You simply cannot underestimate the importance of an effective follow-up strategy as part of your on-going business development process. Preparing properly for meetings is essential but, in all reality, if you’re not going follow through on the various actions agreed in a timely and professional manner, and then maintain regular contact to progress the relationship, one could argue there was little point attending the meeting in the first place.
As a specialist provider of telemarketing and new business development solutions to the construction, built environment and industrial markets, we have seen first-hand the positive impact a structured follow-up process has in terms of improving overall sales effectiveness, return on investment and incremental sales growth. And likewise, the negative impact on the above if it’s not done effectively and consistently.
Follow up itself can take on many forms, from the obvious post-meeting actions being taken in a timely manner through to the longer-term development of good prospect relationships.
Given the stressful and ‘right here, right now’ demands placed on most sales people it’s easy to understand how good initial prospects are lost or left to drift when there’s not an immediate, short term requirement in play. This is particularly true in more technical/complex sales scenarios or, where there is a long sales cycle involved – as is the case for many of our clients.
I think of a client review meeting mid 2017 when we were reviewing a full 12-months activity. I won’t go in to specifics but when boiled down, only 20% of the opportunities that had been created were being actively pursued. These were opportunities where there was potential for an ‘order’ in the short to medium term. Almost everything else was left idle. Given that every opportunity created in the preceding 12-month period met the criteria agreed and the feedback from the client was extremely positive, ONLY 20% OF THE OPPORTUNITIES WERE BEING ACTIVELY WORKED.
This, quite frankly, is criminal. It’s not the fault of the sales person per se, we all know there are only so many hours in the day and we all have to prioritise where we spend our time. However, if we’re thinking about ROI, which we always do at Results, you have to say that your chances of securing the best possible return on this investment are seriously hindered if you only pursue 20% of the output you’ve paid for. Of course, the same would be true if you were developing these opportunities in-house or via any other form of ‘marketing’.
Clearly something needed to change in this situation. We actively pushed this agenda with the client to ensure we could collectively maximise the investment they were making in our services. After all, the better the return the more likely they are to retain our service – selfish but true!
Among the solutions put forward were to 1/ adjust the brief so we were only creating opportunities that were similar to the 20% they were actively progressing, 2/ to adjust our role slightly, so an element of our time was applied to further developing and progressing some of the residual 80% that wasn’t being progressed by the sales team, or 3/ they put a process in place to carry out this task internally.
Option 2 was the agreed approach, and it was a wise decision.
When you think about it it’s perfectly logical. Unless you work in a highly transactional market, people are unlikely to buy from you or specify your product on the back of one meeting. Chances are this won’t be the first time they’ve had to buy or specify this type of product/service, and therefore it’s going to take a little time, effort and perseverance before you can expect them to move away from what they’re used too – We’re all creatures of habit after all.
Unless of course what you offer is so ridiculously differentiated in the market that as soon as they see what you can offer they’re converted. This message won’t apply to you lucky people…..
Another option is to add these prospects to some sort of mailing or marketing list. This is something I’ve seen a lot and, whilst I agree that it’s important to proactively ‘market’ to your prospects, I am of the belief that when it comes to building relationships and ‘selling’, you really can’t beat direct engagement in the form of a conversation. If done correctly this ‘conversation’ will allow a very valuable two-way exchange of information that a marketing e-mail simply can’t do. You can gather up to date information that improves your understanding of the ‘opportunity’, further build rapport and cement the relationship with the prospect and, gain that all-important permission to follow up with them at a pre-agreed time. There are many tactics that help keep you front of mind with a prospect and they should all be embraced – but in terms of effectiveness, direct dialogue wins on so many levels.
I guarantee that if you are actively engaging the right people in the right organisations, then done properly, a structured follow up process that keeps you engaged with the prospect will significantly increase your sales effectiveness and help you deliver more incremental new business.
These decision makers are used to ‘ambulance chasing’ sales people and can spot the signs a mile away. They can easily see the difference between somebody that just wants an ‘order’ from somebody that is taking a very professional approach to developing a lasting business relationship.
Few do this properly so apart from anything else, it’s a great way to differentiate yourself in the market. And it’s not rocket science either, so there are very few barriers to making this a standard part of your sales process.