How to Follow Up in Sales: A Step-by-step GuideBy Courtney Hinz
In sales, you’re always trying to walk the line between being engaging enough to prove your products’ value, and being so overbearing that you drive prospects away with your pushy and incessant pitches. This tricky balance can be particularly difficult to maintain when you’re reaching out to prospects who have already heard your song and dance - how do you follow up with them?
And it’s not just prospects; what about following up with clients that you’ve already closed with? The data shows us that selling to existing clients is easier and much less expensive than acquiring new ones, and thanks to the flywheel approach, most of us know there is still a lot of potential revenue to be found with our existing clients. How do we follow up with our customer base in ways that make the most of our existing relationships?
Fortunately, with both prospects and existing customers, there are several follow-up sales techniques you can tailor to your specific situation to increase your chances of success.
The key to success in sales is to give every call you are on 110%, no matter the opportunity. After that it’s all about follow up.
Table of Contents
- Review any notes or files you have on the prospect
- Double-check your research
- Set a clear objective and deliver value
- Make the call (or email or text)
- When you don’t close
- Repeat as needed
Following up with Prospects
You’ve been in touch, your prospect knows the deal, now you’ve just got to close. But how? At this point, it can be easy to let ego or nerves have too much influence over how you go ahead. Instead, take a breath, get in the zone, and follow these steps:
1. Review any notes or files you have on the prospect
Whether it was you that made the initial contact, or someone else on your sales team, review all the information that has been gathered on your contact. If the previous touchpoint occurred with another salesperson, or non-business related information was collected, think about how you can use that information before you bring it up. If you can link to it naturally, great. But there may also be times when you should just set it aside. For instance, if you listened to a recorded conversation with a different salesperson and learned that the prospect’s son was having a birthday party later in the day, asking how their son’s birthday went will probably just come off as creepy. But if they told you that, referring back to prior conversations, casually wishing them and their family well without getting too invasive, or chatting about common interests can be a great way to build rapport.
It’s also super important to determine how in-depth the first point-of-contact was. Did the prospect get an entire run-down of your product, or did they just dip their toe in? Are you more or less starting at square one, are you looking to clarify confusion, or are you coming back with a specific answer to a question they asked in the last conversation? In short, identify which part of the sales funnel your prospect is at, and be prepared to address them accordingly.
2. Double-check your research
If the prospect is in an industry or a particularly niche situation that you haven’t had much prior experience with, be sure you’ve done your research before you call to follow up. Depending on how you first came in contact with the prospect, you may have already done this, but if not, here’s your chance.
This is also the time to mentally review areas that this person is likely to be struggling with - areas you can address and provide solutions for. There may also be gaps in their knowledge; develop questions that will help you assess their level of expertise and have resources on hand that you can share with them to highlight threats and areas of potential in their industry that they may not be aware of (and that your product can address!).
3. Set a clear objective and deliver value
Depending on the magnitude of the deal and how far along the prospect is in the sales funnel, it may be unrealistic to expect to close during your first follow-up call or email. But just because you recognize you may not immediately close doesn’t mean you can call with no plan in mind and expect to move the client further down the funnel.
Perhaps the golden rule for every single interaction you have with your prospects is this: deliver value. How do you make sure your clients answer every call, open every email, and engage with your pitch all the way through? Make it worth their time.
Content marketing does just this by providing information and education before it invites prospects to look into your product. Spread this technique throughout all your touchpoints and make it your default to always open with providing some sort of value right off the bat. In an email or text, this may involve sending a new case study or link to some type of informative content that is pertinent to what you talked about in your first interaction with the prospect. In a phone call, this may be providing additional information to answer a question the prospect had in your last conversation.
Drop the "just following up" or "touching base" talk track. Bring something of value every time. You are the expert in your field and can help your prospect.
Once you’ve provided some value, frame your strategy this way: what is keeping my prospect from ___________? (e.g. signing up for our free trial, closing, recognizing the value of our product, etc.) Then investigate. Remember the old adage, “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Prepare the questions you will ask, but always be ready to go off script to dig into answers, making sure to correct any assumptions you may have missed the mark on.
4. Make the call (or email or text)
You’ve got your notes, you’ve planned your questions, and you’ve opened the call with delivering value. Now it’s time to really get talking. It is worth noting that sometimes it can be difficult to assess why a prospect is leery to commit because sometimes they aren’t being completely honest about what their pain points are. Ego and insecurity can get in the way of the best of us, and sometimes it can be hard to get business owners to be open and vulnerable about what they’re really struggling with right off the bat.
