Picture this: You’ve aced the first sales meeting and left a positive impression on your potential customer. You eloquently presented your offering, addressed their pain points, and conveyed the value of your solution. But what happens next? The follow-up: a critical component of the sales process that many sales professionals have the tendency to overlook.
While that first encounter holds tremendous significance, it’s the follow-up that keeps the conversation alive, nurtures the relationship, and solidifies your position as a trusted advisor. Read on for seven strategies that can nudge your perfect sales pitch closer to a sealed deal.
1. Agree Upon a Follow-Up Plan in Advance
Figuring out when to best follow up with potential clients is key. According to Amy Sklar, Chief Growth Officer at Content Marketing Partners [Disclosure: American Express is a client of Content Marketing Partners], the single best thing a salesperson can do to get the timing right and ensure the follow-up lands is to agree upon a next step in advance. The idea here is to set up the next shot as you’re wrapping up your first interaction. This means taking a moment at the end of your first meeting to confirm your understanding of:
- The prospect’s timeframe and, implicitly, their sense of urgency (or lack thereof).
- How your offerings are prioritized relative to their broad goals.
- Whether there are dependencies that could make your solution more or less applicable.
Here’s a sample of how a follow-up planning conversation might go:
“It sounds like once you get past that trade show, you’ll have a better sense of whether the new product introduction will still be prioritized, is that right? Great, can we aim to speak a couple of days after you get back? That’s Thursday the 15th – is there a time that day that works best?”
Then wait and listen, suggests Sklar. “If there’s any hesitation to scheduling a follow-up meeting right then, something isn’t quite aligned and you need to go back a step in the conversation.”
2. Follow Up Quickly – But Not Too Quickly
While having an agreed upon next step is best, there will still be plenty of times you’ll need to follow up without one. In such cases, it might be tempting to reach out immediately. But this can cause the prospect to feel pressured into making a decision, rather than guided. Instead, Sklar suggests allowing some time to elapse.
“Waiting a day or two before sending a follow-up email can give your prospect time to reflect and can increase the response rate,” says Sklar. But don’t wait weeks. At that point, the client may have forgotten about you. If they haven’t, they’ll likely note the lateness.
Sklar also notes the importance of using multiple channels unless you’re aware of the channel the prospect prefers. “This might mean reaching out over LinkedIn rather than email,” for instance. But if the prospect poses a question via any one of these channels, “it’s best to pick up the phone,” says Sklar. “It gives you the opportunity to understand the question’s context and demonstrates your responsiveness.”
“If there’s any hesitation to scheduling a follow-up meeting right then, something isn’t quite aligned and you need to go back a step in the conversation.” —Amy Sklar, Chief Growth Officer, Content Marketing Partners
3. Avoid Being Generic
The generic version of a follow-up email typically includes platitudes like “it was nice to meet you” and “if you have any further questions, feel free to ask.” These aren’t bad expressions per se, but they are clichés that offer little value and actionable information – of course your prospect is free to ask you whatever questions they’d like!
Rather, “every subsequent interaction should aim to add value,” Sklar emphasizes. Aim to reinforce the rapport established during the first meeting and use the follow-up to demonstrate attentiveness to the client’s unique requirements. Show you’ve listened to their concerns and tailor your message accordingly. This personalized approach can showcase your understanding of their needs, position you as a valuable resource, and enhance your ability to build a meaningful connection with your prospect.
For example, refresh the prospect’s memory by attaching a summary of your discussion and key action items. This saves the prospect from having to recollect or refer to notes, making it easier for them to respond.
4. Don’t Be Pushy
Persistence is often key to closing a deal, but being too demanding can give the impression of desperation. Don't bombard them with reasons as to why your business is better than others, and don't tell them that they'd be making a mistake if they choose not to work with you. Potential clients may start to question whether the offering is the best fit for their needs. Sklar suggests slowing down in order to speed up. “Building a genuine relationship with multiple decision makers will help foster a long-term partnership, whereas overly aggressive tactics can be abrasive.”
5. Send Them a Relevant Article or Useful Resource
Think about the meeting and be mindful of any personal tidbits shared. Did the client mention they were looking for a family vacation spot this winter? Send them an interesting article detailing some snowy hidden gems across America. It's thoughtful, and most people feel naturally inclined to respond with a “thank you,” if nothing else.
If the meeting stayed on topic, consider sending a thought-provoking article relevant to their field of business. Sklar suggests a few other ideas as well, such as “offering a connection to someone within your network – maybe even another customer with a similar role, or sharing a success story of a similarly implemented solution.”
6. Instead of Pitching, Prioritize the Call to Action
You already gave your pitch to the prospective client; no need to send them an email describing your business and explaining what it can do for them. Their inbox is probably already full of similar emails anyway. Instead, prioritize the call to action. “Clear, coherent, and consistent writing can help you stand out in crowded digital channels,” says Sklar.
Sample statements that provide direct action without being overly wordy might include:
- “Let’s talk.”
- “Schedule a discovery call.”
- “Check out our pricing options.”
- “Subscribe to our newsletter.”
- “Join our community/online forum.”
The goal is to encourage the prospect to engage further with your offerings or resources so they can gather more information, experience what your product or service has to offer, or stay connected with your business.
7. Understand the Possibilities
When you send a follow-up email to a potential client, there’s always the chance that the client expresses disinterest or doesn't respond. This is okay, as long as you remember not to rely on their business until the deal is finalized. Banking on uncertain outcomes can put the business in a tricky position, particularly if the deal falls through.
In such cases, drop any temptation to take it personally. Sklar encourages ending things on a polite, friendly note. “Otherwise, you risk burning bridges,” she says. “You want to leave the door open for future interactions. This could mean offering support, providing ways to stay in touch professionally, or simply expressing gratitude for their time and consideration.”
The Bottom Line
You’ve attracted potential customers. The next step is to keep those prospects engaged. The post-meeting follow-up is key to building the lasting connections that drive your business forward, but it’s easier said than done. An effective follow-up is a strategic dance that combines timely communication, personalized interactions, thoughtful content, and a clear call to action.
A version of this article was originally published on July 25, 2012.
Photo: Getty Images