Sales Tips: Are You Following Up or Fouling Up?
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 followup, 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.
Interestingly, though the sales landscape has changed quite dramatically over the years, ineffective followup tactics have not. Here's what's happening . . .
The Followup Fallacy
7 Deadly Fouled Up Followup Sins
Here are some common ways salespeople foul up as they proceed through the selling process with customers:
- "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.
- 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.
- Presuming All Sales are Good Sales. Some salespeople and businesses cling to every sales lead, regardless if it is one that 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 followup, chasing business that they'd be better off leaving behind.
- 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 followup calls to keep their jobs intact.
- Not Talking to the Real Decisionmaker. Similar to those who cannot distinguish the qualified from unqualified leads, some salespeople slog through a pool of contacts, none of which has any decisionmaking 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.
- Busy Work. Unproductive followup 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).
- 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 of dead or dying leads.
What do you think of the salesperson's tactics in the opening story?
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 followup 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 followup interval to check on progress. Also confirm customer's preferred method of followup, whether that be 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 followup 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 followup 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