Doing a good job at follow-up is a piece of cake. You just capture every lead or potential referral partner you run across, then place a call, send an email, or both. If you don’t make a sale right away, you calendar them for the next follow-up and do the same thing again. Pretty straightforward, isn’t it? So why is follow-up such a problem? Here are the four most common reasons, and what you can do about them.

Simple vs easy

1. Prioritization. With an activity that you must initiate, it’s easy to let other tasks come first: responding to incoming calls and mail, reading what drifts into your inbox or crosses your desk, going to meetings and conferences, and oh yes, doing the client work you get paid for.

If you don’t set aside reserved time for follow-up, it will never happen. Block out a specific time on your calendar each week to review every lead or referral source you have and determine what sort of follow-up might be appropriate. Then treat that time as sacred. If you absolutely must work on something else during your follow-up time, don’t cancel it — reschedule it, just as you would a client.

2. Disorganization. Business cards, email and text messages, social media interactions, and scraps of paper on your desk do not constitute a contact management system. Without accurate records of who you have contacted, when, and what your last interaction was about, effective follow-up is impossible.

Start now to designate one place where you store details about potential clients and referral sources. This could be a true contact management system like Salesforce or Insightly, a simple contact manager such as Google Contacts or the address book on your favorite device, an Excel spreadsheet, or even a notebook. For each of your contacts, note a category (e.g., “hot lead,” “former client,” “potential referral source”) and the last date you were in touch. This will make it easy to determine when it’s time to make contact again, and why.

3. Resistance. Do you find yourself saying, “I shouldn’t have to do this? I’m good at what I do. Why aren’t prospective clients calling me?” You are sabotaging yourself with this line of thinking. Professionals much more established than you are follow up with their potential clients routinely. It’s one of the ways they got established.

Regular follow-up does not make people think you don’t have enough business; it makes them see you as a professional businessperson. When they hear from you regularly, you appear competent, focused, and reliable — exactly the impression you want them to have.

4. Fear. “If I follow up that lead, I might be rejected,” reasons the voice in your head. “So I’ll avoid the pain by not making that contact in the first place.” The reality is that if you don’t follow up, failure is no longer just possible, it’s almost certain!

The thought of making follow-up calls can be even more paralyzing than cold calling. After all, these are people you already believe need your services. Maybe you’ve already talked or sent some information. You’ve invested something or made a personal connection, so now if you hear no, the rejection really feels personal.

What you have to remember is that rejection is not about you. This is a business transaction. Your prospective clients are deciding whether to spend their own or their company’s money. The factors that go into a decision like this are innumerable. Here are some actual reasons people with a strong need for the service being offered have refused to buy or bought from a competitor:

  • Decided to take a Hawaiian vacation instead
  • Competing bid was from cousin’s boyfriend
  • Getting divorced
  • Company going bankrupt
  • Didn’t want to take money out of a savings account to pay for it
  • Boss doesn’t want headquarters to know there’s a problem
  • Liked the competitor’s logo
  • Project was tabled until next year

None of these reasons are about you. When a potential client tells you a competitor was chosen because they “had more experience,” the message is that the company hires only people with strong experience in its own industry. This is not about you. If you are told the competition “came well recommended,” the prospective client is choosing to do business with the friend of a colleague. It’s not about you. When you hear that the other side’s bid was lower, it means the buyer values price over quality. Also not about you.

Whatever is getting in the way of your follow-up, make a commitment to identify it and resolve it. You’re working hard to fill your pipeline with potential clients and referral sources. Don’t waste all that effort by not following through.

This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated for 2023.

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