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Posted: December 07, 2010

The lost art of sales follow-up

A new "F" word

Liz Wendling

Following up is a critical part of the sales process but sadly it's become the most neglected. There are many reasons why sales are lost, but one of the biggest reasons is poor or no follow-up. The question isn't how many sales are you making each week - it's how many are you losing each week. Sales follow-up is a critical part of relationship selling and omitting this step creates a fatal flaw in the process. Plus, it's part of your job!

I'm not crazy about the phrase "follow-up" because it's overused and its meaning is hollow. Actions speak louder than words; people need to stop talking about following up and actually start doing it. Failure to follow up happens in every industry, every day, and it affects all of us personally and professionally. With this type of negligence, it's not surprising that so many business owners and salespeople are struggling. They are leaving money on the table.

I've often wondered why someone would bother to start a business, deliver a sales presentation or meet with a new customer and then not take the time to stay connected and get back to potential customers. How in the world can you not find the time to follow up and complete the business you've started? If you willingly let your customers fall through the cracks due to a lack of organization, failure to follow-through or poor communication, you can jeopardize the sale, your professional reputation and the potential for referrals.

Think about how many times that you, as a customer, have walked away from a business because of poor follow-up. How many times were you willing to pay more for a product because of better service? Poor communication or lack of responsiveness is a leading reason customers leave businesses for a competitor. It's the easiest fix for most businesses and an instant way to generate more sales.

There is a big disconnect between what people are saying and what they are doing. Think about how much time, money and energy you've put into developing sales strategies, networking and advertising. Dropping the ball at the follow-up stage sends a message to customers that they can't count on you. This is not only unprofessional sales behavior, it's bad business. Is that the first impression you want to leave with your potential customers - that you talk the talk but can't walk the walk?

It's a critical, costly mistake and there is absolutely no good reason to neglect this aspect of business. The excuses are endless and overused: "I'm just so busy," "I already left one voicemail," "I just ran out of time," or "I'll do it tomorrow." Those may have worked when you were 10 years old, when you forgot to do your homework or take out the garbage, but they don't work for serious business owners and salespeople. There is just no good excuse for dropping the ball on potential business. Not one.

Following up is in your control, it's your choice and it's an easy way to differentiate yourself from other salespeople. It's a unique way show your commitment to your customers. Plus, it's your job.

A good follow-up system will generate sales and keep your business in business. It's an investment you can't afford to pass up if you want to stay ahead of your competition. Customers respect business owners and salespeople who are efficient, organized and dedicated enough to follow up and follow through in a professional manner. When you follow up, you win customers.
Since few salespeople follow up properly with customers, you will truly stand out when you do. Great salespeople write things down, they have a daily to-do system, they return calls, they keep their promises and they do what they say they will do.

In the sales world there are those who think about it and talk about it, and then there are those who just do it. Over the last four weeks I have been polling clients, friends and colleagues about this issue. They unanimously agree that businesspeople have an easy time saying they will do something and a much harder time actually doing it. This bad business behavior must stop!

I challenge all business owners and salespeople, for the next 21 days, to stop talking about what you need to do and start doing it. If you say you will call someone back, call them back. If you RSVP for an event, just go, don't pull a no-show. If you say you will email me, just send the email. If you tell someone you will take care of something, take care of it. Honor your words. Follow up and follow through. Remember, it's part of your job!
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Liz Wendling is the president of Insight Business Consultants, a nationally recognized business consultant, sales strategist and emotional intelligence coach. Liz is driven by her passion for business and generating results for her clients. Liz understands the challenges that business owners are facing building a business and selling their professional services in today's market.

Liz shows clients how to tap into and use their innate strength, power and confidence to develop highly successful businesses. She teaches them to create effective, dynamic and fluid client conversations that turn interested prospects into invested clients who keep coming back.

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Readers Respond

Liz: The Golden Rule? I believe "follow up" initiated by the client is a mistake in a sales process. If the salesperson is doing their job properly and are in control of the sales cycle there is no follow up, only the next step you have planned. On the other hand, failure to "follow through" is often a big mistake by salespeople that only takes one failed event to end a relationship. Failure to do what you say you will do, even once, destroys your credibility and trust with the person, potentially makes them look bad to their peers, and screams that you don't really care about them enough because they are not as important to you as other things (you are now unreliable). this is also critical in the initial"relationship/discovery" phase with a client. Which means that if a client demands you to do something or meet when you know other commitments may conflict, thus jeopardizing your ability to deliver, you have to say "no I am sorry I cannot do that". You should diplomatically tell them they are important to you and because of that you offer alternative times or resolutions (always have multiple choices for them). They will gain your respect and become your advocate. If they are unwilling and suggest you will lose their business otherwise, you should question whether they are the type of customer you want. I found those clients usually cost me more than the value of the relationship because it becomes completely "take and no give" on their part and is often more about a controlling personality or a power play by the client, not the value proposition of what you have to offer. I have occasionally used that conflict as test close back to a client by saying "it appears we may not be a good fit for you and your company and maybe you should consider other firms/products". Only once in twenty years did the client accept and we were both relieved! All others backpedaled, revealed their hidden concerns and we were able to collaborate in moving forward. Bottom line... the old saying, "treat others as you would like to be treated" is usually a golden rule in life as well as business. By Robin L Harris on 2010 12 09

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