Follow Up Messages: Where’s the Problem?

Follow Up MessagesFollow Up messages, and how to write them effectively, was recently posed as a question on an expert platform I'm a member of. Here's my reply:

I am going to begin my answer to this question not talking about writing emails at all, but rather getting at the true source of the problem. Then we'll talk text.

The problem with follow up messages is they illuminate something is missing in your sales process. Most people fly by the seat of their pants on sales process anyway, believing that only big companies need one. But everyone in the field of selling needs a consistent sales process. "To manage we must measure" is a process improvement maxim...and if we aren't consistent in our behaviors, how can we measure? How do you know why you lose some orders and win others? Do you just assume it's your personality, or your price, or your brand? That would be crazy!--and what salespeople do every day.

The question-poser gave a single sentence to work with (industry, paths to market, what prospecting/qualifying method they're using now, and other facts would have been helpful). So I don't know anything for certain about their sales process or lack thereof. However, the fact that "following up" is included in their steps and vocabulary indicates to me they are having conversations that go nowhere.

Why Follow Up Messages Indicate Sales Process Failure

If you had a conversation with a prospect and it didn't result in a clear understanding for BOTH salesperson and prospect what the next step was...your process failed.
That's what leads to having to write follow up messages.

Every time I see follow up, the first letter of each word jumps out at me, and that's what I hear it saying directly to me. "FU, Jason. You screwed up."

Determining what the next step is, and ensuring it is ultra-clear for both you and your prospect, is YOUR responsibility. It needs to be built right into your consistent sales process. Do it automatically, every time. Otherwise, you end up in this "mutual mystification" situation you're in, where neither you nor the prospect knows what's supposed to happen next.

Leading to the plaintive, "Are we there yet?" email.

No, we are not. We are nowhere near there yet.

If in your qualifying conversation with the prospect you did not uncover the urgent reason they want to buy, do you think you are going to discover it in a follow up message?

If you didn't find out how important (or not) moving ahead was to them in your live, interactive, back-and-forth dialogue...what makes you think you're going to get the answer in a dull, one-way, inert email?

Doesn't that sound ridiculous?

Having to send a follow up message means you're chasing prospects. Stop doing that immediately, and work on qualifying more effectively. Is this prospect In or Out? A Fit with us or not? Do they have an urgent, important reason to work with us now, or not?

Uncover this, and you won't have to follow up.

What Having to Send a Follow Up Message Tells You

Most of the places selling falls down are where the salesperson and the prospect have left things in this state of "collective confusion". Each believes they understand what the other means and intends...but the truth is totally different. When a prospect says, "Leave it with me and I'll get back to you," at the end of your meeting, what does that tell you?

Me, it tells me NOTHING!

Except that I'm being "niced out" of the door.

These are times to be a little assertive: "I appreciate that. How long do you think it'll take for you to have a look at it? When should we book a talk to discuss your decision or any questions you have?"

Don't leave it to chance.

In fact, your sales process ought to have you laying out this as part of the ground rules right up front: "Ms. Prospect, we'll meet for about 40 minutes, that's typically what these conversations are, and I'm sure you'll have some questions for me. I'll definitely have some questions for you, because I want to find out more about your operation and determine whether we're really a good fit for you. At the end of that time, we'll know whether we're a potential fit or not. If not, no big deal. No one will get mad at anybody. If we are a fit, we'll figure out what that next step looks like then. Make sense?"

And if the prospect wants to add anything into the agenda, they can.

Most salespeople never even lay out these simple ground rules. A consistent sales process is a series of steps. At the end of every step, either it's over or it continues. If it's over, you know why: it's not a fit for a specific reason (no need, the problem's not big enough for you to get involved, or the prospect has uncontrollable anger issues, for example). Over is not a bad thing; it keeps you out of trouble and away from The Client From Hell.

How To Write a Follow Up Message That Gets Responded To

If you goof up--and I certainly do from time to time, even though I work with this stuff every day; selling conversations happen fast and there's a lot to keep in mind--and you must write an email, you must get the train back on the rails. Let it read like this:

Mr. Prospect,
I appreciate you meeting with me on (date) about (topic). I forgot to make sure of something at the end of that conversation, and I'm hoping you can help me out. Turns out you and I didn't figure out what our next step will be.
Now you've had some time to go over what we talked about. At this point, there can only be three possible outcomes:
1. You've reviewed everything, and it's just not a fit for you at this time.
2. You have looked everything over, but have more questions that need answering before moving ahead.
3. You are delighted with the idea and want to move forward, and were just waiting for me to give you this quick reminder of the project.
Let me make this super-easy. If the answer is the first possibility, will you reply to this email with the digit '1', and I'll know you're no longer interested?
If you want to talk further, please reply with '2' and I'll call you about the further questions you have.
If you are ready to go ahead now that I've brought this project back on your radar, please call me at ### so I can get things started ASAP...or reply with '3' to this email, and I'll know to call you so we can begin.
Thanks again,

This message doesn't chase. It gets things back on track. If your prospect ignores it and you don't get an answer, you can safely assume it's '1' and stop trying to "follow up".
In sales, "Yes" is good, "No" is good, but "I need to think it over"--making you have to write follow up messages--is torture.

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