Pay-off: how to master the sales follow up and turn ‘no response’ into business
Investment: 10 minutes
So, you’re feeling ignored, and you want to know how to write a follow up email after getting no response from your client?
And presumably, it’s not just any follow up email you want. No, you want one that gets a timely response, whilst also earning you the trust and respect you deserve!
Well, if you action what’s in this article, you’re going to significantly increase your chances of getting a positive response, and feeling good about it too.
It might take you 10 minutes to read this article, but if making sales, winning business or working with new clients that you want to work with is important to you, this is an approach to surely invest 10 minutes towards?
Avoid the silver bullet and earn yourself a result
Please note that this is no silver bullet. If one existed, we’d all close every opportunity we uncovered. I’m not going to pretend that there’s a magic email template that’s guaranteed to work (many articles you’ll find, if you Google, seem to claim they have the sales follow up template that works – and unfortunately most desperate sales people who want a quick fix tend to be looking for such a solution!).
No, if you care enough about your client (and my readers qualify themselves in because they do) you’re going to have to think for yourself, take on board some of the principals I share below, and reconstruct them into a solution that fits your situation.
You’ll earn your well-deserved response! And maybe you’ll have set yourself up to progress and close the deal.
The main problem with email follow up
The main problem with email follow up is that people have an un-helpful mindset that gets them to do the wrong things.
This creates and worsens their problem. It gives the buyer reasons not to respond.
Most people just want a near-immediate response for their own reasons. These people often feel as if they’re owed that response. And so they just keep asking again and again for their response. Usually in the form of, “I’m just checking in to see where you’re at!” (I have witnessed over years on a number of occasions, sales people actually losing their cool and leaving angry voicemails to prospects or clients who didn’t respond.)
That’s their follow up strategy.
The second main problem with email follow up
The second main problem with email follow up is that people assume that email is the right approach.
When perhaps they should be picking up the phone, dropping them an SMS, or interacting with them over Linkedin or Twitter.
Admittedly, this article is titled, “How to write a follow up email..” I’ve called it this because people frequently type this into Google. They are looking for a magic email to solve their problems. It’s less about the medium we use, and more about how we reach and interact with the client in a way that works for them.
The principals we look at can be used in an email, a phone conversation, a voicemail, or even an SMS.
Developing a mindset that earns you trust and respect
OK, let’s start by getting our thinking right. This will then generate useful actions and behaviours.
Since this is more about them than it is about you, let’s get some empathy and stand in their shoes for a bit:
In your life, right now, there are things you want, things you want to avoid, and challenges, pressures, and frustrations getting in your way, right?
In fact, some of these are priorities, linked fully to your stress levels, anticipation, relief, enjoyment and so on.
If someone credible were to put their hand out to help you address these priority challenges in the most efficient, cost-effective, fastest, or most enjoyable way, would they get your attention?
But if they tried to engage you on low priority or irrelevant areas to your life (or things that have since dropped in priority) (can I interest you in this course on flower arranging? Please reply.) would they get your attention?
(OK, unless curiosity takes over and you want to find out if I really linked to a course on flower arranging, maybe then I begin to create a reason for you to act. Or if I put you in a position that has you wondering, if, in fact, I’ve linked to something more exciting? Then it’s possible I’ll get a moment of your interest or attention. Go on, click on the link. Smirk. Then move on remembering that curiosity is a powerful way to help people to act.)
And if, whilst they had your attention, you were made to feel that you should take a small action now to engage them or keep them ‘alive’ as a potential option to solve your priority problem, would you do it?
But if it was unclear on how you should move forwards with them, or it seemed too much like hard work (or made you feel uncomfortable as you didn’t want to be pressured into a decision), would you do it?
You’d probably tell yourself that you’d revisit it later, but in reality, you’d get busy and distracted by other things.
And what if they came across as genuine, helpful, thoughtful, non-pushy, fully customer focused, and relaxed about engaging with you? What if they wanted to meet you where you are at, in your world, helping you with your agenda? Would you respond to them?
