Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Art of Follow-Up

Great timing on the below article from Robert Middleton, since I'll be speaking on this very subject this Thursday at our local Chamber of Commerce!

Enjoy... Cindy

What's the most important marketing skill? You might be surprised at the answer.

It's not having a great marketing message, powerful marketing materials and a bullet-proof marketing plan. All of those are certainly important but not as important as...


In my teleclasses and talks, I joke how people are looking for a "killer marketing message" that will make people jump up and down with excitement when they hear it. Sorry, but that's as much of a myth as unicorns or a balanced national budget.

But people want to believe that myth, so they spend forever trying to perfect their message. Look, all your message can get you is some initial attention. That's all.

And virtually every single marketing action after that is follow-up.

When someone shows some interest in your services (when you deliver a decent, but not mythical, marketing message), you need to follow-up with some more information.

Once they've read that information, you need to follow-up to determine if there's a deeper interest. And if there's a deeper interest, then you need to follow-up to set up an appointment.

But it doesn't end there.

Once you have an appointment, you need to follow-up to confirm that appointment (yes, people flake out). And once you've had the appointment you need to follow-up with a proposal or to close the sale. Follow-up never ends.

Follow-Up Secrets

Here are some follow-up secrets I've learned over the years that are important to understand and master if you're going to attract more clients.

1. Know where you are in the game

When you follow-up with someone, the purpose is to move the prospect from one base in the marketing game to the next base.
If you try to jump bases (or move too fast), you tend to get rejected by the prospect. If you move too slow with your follow- up, you loose the interest you've generated up to that point.

2. Don't move too fast

When you get someone's interest (say at a networking meeting) and then say you'd like to call back to talk with them, that's fine.
But when you make that call and immediately try to set up an appointment, you'll likely get some resistance.

Remember, people want more familiarity and some information before they meet with you. So your follow-up system needs to build that in. One way to do this is with pre-written emails and links to articles or to your web sites.

3. Don't move too slow

If you give a talk and get cards from people who are interested in knowing more about your services, how soon should you follow- up? The very next day. For each day you don't follow-up, interest wanes. If you have only a few follow-ups, use the phone. If you have many, send an email to set up a time to talk in the upcoming week.

Stale follow-ups are just that. They've forgotten what interested them in the first place, so when you call back after several weeks it's like starting all over again.

4. Balance fast and slow

The key to effective follow-up is balancing the fast and the slow.
Fast to get back to someone when they show interest; slow to get to know them. Fast to provide information requested; slow to discuss what this information means to their business. Fast to get a proposal in the mail; slow to discuss the details of that proposal.

5. Watch your assumptions

What if someone doesn't get back to you? You've followed up promptly and you don't hear back right away. What does this mean? Only one answer: Who knows? It could be anything.

But we are quick to jump to the conclusion that it's bad news. Not always. They might be very busy with a big priority or could even be out on vacation. So don't jump to conclusions. Just keep following up. Just watch that you don't sound desperate!

6. When to stop following-up

Let's say you have a prospect you've either met with or done a proposal for. You thought everything was going well, but they aren't returning your calls. Do you keep leaving messages or do you give up? What I recommend is leaving one last message that goes like this:

"Hi John, I've been trying to get back to you about the project but haven't heard from you for a couple weeks. I don't want to keep pestering you, so if I don't hear back from you, I'll assume you don't want to move ahead. I'll leave the ball in your court. Please call if you want to take the next steps, but this is the last message I'll be leaving. Hope to hear from you. My number is ..."

This approach works. If they actually are interested, they'll call you back. If they don't, well there's your answer. It's time to move on.

7. Create follow-up systems

To streamline your follow-up, create systems you can use over and over again. A follow-up system consists of specific steps you take each step of the way.

It might work something like this:

a) prospect learns about your service and visits web site
b) prospect fills out form on the web requesting more information
c) prospect receives an automated email from you with web link
d) you send out personalized email requesting an appointment
e) you follow-up by email until appointment is set
f) you meet with prospect by phone
g) after phone appointment you send agreement
h) after a few days you send another email
i) after a few more days you leave a phone message
j) prospect ultimately gets back to you with a yes or no

Once your follow-up system is designed and fine-tuned, you can use it reliably to turn many prospects into clients. This is exactly how I built my business. It didn't happen by chance.

I invite you to use it to build yours.

The More Clients bottom line: The skill of follow-up is the glue that holds all of your marketing together. It's what bridges the gaps between initial connections, information, meetings and proposals. Make it a priority to master this skill as soon as possible.

By Robert Middleton of Action Plan Marketing. Please visit Robert's web site at www.actionplan.com for additional marketing articles and resources on marketing for professional service businesses.

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