It’s Not about the Sales Process; It’s about the Follow Up!

by Tom Grandy

Ok, the title is a bit misleading. The sales process is important and anyone in sales needs to know at least the basics of the sales process. Agreed, however, the closing rate is also heavily dependent on follow up, or the lack of it.

I was the general manager of a trades company for many years. Sales people would come by the office on a somewhat regular basis. Some were scheduled while others simply “dropped by”. Each would make their sales presentation, usually taking a significant amount of my time. At the conclusion of their presentation they would leave, often without asking for the sale. More than a few times I was actually interested in what they had to offer but a seemingly strange thing consistently happened, they never called back! I guess the assumption, from the sales person’s perspective, was that if I was really interested I would call them. Wrong! Remember I was the general manager, like many reading this article. My days were structured much like yours. I was putting out fires all day long. Sure, I should have contacted the sales person if I was really interested but I was busy, really busy. After a few days, or a week, I would simply forget about the product or service. The potential sale, from an interested customer, was lost. Why, lack of follow up.

Let me define follow up from my perspective. Follow up is the consistent, planned contact with a potential customer that is only concluded when the customer responds in one of two ways. The first acceptable conclusion comes when the customer accepts the offer and the work is scheduled. The second is when the customer “tells” the sales person they either have selected someone else or they have decided not to have the work done. It is not concluded when the sales person “assumes” the customer is not interested and stops making contact.

When an individual, distributor, manufacturer, or association has expressed an interest in using our services we have an unwritten but fully understood rule. We continue to make contact until they either schedule a program or onsite overview, or they decide not to use us. No, we DO NOT pester the potential customer. At the conclusion on each contact we simply ask a straight forward question. “Joe, or Sally, when would be a good time to touch base with you without bothering you?” That simple question reveals a lot about their interest level…..and their answer often surprises me.

Not Interested – If the company or organization is not really interested they will, in a nice way, suggest that they get in touch with me if they are interested. That soft no is highly acceptable. If the interest is not there I don’t want to waste their time or mine.

Setting the Next Follow Up Call – If they are interested they will simply respond by saying “Why don’t you call me next Tuesday, in a couple of weeks, or months from now.” At the conclusion of the call I make notes in our customer database about our conversation and then “schedule” the follow up call. The notes are recorded because I talk to dozens of people each week. The notes serve as a reminder of our last conversation which I can review prior to my contacting them.

The Surprise Response! – We all know “assuming” can get us in trouble but most of us do it anyway. As a trained salesperson it’s easy to become confident about where the potential client is within the sales process. When I ask the question about when a good time would be to call back I have often assumed the customer would say a few weeks or perhaps I should touch base in a month or two. Guess what? Sometimes I am wrong! Instead of putting me off for a couple more weeks they sometimes respond with. “We have actually been discussing this or that. Why don’t you give me a call next Tuesday.” I then assure them I will call back as scheduled. When I hang up the phone I take a deep breath and break into my happy dance with the knowledge that the sale is about to be closed.

Like your company, Grandy & Associates is seldom the customer’s number one priority. It’s not that the customer isn’t interested; it’s that they are busy with 28 other things that are more important in their world……but have nothing to do with us. I can honestly tell you that well over 90% of the work we schedule comes because we followed up as opposed to the customer taking time out of their busy schedule to call us.

Follow up calls also say something else to the customer. First of all, the follow up calls tell the customer you are interested. If the customer has received three bids, the company that calls back is indirectly telling them they want to do the work. On the other side of the coin, if you don’t call back the customer assumes you are either not interested and/or are too busy to do their work.

How do you feel when you get a follow up call from a contractor? You probably feel “special” since the vast majority of the trades industry does NOT follow up. When the sales person calls back as scheduled customers are often amazed! That one bit of integrity can often close a sale.

As long as the customer allows you to continue to make follow up calls within the time periods they specify it means they are still interested in having you do the work. Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease so be sure you are a polite but squeaky, wheel.

Let me close with a couple important comments.

Do Not Leave A Voice Message – If the customer is not there, or is unavailable, DO NOT leave a voice message. Messages are much too easy to ignore.

Do Not Leave Your Name and Phone Number – If you are in sales and making follow up calls, chances are you are talking to dozens of people a day. If you leave your name and number and the customer actually does call back (which is seldom), it is often difficult to remember who that customer is and what their specific needs are. Not recalling details right off the bat can make the sales person sound uninterested. The customer is thinking “Gee, he asked me to call him back and he can’t even remember who I am!” It’s best to review their file before you talk with them so all the details are fresh in your mind. If the person on the other end asks for your name and number simply say “I am going to be in and out of the office the rest of the day. When would a good time for me to call back?”

By the way, follow up is not limited to sales. The same principle applies to collections. If the customer has not paid their bill there is a reason for it. Normally the foundational problem is that the customer has more bills than money. Who gets paid first? Right, it’s the company that routinely follows up!

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