What is the Ideal Sales Follow-up Strategy?

Author Peter DeHaanBy Peter DeHaan

Once I researched some software that promised to streamline my business and integrate operations, as well as offer new services. Given all this, I suspected it would be pricey. But why not dream a little? It wouldn’t hurt to get prices. Perhaps I’d be surprised.

Using a resource guide that compared the key factors of the major players’ offerings, I narrowed the list down to four promising contenders. I sent each one an email, asking the entry-level price and sharing my contact information.

I requested pricing for two reasons. First, if the cost was astronomical, I could opt out of further interaction and not waste any more of our time. The other reason was I expected my query would invite dialogue, allowing me to learn more about the product and company.

Minimal or No Follow Up: Of the four, one responded right away, two the next day, and one never did. All three responses contained a terse statement of price. Only one asked a follow-up question. Another promised to send me a demo – but never did. For the third, I needed clarification on his poorly worded message, which garnered me another brusque email.

Although my initial communication was via email, I provided my phone number and mailing address. Sadly, after that initial week, no one bothered to email, call, or mail. They never added me to their marketing databases for future communication.

Of the three prices, one was too high. The second price was also shocking but feasible if the software worked as promised. The third, although also high, wasn’t unrealistic. If either of these latter two software packages lived up to their grand pronouncements, I’d have bought them, likely within the month. But we’ll never know, because no one bothered to follow up.

I’m perplexed. At a price of a decent used car, you’d think there would be enough motivation to pursue all leads.

Mindless Follow Up: The opposite of no follow-up is endless, pointless follow-up. It’s perhaps even more deadly because each purposeless contact serves as an effective reminder not to buy from that company.

Take Joe for instance. He was a good-ol’-boy salesman, with an order-taker mentality. He stumbled onto my name and called for an appointment. Though I stated my preference to conduct business via the telephone and through email, he pressed for an in-person meeting. Since I had some interest in what he was peddling, and based on his assurances of top-notch customer service and competitive pricing, I eventually agreed to meet.

During our appointment, it became apparent his company wasn’t a good match for me. If Joe’s demeanor was indicative, customer service would also be inadequate. He confirmed my conclusion of a mismatch with a quote at twenty-five percent higher than competitive prices. I told him so and concluded by saying I’d call him if I wanted to pursue things further.

Sadly, Joe didn’t hear me, but my name and number were now in his contact list. Mechanically, he would periodically call, not for any real purpose, but just to talk. He never provided more information, shared company news, or attempted to move the sales process forward. His spiel was always along the lines of, “Hi, this is Joe; I’m just checkin’ in to see how you’re doin’.”

At first, I was relatively cordial and would conclude each call with, “I’ll call you if I need something.” Over time I became less affable, eventually saying “Joe, please don’t call me anymore; I will call you if I need something.” Although necessary, I felt horrible for being so blunt. My dismay was short-lived, because two weeks later, he called again. I cut him off, and said, as politely as I could, “Joe, I don’t wish to be rude, but I asked you not to call me anymore. Please don’t call again.”

This may have been the first time he actually listened. “D-d-did I do something to offend you?” I explained my perspective. Incredibly, he called again a few weeks later, spewing his tired, old rhetoric. That was the last I heard from him. Either he finally got the message or was canned.

Middle Ground: You may think me a malcontent, first complaining about a lack of follow-through and then being critical over too much. However, there’s a middle ground that salespeople should aim for.

  • Follow up until they make a decision: Quite simply, follow up until you hear a definite “Yes” or an emphatic “No.” And by all means, don’t assume the lead isn’t a good lead or presume the prospect will say “No”; wait until they actually say it. If they’re not ready to make a yes or no decision, you should continue doing your job until they do. However, even when a prospect says “No,” they may not mean “Never.” Ask if they might want to revisit the situation in the future. If so, make sure you contact them at the appropriate time, but not before.
  • Use care in how often you follow-up: Many salespeople ask, “When shall I check back with you?” Seemingly, this is a wise tactic, but the uninterested prospect will simply opt for a time as far in the future as possible, without the need to say “no.” All that does is string the salesperson along and waste time. Better is to ask what additional information the prospect needs from you or what the next step is in their decision-making process.
  • Have a reason for each contact: Don’t call just to chat. Contact them only when you have a purpose or sales related goal, such as to provide more information, update the prospect on new developments, share about new products or services, or offer a special promotion.

When you follow this middle ground, your interactions will have more value and your communication, better received. Then you will be more likely to make a sale and less apt to read about your failure.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.