But what if they seemed no different to all the other sales people you have to deal with all the time? What if they appeared to be more interested in persuading you to follow their own agenda and time frames? Maybe you’re just another number in their game? Would you respond to them?
You’d feel the need to protect yourself. So you wouldn’t engage. Especially not if their competitor was engaging you in a way that made you feel much better.
So you know what it’s like to be in the position of your client who won’t respond (yet).
Hopefully, this gives us some empathy to work with.
Let’s pick up on some key points here:
We tend to get a response when:
- the interaction progresses an important, urgent (preferably, both) priority of the client
- your offering (or the next phase of your offering) is perceived by them to be credible enough for their unique situation/style
- the interaction to keep things alive and progressing is clear and simple to act upon
- you’ve piqued their curiosity. You’ve potentially got something of interest or value that you’re holding back.
- the client feels that you’re inviting them to progress with you, rather than wanting them to progress with you
On this last point, it’s not about looking like you don’t want to work with them! When they know that you want to work with them, because you’re convinced you’re a great fit and can add value, that can help move things forwards. But when you look like you want their business because you’ve got goals and targets to hit (self-serving), it falls down. “I want YOU to get your result, I believe in what you’re doing and I want to help you achieve that” is a different mindset to, “I want your business.”
8 solid ideas to follow up and get a response in a way that builds trust and respect
Now you understand the mindset we want, here’s are some ideas you can explore and draw upon to tailor your approach.
Note that the first two points should take place before ‘following up’ is even necessary. Get these right, and you may never need to follow up. The subsequent steps help you to follow up from where you’re at right now.
1. Get the fit and alignment right from the very start
Do all you can to increase your chances. Square pegs don’t fit into round holes. You’ll probably find you have to keep banging them hard in frustration (or ‘checking in’ to see if they’re going to budge yet.)
Square pegs fit beautifully though into the right square holes. In fact, they’re made for each other, and the client is likely to sense this. They’ll be chasing you to follow up.
This part of the process is the most complex to get right, and it’s how I spend most of my time helping clients. (Note, I specialise helping non-sales teams to learn how to sell effectively – you can learn more here. But I do plenty too with experienced sales teams helping them to update and refine their approach. If you’re interested to talk, you can reach me here.
There are many things you can do within your control to get the fit right and have both parties understanding that fit. Part of that is knowing what’s important and urgent to them, and understanding how your offerings align with that.
2. Ensure that you are unique and credible enough to help with their priorities in a way that suits them
I’m talking about your USP here, tailored to this client. And your level of rapport, trust and care in your interactions. If you appear to fit personally, you increase your chances (although don’t confuse this with the need to be liked. You don’t need to be ‘liked’ as such. You need to be respected and trusted that you’ll deliver the value you promise. Clients like that.)
Keep in mind too that although the common advice is to ‘always add value at every interaction’, value is in the eye of the beholder. Attaching an article in an attempt to get them to respond to you isn’t a smart move. Flicking over an “I thought you might find this useful” link had better hit the nail on the head, or it just shows them that you don’t know them. You’re better of following the idea in step 5.
3. Clarify that it’s their decision to proceed only if it makes sense to them. (And help it make sense to them.)
Summarise key points that they said about what they want to achieve, and why. Use their words. “You mentioned..” Get them nodding. And nodding some more. Present right back to them the key reasons they gave themselves for progressing this. (Because you were smart enough to write them down in the first place).
Tell them that it makes sense to you to progress things, that you’d like to help them with their challenges, and that you believe you can add some great value. But reassure them that there’s no pressure. It’s their agenda that matters. “I just want to ensure that I’m fitting in with your agenda and adding value along the way.”
If you’ve followed up a few times with no response, you could drop in, “I’m wondering if your priorities have shifted. If so, I understand, I know a lot has been going on for you. I can schedule to revisit things with you in 3-6 months if you like, or if it’s no longer something you need external help with, perhaps you can confirm that you’ve received this so that I’m not unnecessarily cluttering your inbox?” I would get mental closure after that, but I would also schedule a reach out 3-6 months later if I don’t hear from them. By this point your energy and time is far better spent on better qualified/fitting opportunities.
