On a personal level, the idea of following up could mean simply returning a friend’s phone call, but from a business standpoint, follow-up means so much more. It’s a powerful, yet often overlooked tool, that can literally make or break a small business. Here are some ways follow-up can be harnessed to improve profits.
Anyone who has ever been in sales knows the game cannot be won without a disciplined and formulaic approach to follow-up. When a customer (B2B or B2C) responds to a marketing message, it’s time for the salesperson to start the follow-up process. Often it involves several emails educating the prospect on product details, advantages, etc., along with a mix of phone calls to follow up on the emails. The successful salesperson continues with follow-ups long after the amateurs have bowed out.
Partnerships should be immune from the follow-up equation because small business owners trust that when another company’s representative makes an agreement, they’ll follow through with promises. It is, after all, in both businesses self interest to carry out the partnership without being nagged along.
But, consider that while most small business owners love making partnerships to pad the bottom line, whether they be cross-promotional deals, or revenue share style joint ventures, the lack of follow up on hammering the details out often results in critical parties forgetting details, moving on to other things, and ultimately the deal falling apart.
Having a system in place to follow up with decision makers in order to fully execute brilliantly conceived partnership ideas is a must. Even something as simple as two small businesses re-posting each other’s promotional messages across social media networks requires a spreadsheet with columns for several follow-ups for deal accountability and tweaking.
One example to consider is a national event director who had contacted a list of other event directors to talk about partnerships. She became very frustrated when no one responded to email invitations to discuss partnerships. With the psychological crush, and the feeling of rejection closing in, it’s difficult to reach back to follow-up. But, sending just one email to follow-up resulted in more than 50% response rate the second time around.
There is a story about a small business landscaper that netted nearly an entire town of commercial clients, but still managed to go broke. Invoices had gone unpaid. There was no follow up plan when a client didn’t pay; all it probably would have taken was a few calls to most of the delinquent accounts to collect 80% of those unpaid invoices. There are some useful accounting programs out there now that do some of the follow up work, like Freshbooks, but personal emails and phone call follow ups are still crucial.
Even outside of partnerships, sales, and collections, follow-up is important. Think about how important it is for those on your team to respond to keep a project moving. If someone drops the ball, who follows up? Is there a plan in place? Without one, we know what happens—the project teeters, and often careens into a dark sky of a thousand other good ideas, all wandering aimlessly like balloons clipped free of their follow-up strings.
Anytime human interaction is required, follow up is needed, though there may come a time when it’s no longer feasible to "follow up." That time should be determined as a function of opportunity cost. For example, is it really worth it for a sales person to make that eleventh follow-up phone call, when their own data shows that stopping at ten may be just as effective. That eleventh call could be recorded as a first on another prospect. The key is determining when follow-up is no longer effective, which usually requires embracing trial and error experience in order to generate enough data to make an intelligent decision. For some that may be stopping at three calls or emails, and others it may be 15, but no matter what industry, a good plan for follow-up generally involves more touch-backs than would ever seem reasonable.
Don’t take it personally
We all worry needlessly when a friend doesn’t return our calls or emails within a reasonable time, and while nonresponse business may be easier to shrug off, it’s still hard on the emotions. Rarely does anyone want to feel they are bothering others who aren’t interested, but just as rare is the case where nonresponse is personal. Vacations come up, emails get accidently deleted, people forget, etc. etc., so there’s always good reason to politely check in, to at least give an unresponsive party the benefit of the doubt---it could make all the difference to your profits.
Jonathan Poston can be reached at Drymos Group LLC . Drymos Group LLC has established strategic partnerships with leading firms to conduct technical recruiting (cyber defense / information security & finance sectors), joint ventures, business strategy/development, etc. Senior technical openings are posted regularly on FB and Twitter.