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Sales Tips: Are You Following Up or Fouling Up?

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants, and solopreneurs.

Learn the difference!

Learn the difference!

Persistent or Pest?

I went to a business lunch where people in my industry were invited to chat about sales and marketing. At the event, one gentleman told the story of how he called on a prospective client every month for something like three years before they became a customer. If it was a monthly call, that's around 36 calls. And these calls apparently were in person. So was the salesperson just being persistent or a pest? (Weigh in on the poll included here.)

A follow-up, the process of connecting and moving the sales process closer to a close, is a necessary element of selling success. However, many salespeople follow up so much or in such an annoying manner that they are actually fouling up and driving away sales.

Grinding away at getting prospects to buy may have worked in the past. But not now. Daniel Pink's book, To Sell is Human, provides an excellent discussion of today's selling environment.

Interestingly, though the sales landscape has changed quite dramatically over the years, ineffective follow-up tactics have not. Here's what's happening . . .

7 Deadly Fouled Up Followup Sins

Here are some common ways salespeople foul up as they proceed through the selling process with customers:

  1. "Did You Forget About Me?" These intrepid salespeople call or email the customer over and over again, hoping that on the next contact the customer will magically say yes. In the back of their minds, they're thinking that customers may have just forgotten about them or their offer. In reality, that is probably true. People are overwhelmed at home and the job. But here's the kicker: If customers are really interested, they don't forget even if they don't act right away. So if a salesperson's presentation or offer is forgotten, it probably isn't compelling enough for prospects to make a buying decision. Emotionally, that is a tough fact for many in sales to swallow. Time to forget the forgetters and move on.
  2. Not Properly Qualifying. Not being able to qualify the tire kickers from the truly qualified causes many salespeople to incessantly follow up with all the wrong leads that are going nowhere.
  3. Presuming All Sales are Good Sales. Some salespeople and businesses cling to every sales lead, regardless if it is impossible to service or not. They've presumed that any and all sales are good sales. So they drone on with their never-ending follow-up, chasing business that they'd be better off leaving behind.
  4. Just Making the Numbers. Other salespeople really don't care whether a sale closes or not. They just need to make the required number of sales lead follow-up calls to keep their jobs intact.
  5. Not Talking to the Real Decisionmaker. Similar to those who cannot distinguish qualified from unqualified leads, some salespeople slog through a pool of contacts, none of which has any decision-making authority. They'll contact these folks over and over again, hoping that one day they'll get introduced to the check-signing bigwigs. What they fail (or refuse) to recognize is that these useless contacts are the gatekeepers, keeping the sales riffraff from getting through. What often trips up these people is that the gatekeepers may give the impression that they have more authority than they really do.
  6. Busy Work. Unproductive follow-up activities can make salespeople feel like they're doing something. But in sales, all that matters is making sales. Time to quit following up on leads that aren't closing and look for some greener pastures (the cash greener kind).
  7. Unable to Identify Customer Signals. Some clueless salespeople just can't read customers buying—or non-buying—signals. So they keep up their fruitless quest for dead or dying leads.

Why Salespeople Foul Up

If these behaviors are so annoying, why do salespeople act this way? One big reason: Fear. Fear of what?

  • Fear of Losing Sales. This is obvious. They're afraid of not making their numbers or being unsuccessful. So they keep hammering away at the leads they have, even though they might be better advised to find more profitable and productive prospects.
  • Fear of Losing Control of the Sale. After salespeople make their best offers and presentations, the sales process is out of their control and is in the customer's court. This is a painful reality for many in sales. So to feel like they're still in control, they incessantly hound every lead they get until customers either quit communicating with them or give in to the sale in hopes of making them go away. Note the term "give in," not "buy-in."

Tips for Ditching the Followup Frenzy

To help keep follow-up from driving both salespeople and customers crazy, keep these tips in mind:

  • Ask What's Appropriate. If an offer is made and the sale is not closed immediately, the sales process is really in the customer's court. Ask the customer what would be an appropriate follow-up interval to check on progress. Also confirm the customer's preferred follow-up method, whether a meeting, phone call or email. For online sales, this would most likely be entirely completed via email. Then keep to the plan and follow up!
  • Decide When to Quit Following. Some leads will just not close for a variety of reasons, even after proper qualification and follow-up are done. Make a decision at what point a sales lead will be considered dead. This could be after a certain time interval or after a specific number of follow-up efforts. Chasing leads that will not close wastes time and can erode a company's sales and profit picture.
  • Find a Way to Keep in Touch with Qualified Leads who are Not Ready to Buy Right Now. There are some prospects that are ideal, but just aren't currently in a position to pull the trigger on a sale. For these qualified prospects, keep in contact in less aggressive ways such as email marketing, social media or direct mail. This keeps the brand and the selling company in top of mind awareness for when they are ready to buy.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2014 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 15, 2014:

Hi Elizabeth/epbooks! We've all been there with a totally annoying, pushy salesperson. Chances are they're that way in their personal relationships, too. Ugh!

Like you, if I'm really interested, I definitely want to keep hearing from those salespeople and vendors. And, likely, they don't need to resort to these pushy techniques to get you to buy.

Thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation! Have a great week!

Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on April 14, 2014:

Another wonderful hub. I love the part about being "Unable to Identify Customer Signals." I went to the store the other day and the saleswoman stopped me in the aisle, seriously like blocking me in, to ask if I wanted to sign up for a credit card. I was in a rush and said no thank you and she continued to ask me why, not letting me out of the aisle! She should have been able to read my signals loud and clear, but yet she persisted. It is great to be assertive, but to many the persistent sales approach that is over the top may actually help lose a sale.

On the other hand, I never mind if a salesperson keeps calling If I'm the one who says "please try back another time, etc." But if I give a flat out no, I expect them to back off.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 08, 2014:

Grand Old Lady, you've used a great example to which I can definitely relate. Because some folks have really, really good info and offers to share, I don't mind a little bit more frequency. Luckily, these days we can opt out of those emails that cross that line of being too frequent. And you're right, email is definitely a more "soft sell" approach than phone calling which is interrupts and annoys. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us! Have a lovely day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 08, 2014:

So, so true, FlourishAnyway! Striking the right balance can be challenging with some audiences. But using oneself as a measure, think of how you'd like to be treated in a marketing environment. It's interesting that some sales and marketing folks hate being marketed to in the same manner they use with their customers. That whole "do unto others..." bit works here, too. Thanks for reading and adding to the conversation, as always! Have a great day!

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on April 07, 2014:

i have experienced annoying followups where you feel you are being called so many times a day just because you made an inquiry. On the other hand, I also get emails from people who remind me of their business offers but who I'm okay with.

One example is a Filipino who gives web seminars to further your online career. He is very helpful in his online free web seminars, gives you useful information. and is always very positive. Because there is real value shared in his webinars and the person doesn't make you feel they are just trying to sell a product, he has great credibility with me. for this reason, my husband and I have paid and enrolled in some of his live seminars.

Through the years he continues to send me email, and I don't mind because they always are positive and encouraging and you feel they want you to live well, whether or not you become a paying client.

Lately, I am working on a project that will benefit by attending one of his teaching seminars and I'm willing to pay for it. I'm saying here, that by sending email that makes you feel you are a human being and not a sales prospect, a relationship is built and deals are closed. I've also referred him to people who need help and can benefit from the service he offers.

So, the approach you use matters, just as much as persistence. At least, that was the case with this one guy who stood up above the crowd because he is more personal in his approach.

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 07, 2014:

This was spot on. There is a fine line between being persistent and being annoying!