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How to Identify and Follow-Up On A Good Sales Lead

Whenever possible, follow-up on your own leads. No one will know your leads as well as you do.

By Christopher J. Bachler

Every moment wasted on a dead end can be used to find a promising new contact.

You’ve made the connection, and now it’s time to move into the toughest part of selling.

Follow-up can be the hardest part of selling. But if you want to close the sale, it’s usually necessary. Few potential customers will decide right away. Most people will put off anything that doesn’t need to be done immediately. And before spending a lot of money, prudent people prefer to think the matter over or possibly to seek someone else’s advice.

Distinguishing Good from Bad Leads

Before you decide to follow-up on any new contact, you should have some way to determine which ones even merit the effort. For example, some people will waste your time and never buy. They may not know what they want, or they may be trying to cleverly get free ideas from you. Others simply don’t know how to give a direct “NO!” Remember that every moment wasted on a dead end can be used to find a promising new contact.

A poor prospect might include someone who:
1- Never asks for details.
2- Indicates no specific interest at any point.
3- Won’t spend much time with you.
4- Never initiates follow-up, themselves.
5- Is vague or noncommittal.
6- Fails to keep promises.
7- Seems distracted or preoccupied during conversations.

Should you spot any of these signals, you might move on to greener pastures. Your best prospects, on the other hand, will usually show concrete signs of interest up-front. They might spell out why they’re interested in your offering, or ask about cost, availability, or other important details. These aren’t fool-proof indicators, but they can usually help you identify the more promising targets.

It’s all in the Technique

Good follow-up requires more than just “touching base” with a prospective buyer. Instead, successful follow-up requires a sound plan and shoots for concrete goals.

First, consider timing. While there is no perfect rule in all cases, you might first follow-up about one week after your initial contact — that is, unless you’ve made other arrangements with your prospect. Wait longer and your prospect might forget important details, lose interest, or be captured by a competitor. Act sooner and you might annoy your prospect or seem a bit too eager.

Also, try not to leave timing or other follow-up details up to your prospect. Doing so allows him an open-ended opportunity to put you off indefinitely. Instead, propose a specific time, yourself. “Go ahead and look over what I’ve given you, and by all means call me if you have any questions. If you don’t need to talk sooner, I can check back with you on Friday.”

Of course, it’s always encouraging when prospects follow-up with you. You might look for ways to encourage that. Perhaps you might highlight certain sections of materials you leave behind, adding notes that will encourage your prospects to contact you with any questions they might have. You might also offer some kind of special deal that will make them want to come to. But plan on being the proactive one, yourself.

Following Up On Your Leads

Whenever possible, follow-up on your own leads. No one will know your leads as well as you do. Moreover, dealing with different salespeople might confuse the prospect, who should be more comfortable with you.

Usually, the best follow-up tool is the phone. Personal visits may be intrusive, and if your contact is not available, you will have wasted precious time. E-mail and faxes are easy to ignore and may not even reach their intended target. Phone calls, however, are quick, convenient, and allow you to get instant feedback. Whether or not you reach your prospect, follow-up with an immediate e-mail indicating your purpose, and confirming any decisions you and your prospect may have made.

If you need to leave a message with another person, do so. But don’t leave the matter in the message-taker’s hands. Instead, ask for the best time to call back, and do so at the time indicated.

Try to set specific goals following each conversation. Make sure that both you and your prospect are clear about what each of you needs to do before your next follow-up. Focus on “assignments” which will move you closer to the sale. “Okay Ms. Phillips, while you’re discussing my proposal with your partner, I’ll look up that information you want.”

To keep your prospect from regarding you as a nuisance, you might look for creative ways to keep in touch. Having learned much about your prospect following your first interview, for example, you might refer a potential client, or pass on news that you’re sure will interest him or her. If the information is useful, your prospect should be appreciative.

Finally, keep notes pertaining to each of your sales calls, follow-ups, and all important details. You don’t want to retread old ground with each new contact.

How Often Should You Follow-Up?

There’s no definite answer, and much depends on your prospect and whatever understanding the two of you have already reached. The nature of your product or service, and your market is also an important factor. Higher-priced or more complex offerings will generally require more time for a prospect to make a buying decision. If you’re selling to a business, the prospect might also need to get someone else’s approval.

As a rule of thumb, three or four follow-ups would be a pretty reliable number. Your first might be one week after your initial contact, and your second, a week or so after that. In most cases, your third follow-up will probably be the one that indicates whether or not you’re likely to make the sale. Still, you might try a fourth, perhaps a few weeks later. Some sales might still come through even beyond this point. But they are rare.

Follow-Up for a Close

There’s little point in following up unless you actively press to close the sale each time you make contact. “Touching base” just doesn’t make it. And salespeople who say something like: “Hi, Amy. I’m just touching base,” come across like rank amateurs.

Don’t be aggressive, but with each new contact, you should politely encourage your prospect to close the deal by offering some kind of incentive. In the meantime, keep things moving. Resolve to make progress each time you contact your prospects. At least try to learn more about them by asking casual questions about their circumstances, changes since your last conversation, or new interests or needs. Understanding your prospect is the key to closing the sale!

Make sure you have satisfactorily answered all of his or her questions. A buyer’s hesitation often stems from doubts. So probe his or her interests and concerns, and try to answer every question as soon as you can.

If the prospect still hesitates, try to determine why. It’s hard to get your prospect off the fence if you don’t know why he remains there. You might be surprised by how many salespeople never even try to determine exactly why a prospect continues to hold back.

If your prospect is still hanging, he might need some more incentives. See what else you can offer to sweeten the deal. It might be a discounted price, a reference to your availability to get the job done at a certain time in the near future, or a clear indication of how it would benefit your prospect, based on something he or she has already mentioned. (Never second guess the prospect’s needs or interests!).

Inability to tangibly move the prospect closer to a sale each time you follow-up possibly suggests that your chances for a sale are dim, and that it’s time to move on. HBM

Christopher J. Bachler is a 20-year veteran business writer and editor, based in Drexel Hill, PA.

Learn from the “Pros”

You can get great insight into follow-up techniques by observing other salespeople, such as those that contact you. Even the bad ones can at least help you to see what NOT to do. Observe such details as:

  • If they do annoy you, why so, and how could they change that?
  • Do they usually follow-up, and under what circumstances?
  • Do they use the same approach each time, say the same things, or do they change their tactics?
  • If they do follow-up, what approaches put you off? What alternate approaches might sharpen your interest?
  • Do they generally contact you by direct mail, phone calls, faxes, etc? Would a direct call work better than a form letter? Would a personalized letter be more appealing than a plain business letter?
  • Do different types of salespeople use different methods? For example, do those who approach you as a consumer use different methods than those who approach you as a businessperson?

Think of more matters to study, and make some brief notes. They might help you improve your own follow-up skills!

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