The (lost) art of following up

Call Me on a yellow sticky note stuck to a calendarNot a day goes by, literally, when someone I do business with fails to deliver on a promise, a simple promise: "I will call you tomorrow to..."

"I will email you tomorrow to..."

"As soon as... I will give you a call"

Each failure is a missed opportunity that otherwise would have served to enhance our connection and solidify my trust. While making good on a promise is vitally important for customer service engagements, it is absolutely critical in order to achieve success in sales.

Here's the thing: You've already invested in marketing whose sole purpose is to generate qualified leads for you to follow up. So now that we're talking (connected) why would you burn that investment and your new connection?

The number one excuse for such failures is: "I'm busy" AArrgghhh.

And my answer, "if you're too busy to earn my business, I'm outta here"

One sobering reality, in today's business world, is that 'busy' losses business on a consistent basis; those who claim they are too busy to serve customers have no business being in business.

Here's a question I used to ask our customer service team: "When the phone rings (or the email comes in), can you tell if the person on the line is a waste of time, or, our next big customer?"

Of course we can't, and therefore we should treat every call and every email as if it is our next big win. Simple, but few actually get it.

David Lee was a rep we hired on the West Coast. The value of his territory when he started was around $70,000/year. In less than five months, David's territory grew to over $200,000. I wasn't surprised. I spent a week working with him and saw first hand why he was so effective. He was the master of following up.

David did not use (or blame) technology to manage his book of business. His system was simple:

A manilla folder with the prospect's contact info, a brief (one line) summary of his last contact, follow up (action point) and a date to follow up. Then, on his desk, he had a small box of index cards and numerical tabs for each month; if he needed to follow up on Tuesday, May 28, he would put a blank index card with the client's name and the follow up action right after the 28th tab. That's it.

Ah, but what happened if David forgot to put the index card in his follow up box? He didn't. Ever. Immediately after writing his notes on the manilla folder, the index card was written and placed in the box. He had a simple system and all David had to do was to stick to his own process.

Interestingly, David had a similar, no-nonsense approach to client or prospect meetings;  he rarely wasted time on 'warming chitchat' (like, "did you watch the Laker's game last night") - he had an agenda, shared it up front, methodically covered each topic, and always ended the meeting with another summary and what he promised to do next.

David wasn't Mr. Charming, never exhibited any artificial enthusiasm about life and the pursuit of happiness, or showered clients with lunch or golf invitations. You may find it surprising to know that he was immensely respected and therefore successful.

I asked David why he chose to be so matter-of-fact in his approach to sales and skip all of the stuff that sales gurus preach. David's answer was, well, matter-of-fact brilliant and especially true today:

"People are busy trying to get their work done. I'm here to make it easier, solve a challenge, provide a service. They don't need me to waste their time with nonsense; all they truly want is help so they can move further down their to-do list"

David quadrupled his territory in less than six months. Boy, was he busy! But, he never skipped a beat or forgot to follow up because he wasn't distracted by nonsense; most importantly, he respected his customers' need for a solution and service, not time consuming BS.

So if you or someone on your team fails to deliver, sift through the avalanche of busy work and get rid of the nonsense. Remember why you do what you do and focus only on what matters - to customers.