In business, the follow-up is a fact of life. Now that texting is more common than calling, phone conversations aren’t getting easier for many people. However, phone calls are still an important part of business communication.
When a customer reaches out to you, the way you handle that follow-up call can make or break your relationship with that customer. If it happens enough times, your business will start to suffer. Here are some tried-and-true techniques to improve your follow-up calls and have more effective phone conversations.
Perhaps the single biggest mistake reps make is not establishing a specific date and time for the follow-up call at the end of their initial call.
Vague commitments from the prospects (“call me next week”) or the sales rep (“I’ll send the proposal and follow up in a couple of days”) result in missed calls, voice mail messages, and ultimately a longer sales cycle. All you need to do is simply ask for a follow-up date and time. For instance:
“I’ll be glad to write up the proposal (quote, whatever) and e-mail it to you. And I would like to recommend that we set up Tuesday, the 16th, at say, 8:45 to review it in detail and determine the next steps if any. How does that sound?”
If this is not a good time, recommend another time. If that doesn’t work, get them to establish a time and date. Creating a deadline is a simple but extremely powerful tactic. Use it.
Here’s another huge tip. After every call to a first-time prospect, send a thank you card.
Handwrite a message on a small thank you card that simply says, “John, thank you for taking the time speaking with me today. I look forward to chatting with you further on the 16th! Kind regards. . .” No more, no less.
In today’s fast-paced world, a handwritten card tells the client that you took the time and effort to do something a little different.
At some level, this registers in the client’s mind and creates a degree of “equity” in you. It differentiates you and it gets remembered. And it gives the client a reason to be there when you make a follow-up call.
If you don’t think a card will get there in time, send an email with the same note. Just be aware that an email does not have nearly the same impact as a handwritten note.
The day before your follow up call, send an email to your prospect to remind them of your appointment.
In the subject line enter the word: “Telephone appointment for August 16th and article of interest.” Note that the subject line acts as a reminder but it is vague enough that the prospect will probably open it. There is a hint that maybe the date and time have changed.
Your email should confirm the date and time of the appointment and then briefly list your agenda:
“John, the call should only take 10 minutes. We’ll review the proposal and I’ll answer any questions. And then we’ll determine the next steps if any.”
Notice how the words echo the words that were used when the follow up was initially set. In particular, notice the trigger phrase “…the next steps, if any.” The “if any” will help reduce some of the stress or concern a first-time prospect might have.
Often they skip out on the follow-up call because they are worried that they’ll have to make a commitment. This is natural and okay. If the prospect senses an easy, informal, no pressure type of phone call, he is more likely to show up on time for that call.
Notice in the subject line there is a reference to an article. At the end of your email add a P.S. that says,
“John, in the meantime, here’s an article I thought you might enjoy regarding. . .”
The article may be about your industry, the market, a product, or better yet, something non-business related that you discussed in your initial call. This creates tremendous value even if the client does not open it.
Why? Because you took the time to do something extra. This helps get you remembered and gives the client yet another reason to take your follow-up call.
Of course, this means you have to do some homework. Start looking on the web for articles of interest and value relative to your market, industry, etc. Keep a file of these articles because they can be used over and over again.
Don’t start your relationship on the wrong foot. Call on time. Never, ever be late with your follow up call. Not even by a minute. The promptness and respect you show on a follow-up call reflect on you, your company, and your products.
Here is where so many telesales reps stumble and fall. Here some of the classics follow up opening statements blunders:
“I was calling to follow up on the proposal.”
“I am calling to see if you had any questions.’
“I just wanted to make sure you got my email.”
“The reason for my follow up was to see if you had come to a decision.”
It is not that these opening statements are poor but rather it’s that they’re routine and commonplace. They do nothing to position you or differentiate you. What this really means is that you are perceived as yet another run of the mill vendor looking for a sale. You need a little more pizzazz.
There are 4 simple steps to creating that pizzazz. First, introduce yourself using your full name. Second, give your company name. Okay, so far it’s pretty obvious, but step #3 is where you differentiate yourself.
Remind your client what prompted the follow-up call in the first place. This means going back to your initial cold call and reminding the client of the “pain” or the “gain” that was discussed or hinted at in your previous call. For instance,
“Debbie, this is Michael Powers calling from ABC Educom. Debbie, when we spoke last week you had two concerns. First, you indicated that you were concerned about having your current online training program renewed automatically before you had a chance to review it in detail, and second, that there were several modules whose content was questionable.”
Michael reminds Debbie why she agreed to this call. He does this because he knows that clients are busy; that they forget; or that the urgency of last week may not seem so urgent this week. So he scratches at the scab. Remind your client of the irritation and then move on to Step #4, the agenda:
What I would like to recommend at this stage are two things. First, we review those modules that have you so concerned, and second, we’ll take a closer look at the current contract. Then we’ll determine the next steps, if applicable. How does that sound?
Clients like a clear, concise agenda. They want a vendor who is organized and doesn’t waste their time. They want someone to take control and move the call forward. This gives them confidence.
Finally, notice how the rep repeats a theme that he established in the first call and in his follow up email. He indicates that they will “determine the next steps if applicable.” It’s a nice touch and reduces client resistance.
If you follow this formula, about 70% of the time the client is there. But, that leaves 30% who are not for one reason or another. If the prospect is not there, leave a message so that he knows YOU called on time. Say,
“Hi Debbie, it’s ____ from ________ calling for our 8:45 appointment. Sounds like you might be tied up for a few moments. I’ll call in 10 minutes if I haven’t heard from you. In the meantime, my number is ______”
Next, call in 10 minutes. Exactly. If the prospect is still not there leave another message:
“Hi Debbie, it’s ___ from ___, following up on our 8:45 appointment. Looks like you’re still tied up. Please give me a call when you’re free at —– —–, otherwise, I will call you later this morning or early this afternoon.”
So far you’ve been persistent without being a pest. Now, give the prospect a chance to call. A good rule of thumb is half a day. Four hours is plenty of time and space for the prospect to call you and more importantly, it doesn’t make you look desperate or annoying. Here’s what you can say,
“Debbie, it’s _____ from ________I called a couple of times today but as of yet, we have not been able to connect. When we last spoke you were concerned about the contract expiry date and the content of some of the modules. I‘m sure you don’t want that date to come and go…So, my number is _______.”
Notice how the rep reminds the client of the call but does not make her feel guilty or embarrassed by using the phrase “. . . but as of yet, we have not been able to connect.”
Also, notice that the rep reminds the client about their early talks and the “pain” the prospect was experiencing. In effect, he wants Debbie to think, “Oh…yeah…that contract is nagging me…I better get back to him.”
If that doesn’t work make four more follow-up calls but space them three business days apart. This shows persistence but the calls are spread far enough apart that the client doesn’t feel like she’s being stalked.
If there’s no response by then, you probably won’t get one but at least you took a good stab at it.
Having solid follow up strategies and tactics will separate you from the dozens of other sales reps who call the same prospects as you. This gives you a distinctive edge. Make the most of your follow-up calls and watch your sales grow.
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Written By: Jim Domanski