problem some salespeope have is that they put themselves in a servile position relative to the customer. They take the “customer is king” philosophy too far and feel that they must do just what the customer asks with no reciprocal obligations. They don't feel it's right to push for anything, but instead just jump through whatever hoops the customer asks them to jump through, hoping that they'll be rewarded with a sale.
That's not the right positioning for most sales – and certainly not for selling professional services where what the customer needs is a real business partner. A peer who can advise and guide them – not just do what they ask slavishly.
So next time you're asked to prepare a proposal, just take a deep breath, and say “sure, that would be great. Let's set a date for a meeting together to review it……”