If I had to name one thing that causes more self-employed professionals to fail at marketing than any other, it would be lack of follow-up. Every day, I see solopreneurs and service business owners do a fabulous job at filling their marketing pipeline with prospective clients, and then fail miserably at following up with them.
Effective follow-up is both an art and a skill. The skill of follow-up consists of the mechanics — how to make contact, how often to do it, what to say when you follow up, and keeping track of it all.
The art of follow-up lies in the way you go about it — or don’t. You can avoid follow-up completely, do it only reluctantly, follow up in an insincere way… or you can follow up consistently, with respect for the buyer, and with an honest desire to build a relationship with your potential clients.
Let’s examine first some essential follow-up skills:
- Who to follow up with — Plan to follow up with everyone who matches your target market description and with whom you have had some prior contact (whether you initiated the contact or they did). And, everyone who you have reason to believe could consistently refer you people in your target market.
- When to follow up — On a regular basis: more often for hot prospects, less often for warm or cool ones. You might contact a hot prospect weekly, a warm prospect every 2-4 weeks, and a cool prospect every 2-3 months. Don’t let hot and warm prospects languish! Always follow up your initial contact promptly.
- How to make contact — Depends on the nature of your prior contact and the path you typically follow to a sale. Might be by phone, email, social media, text message, postal mail, or all of the above. Some of these communications may be generic (like sending them your ezine or an email update), but at least some contacts should be personally directed to each person.
- What to say — With a hot or warm prospect, it can be perfectly okay to simply ask if they are ready to act on your offer. When following up multiple times over a longer period, add value to your contacts by periodically providing helpful information or advice instead of just pitching business.
- When to stop following up — Consider the value of the eventual sale. If your potential client is likely to spend only a small amount, only a few personal contacts may be appropriate. But when the possible sale is large, keep following up indefinitely.
- Tracking your follow-up — Capture every potential client or referral source in some type of contact management system, where you can record when and how you make each contact. That’s the only way you’ll know when it’s time to follow up again.
Working on developing your follow-up skills and tools will be time well spent, but it’s not the whole picture. You also need to pay attention to the art of follow-up in order for it to succeed.
Here’s how to make your follow-up more artful:
- Find the right mindset — Before you pick up the phone or sit at the keyboard, get your head into a positive space. Gritting your teeth, envisioning failure, or stressing about your need to make a sale are not frames of mind that lead to success. Instead, think about how you can best be of service to the person you are about to contact.
- Notice your attitude — When you notice you are avoiding or delaying follow-up activities, use this as a clue that you haven’t yet found the right mindset. Don’t make the mistake of just thinking you are “too busy” to get it done. Procrastination is a signal that fear, anxiety, or resentment is at work.
- Focus on your prospective clients — The first goal of following up is to build a relationship with your potential client. Closing the sale is a secondary goal that will follow much more easily once you’ve achieved the first one. Keep asking yourself not what you need, but what the other person needs.
- Show respect but not awe — Treat your prospective clients as peers, not as either lords or peons. Respect their time and concerns, and they will do the same for you.
- Demonstrate consistency — Consistent, timely follow-up is professional, not pushy. Your prospective clients are expecting to hear from you; don’t disappoint them. Your performance as a potential service provider may be judged by how well you perform your follow-up… or don’t.
Pay attention to both the art and the skill of follow-up, and you’ll master this essential marketing capacity. And that will bring you the rewards due to such a multi-talented professional.