Say What? The “When” and the “What to Say” of Following Up

I can now say that I have spoken in front of thousands of sales professionals and entrepreneurs across the United States. As I look back on those many speaking engagements, there are a few questions that I receive regularly after events:

#1.  How soon should I follow up after I meet someone to set an appointment?
#2.  What should I say when I follow up?
#3.  When should I follow up again?

Let me answer #1 and #3 first because they are the easiest.

Regarding the first question, the answer is always, “NOW.”  You should follow up as soon as you can after meeting someone. There’s no waiting period.  Somewhere along the line we made up the idea that we should wait before we follow up with someone. But it’s not like dating. What are we really waiting for anyway?

The truth is our prospect is already judging us and if we don’t follow up immediately, they are going to think we don’t have our “stuff” together or we really don’t want to do business with them. As a result, they are going to move on to find someone else to help them. So follow up NOW.

The answer to the third question regarding how many times you should follow up can be found in statistics.  Statistics tell us that we need to follow up more than five times to close a sale.  Some statistics say more, some say less, but I think five is a good average.  The real answer is that you need to follow up until you get a yes, a no or a next step. Yes, it’s that simple. (I hear you; easier said than done.)  After Sales Camp, I’ve had clients tell me that they followed up 7-11 times to close the sale. I had a sales rep a long time ago who followed up with the training director of a Fortune 500 company at least 100 times. I’m not joking. But guess what? He got the business.

The first step is to set an appointment. That’s the first follow up you will make to close the sale, right?

Now, let’s move on to the real reason you are still reading. You are wondering what in the heck you should say when you follow up 7-11 times to just land an appointment. What could you possibly have to say that you didn’t say before?

The thing to remember is that sales conversations unfold over time.  Typically, the less complicated the sale is, the fewer times you have to follow up to get an appointment. In fact, I have some clients who are committed to only doing a “one-call close” and that’s it. They’re done and they move on to the next person. They make one call to set the appointment and they schedule one appointment to close the sale.  I definitely don’t advise this as a strategy for most people because usually the sales process takes a few more steps, especially if you aren’t brimming with confidence.  But the top 10% of sales professionals have shortened their sales cycles and tightened it up as much as they possibly can. For some of them it means they can close in one follow up call and one appointment. It might take them 90 minutes during the sales meeting, but they will get it done.

The rest of the world needs a few more conversations. But we have to begin by setting an appointment. That’s where it all starts.  So let’s break it down.

The key is to realize that YOU control the follow up process. The second you give your power over to someone else to control the follow up process, you’ve most likely already lost the sale.   The best time to follow up is before you have to.  How is that possible? Easy.  Let’s imagine that you are at a networking meeting talking to someone and they seem very interested in your product or service. Rather than just exchanging business cards and saying, “Great, I’ll follow up with you next week to schedule a time to meet” (don’t do that), instead say, “Fantastic, I’d love to talk with you more about how I can help you with ________.  Let’s pull out our calendars right now and schedule a time to meet.”

Done. And guess what? Now you don’t have to follow up to set the appointment. It’s already done.

But wait, I hear you, you didn’t do that and now you have a pile of business cards sitting on your desk begging to be followed up with.  And that phone feels like it weighs 800 lbs. I get it.  But don’t give up. This is your opportunity to still get that appointment.

5 Easy Steps to Still Get the Appointment:

1. First, pick up the 800 lb. phone and dial the number. When they answer, keep breathing. Remind them who you are and where you met.

2. Then, remind them why they were interested in the first place and tell them a recent success story regarding how you helped someone just like them recently and the results that client experienced.

3. Next, go for it. Go straight in and ask for the appointment by offering them two times when YOU are available to meet.

4. Breathe. Don’t say anything. This will be hard for you, I know, but keep your lips sealed. They need a moment to look at their calendar and they don’t need you to start talking and talk them straight out of an appointment (I know, it happens).

5. Once they agree, thank them, and hang up. If they can’t make the times you suggested, then give them two more times.

6. Go above and beyond and send them a reminder email, but DO NOT tell them to “let you know if they need to cancel.”  That’s like giving them a free cancellation ticket.

Sales professionals and entrepreneurs are the most courageous people I have ever met. I know it takes tremendous courage to pick up the phone and then to keep picking it up.  If it were easy, everyone would be in sales or owning their own company and making a ton of money. But it’s not easy in the beginning. It takes commitment, practice and a bit of insanity.

Now, let’s imagine that you make the call and it feels like it goes horribly south.  Keep in mind that YOU aren’t your prospects top priority, so it’s very possible that he or she is actually really busy in that moment, or in the middle of a meeting, or whatever they tell you. Simply tell them you will call them back and then when you do, say the exact same thing you said before until they choose a time to meet with you or give an unbelievably great reason why they will never meet with you.

Whatever you do, don’t give up.  Keep going. I believe Napoleon Hill when he tells us that we are all just “three feet from gold.”  There are hundreds and thousands of people who will say yes to you if given the chance.  And, there are hundreds and thousands of people who will say yes to you if you follow up enough times.