Follow-up: Why Is It So Hard?


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Follow Up Tips for Sales Professionals

It’s happened to the best of us, whether as customers, prospects, partners, business associates, employees, relatives, or friends: a lack of follow-up. Either we need to get back to someone, or someone owes us something, and it never comes. Why does this happen? Why are we faced with so many interactions in which the people involved do not do what they said they would?

It is baffling to see how often follow-up failure happens. What causes it – is it us or is it them?

Lessons From Two Business Exchanges

Here are two recent follow-up issues that I encountered, which compelled me to write about how we can respond to them.

1) A potential business partner contacted me on LinkedIn with a very clever introduction. This contact referenced a recent article and was interested in my thoughts. I responded that I wanted to have a conversation. After our initial phone meeting, we both acknowledged that our conversation was helpful, and we agreed to next steps. The first follow up was professional. My contact sent a recap of our conversation, with action items including a request to accept a new LinkedIn Connection. I accepted.

One item required follow up on my part – which I sent. Two more action items required follow-up from my contact. One was to confirm a time to meet – which was my contact’s suggestion. That was 6 months ago. I never heard from this potential partner again.

Sadly, I had a prospective customer for their service. My customer eventually chose a more reliable partner. This new connection could have been nurtured into a mutually beneficial relationship. Instead, the contact has not only made a bad impression, but laid the groundwork for a bad reputation.

2) A business associate contacted me to introduce a company he had formed. He was excited to tell me about his new venture. I knew this acquaintance indirectly through a close business associate I had worked with in the past. I told him I would be interested in learning more about his new venture. I never heard back from him in person. However, I did start receiving newsletter-like emails, apparently part of a nurturing campaign.

It struck me as odd to nurture someone who is willing to have a conversation with you. Isn’t that the goal of nurturing?

These are two among many stories about follow-up failures. You probably have several of your own you could reference. These prompt me to think of some pro-active steps we can take to put ourselves in the driver’s seat when it comes to actually getting a promised callback, or having a plan of our own if a promised call never comes.

Two Kinds of Follow up Offers, and How To Manage Them
There are two kinds of offers to follow up: implicit (suggested but not plainly expressed) and explicit (stated clearly and in detail, leaving no room for confusion or doubt).

An implicit follow-up offer lacks a timeframe: “I’ll talk to you in a few weeks.” An explicit offer might be: “I will call you next week.”

Here are a few tips on following up in each case.

When you make an explicit offer to follow up, always do it. It’s professional and gives people a good impression of you. It sends a message that you are reliable and conscientious. Don’t forget, or do it on a different day than promised. Don’t think it’s not important to follow up. Whether you do what you say you will do says a lot about you in many ways.

A customer may make an implicit offer to follow up with you. Carefully turn this into an explicit offer from you to call them.
Of two call back scenarios in sales, one happens when you say you will reconnect; the other happens when the prospect suggests they will call you back.

In this second scenario, why not take the bull by the horns?

It’s common for the prospect to try to take control by suggesting they get back to you. This could happen after you’ve had a conversation, delivered a proposal or attempted to close the deal. It is important to respect your prospective client’s wishes and give them space. This can be a stall tactic, of course. It is also a familiar tactic to dodge a commitment and perhaps drop off your radar.

To address it, agree with your prospect their decision to get back to you works fine. After acknowledging that they need time, let them know that you will also follow up just in case they get busy when they planned to get back to you. You may say something like: “That’s fine I understand you need time. When do you anticipate getting back to me?”

If you get an explicit timeframe, confirm this with your answer:

“Great I look forward to hearing from you [at the stated time]. Would you like to put that on the calendar to remind us both?”
They may say agree to schedule your next conversation on the calendar. Tell them you look forward to hearing from them then.

If they don’t know when they’ll get back to you, you have this option:

“That’s fine. If I don’t hear from you by when should I give you a call?”
Your prospect will usually suggest a timeframe, such as a week, two weeks or a month. Agree:

“That’s great if I don’t hear from you by then, I’ll follow up.”
In most cases in sales the obligation is really on the salesperson to follow up. Follow up when you say you will up and do what you promised. It builds relationships and trust.

There is nothing more annoying or unprofessional than working with a person who does not keep their word. Simple follow up is crucial to making sales and building a good reputation.

Elisa Ciarametaro
Elisa Ciarametaro is an Inside Sales Strategist and Principal of Exceed Sales in New York, NY. Sales and marketing executives work with Elisa to create strategies, inside sales teams and outbound prospecting initiatives that exceed prior results. Companies gain reliable market intelligence, well-qualified leads, more profitable pipelines and more accurate revenue forecasting. She's been repeatedly named among 50 Most Influential People in Sales Lead Management by the Sales Lead Management Association.


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