4. Clarify the simple action they should take
First, you make it simple by asking them how you should best follow up with them. “Great, I’ll send that over to you now, and John…how do I best follow up with you – do we get a date in now to talk, or would you prefer I give you a shout in a few days – what works best for you?”
You’re probing for the medium (phone call, email, text, other) and when best to get hold of them. So ask for the best day and the best time of day too.
Ask (what works for them) and they will respond!
You can throw in something like, “just so we’re not chasing each other or distracting you at the wrong times it might make sense to lock in a time to discuss this that works for you?” (note, I have plenty of phrases like this that are vague and not grammatically correct that get the desired result. In this one, I’m implying mutual respect for each other and for the value of what we’re doing, whilst giving a good reason for them to collaborate with me so I don’t end up chasing.)
And if, for whatever reason, they haven’t specified the exact follow up approach, make sure that you clarify an ultra-simple action for them to take to respond to you:
“All I need from you at this stage, John, is…”
It could be anything from ‘replying with the word YES’ to arranging a 60-second call, to getting a signed and returned proposal. Just think it through so that they don’t have to. Make it easy for them in every way you can, and you eliminate that barrier. Do the work. It’s far easier than waiting in frustration.
5. Curiosity is magic
Be curious yourself throughout. Be curious about their business, their role, their agenda, how they like to communicate and make decisions. Aim to get as close to ‘the truth’ as possible. Research online, and talk to their colleagues for information. Curiosity (acted on) makes sales.
Pique their curiosity in your interactions or follow ups. Draw something important and relevant to their attention that you hadn’t previously discussed. Something that might be costly not to know. Ask a question that they should be asking themselves about their challenge. Ask a question that gets them thinking. In fact, there is a specific question that, if you asked it to your client, would almost guarantee a response. Do you know what it is? (Happy to help you and your team to think that through…!) 😉 Curiosity drives us.
6. Define your follow up strategy before you even start
So many people ask how long you should wait between follow ups, and how best to tackle each one.
Of course, it’s contextual. It depends. But one thing is for sure (and this applies to many situations in life), it’s useful to define your strategy upfront so that you don’t end up making daft decisions when you’re emotional and frustrated! (Those people I mentioned earlier who called up their prospective clients and left abusive messages probably wouldn’t have done if they simply stuck to their proven process.)
You could simply state that as a rule unless you discover information that says otherwise, you’ll follow up after 3 working days, then a week after that, then two weeks, and finally two more weeks after that, for example. (I try not to follow up on the same day of the week that I’ve been previously unsuccessful on. What if I didn’t realise they don’t work Tuesdays?)
And you’ll vary the medium, the day of the week, and the time of day to increase your chances (you’ll call them out of hours, you’ll try mobile/landline etc) Then just stick to your process. There’s no emotion here!
Just keep in mind that although the sales books have stated for years that people need to hear from you seven times on average before buying from you, you don’t have to accept that as a rule. You can do better. Why not go for a hole in one by getting these principals right?
Remember too, that each follow up that doesn’t add value, shows no alignment, and just involves you asking them again if a square peg can fit a round hole, will tend to just remind them that you’re not the right fit.
7. Stay sane throughout – remove emotion and stick to facts only
8. Schedule and define your next follow up so that it happens without any further cost to your energy
Pull the ideas that make sense for you into a plan and a core follow up message:
a) Decide whether you’ll text, email, or call and exactly when. Schedule it.
b) Summarise key points of what they said (steps 1 and 3 above) about what was urgent/important and position yourself to fit their agenda.
c) Demonstrate through your approach how your USP creates value for them
d) Don’t be subordinate to them – you’re a leader here, leading them to a solution. Be confident and professional, but show empathy too.
e) Introduce curiosity, and specifically a new reason for them to respond to you with some genuine urgency
f) Suggest a clear and simple action that they can take to progress things.
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Also published on Medium.