What is it that regularly blows apart business development efforts and causes marketing to fail? The lack of follow up.

Every day of the week, the professionals we work with do a fabulous job of marketing their business to their target clients and influencers, but then they let themselves and their businesses down by failing to follow up.

And, let's face it, marketing, networking, and building connections without following them up makes the effort a big waste of time and money from the very start.

I know that follow-up can be uncomfortable for professionals who would rather be practicing their expertise instead of seeking sales, but it isn't hard; anyone can do it.

Seven Questions

So let's consider some important questions about follow up.

1. What makes follow up (in)effective?

The success or failure of your follow up relies very much on how you go about it.

If you follow up reluctantly, avoid it altogether, or lack sincerity when you do follow up, people can sense it and will treat you accordingly. Whereas, when you follow up consistently, with confidence, respect, and a keen, honest desire to build an ongoing relationship with your target, people can tell... and they are often appreciative.

2. Who should I follow up with?

You should follow up with people who can say yes to you, or people who can direct you to people who can say yes to you.

The list includes all the people in your target market with whom you have had previous contact (at an event or in a network, or because someone initiated an initial conversation). To define your target market, ask yourself, Who are the people who are positioned best to say "YES" to me?

3. How often should I follow up?

Regularly. Following up is an ideal way to demonstrate the organized and high-quality way you would work with a client after engagement.

We have a basic rule of thumb: All new contacts should have a first contact within three days of meeting them. After that, it depends how important they are to your business. You might follow up a cool prospect every second or third month, a warm prospect every month, and a hot prospect every week or two weeks.

Remember, the way you behave before the sale is usually a solid example of how you will behave after the sale. If you let contacts slip away, without follow up, you probably didn't deserve to win their work anyway.

4. What are the best ways to follow up?

The way you follow up usually depends on how you made initial contact with your target.

You can mix up the use of tactics, including the telephone, Linkedin, posted mail, invitation to an event, or even referring something that will generate goodwill. Some communications, like the sending of newsletters or publications, can be corporate and generic, but others should be personal and engaging.

If you invite someone somewhere and you want them to come, ALWAYS phone or invite them in person.

5. What can you say when you call or contact for follow up?

One of my clients once said to me, "We only hear from Chris when he is looking for some work. He never calls us to share an idea or ask a question… He only calls when he wants something."

It is easy to become known as this kind of person if you call people only to ask about selling your services. Instead, you could try adding value to your contacts by providing helpful advice, supportive information, or an ear for their challenges or opportunities rather than just sell, sell, sell.

How often do you call up your contacts and just check or ask how they are going? It is a good habit to get into so your clients don't think you call only when you want something.

6. How do you know when to stop following up with someone?

You can consider the potential size of the opportunity that lies in front of the target and value your follow up around it.

If it is a large, important, and prominent prospect for your business, don't stop following it up until it is gone; just keep on following up indefinitely. If the opportunity is small, spend a small amount of time following up.

7. How do you track your follow up?

Good professional services businesses and their consultants record their pipeline in a CRM system. Such systems trigger important milestone dates for follow up, and allow you to track the success of your efforts.

Or you can keep a simple list on your desktop in a spreadsheet and check back against it weekly. (Contact me at Rebecca@stretchmarketing.com.au and I will send you a free template for our "Pinging List" that you can use for managing contacts.)

Five Tips for Follow-Up

Now, think about follow up as something that you really must do to succeed in professional practice of any kind. But how can you make your follow up easier and more successful?

1. Care for your contact

Don't call a contact to follow them up when you are in a rush or when you're stressed or overly nervous. Instead, take the time to think about what you are going to say beforehand. Think about what you can do for them, and then call in a positive frame of mind and knowing where you want to take the conversation.

2. Focus on building relationships

The more focused you are on building a relationship, the more authentic you will behave. When face to face, find out something about them and their life. Get a little bit personal by discussing family, holidays, and community... looking for common ground as well as traversing the expected corporate territory. Common ground can make relationship-building a lot easier and a lot more memorable for both parties.

3. Be consistent and responsive

Prospects want you to be predictable and professional, but not forceful, in your selling. If they ask you for a proposal, or invite you to send some more information, do it quickly. Taking your time is disrespectful and makes you look disorganized.

4. Stay cool

Each of your prospects puts on pants one leg at a time when they get out of bed in the morning, just like you. Even if "important" or "high profile" person, they are still people with needs, wants, and problems. Remember this and treat them accordingly, like equals in your community.

5. Watch your follow-up feelings

When you haven't done it for a while, follow up can seem daunting, and people can often slip into "too busy" mode and put it off. Postponement is usually a signal that your fears, nerves, or feelings are getting in the way of your logical business activities.

Try to stop yourself from pushing follow up away and recognize it for the important role it performs in your career, your role, and your company. You might well find you can double or triple your success in business with a little diligent follow up.

Why don't you try it and let me know how you do?

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Why You Should Make Follow-Up a Priority: Six Questions and Five Tips

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image of Rebecca Wilson

Rebecca Wilson is the managing director of Stretch Marketing and a professional services marketing expert. She blogs regularly at The Marketing Rack blog.