Just like you probably wouldn’t walk up to a random stranger (or one that you’ve only met once or twice) and kick off the conversation by asking, “What is something in your family life that keeps you up at night right now?”, you might want to ease into the level of vulnerability you’re asking from your contact. Not all prospects or customers are particularly guarded, and if they seem like the type that just wants to lay it all on the table and sort things out, go for it. But start the conversation off with more general questions about their business and the state of the client’s industry and let them set the tone for as deep as they’d like to go. You can nudge them deeper once you feel like you’ve earned their trust, but when you do so always be sure to reciprocate with understanding, patience, and positive demonstrations of your listening.
Alternatively, you may be in the lucky position where there is nothing holding your prospect back, and they’re fully on-board with whatever you’re pitching them. Or it may be that they simply have a few areas of confusion regarding your product. In that case, simply clear things up, and get to completing that objective you set out before your call!
In the extra-lucky scenario where the prospect is more gung-ho than you anticipated, move into closing, but never get cocky and sell for selling’s sake. Always be sure that the product you’re offering is the one most suited to serve the client’s needs and not just the one best suited to make you the most short-term money. You’re playing the long game here, and as such, want customers to be as happy and well-served as possible. And that means selling in their best interest, even if you think you could be a bit sneaky and charge them for more than what would actually be helpful or useful to them.
5. When you don’t close
Not every call ends with a sale. That’s okay. There are ways of moving forward that could still mean there’s a deal with this client in the future.
Set yourself up well for the next interaction by defining a next step. Summarize the conversation (making written notes as you do), and make sure both you and the prospect have the same understanding of why they aren’t purchasing yet. Outline the steps you’ll be taking to resolving that. If there are still questions they have, write them down so you can work on finding answers. If pricing is an issue, see if there’s another package or deal you can arrange for them.
They might also just say they want more time, which is generally code for, “I’m still not 100% sure I believe this will be as great for me as you’re telling me it is.” In that case, get some customer testimonials and case studies gathered up that you can send them. Set a timeline for when you’ll be in touch again, and be sure you’re delivering that value (the case studies, the customized package you’ve arranged for them, etc.) either shortly before you talk again, or share it right at the beginning of your interaction. NEVER call just to “touch base” or “check in”. Always have a plan and always deliver value.
It’s also a great idea to mutually agree on a course of action. Maybe there’s something they need to look up in their industry to verify with what you’ve told them, or some of their own numbers they want to check. Frame the end of your call so that you’ve both made a commitment to some sort of action that you can come back and talk about at your next touchpoint.
Finally, ask the person how best to reach them. This doesn’t just mean the medium, day of the week, and time, but ask more specific questions like, “Is there something I can put in the subject line of my email, or some way I can mark it that makes you more likely to read it?” If you feel like that sounds too passive-aggressive for you, frame your inquiry as research, or a one-question survey.
Don't get down when you get told to get lost. Sales is the only job you can fail the majority of the time and still end up killing it.
6. Repeat as needed
Most deals will take several interactions. Just because the client isn’t engaged right on the get-go doesn’t mean that you won’t eventually make the sale. Keep trying, keep reaching out, and as long as you haven’t gotten a firm “Leave me alone!”, keep plugging away. Sooner or later, most prospects will respond. Even if that response is telling you that they’re not interested and to please stop emailing them, at least they’ve finally engaged. Keep going until you have a clear yes or no.
Be vigilant. Don't give up; keep calling or emailing until you hit your cadence (for us it’s at least 14 touch points).
Following up with existing clients
You’ve closed the deal, you’ve won the sale, it’s time to celebrate, right? Yes, but there’s still work to be done. Here are the steps you need to take after sealing the deal:
1. The restaurant-style check-in
When you’re at a restaurant and your food has just arrived, you may have noticed that your waiter generally ducks their head in about a minute after you’ve started eating, just to check that everything is to your liking. Perhaps they forgot to bring the tartar sauce with your fish and chips, or they brought you soup instead of the salad that you wanted on the side. If you have to sit for five or ten minutes trying to get someone’s attention, while the hot food in front of you is getting cold, you’re not going to be a happy customer. A quick check-in can prevent this situation, increasing the chances of satisfied eaters and, in turn, return customers.
The same technique can be applied to sales. After you’ve closed the deal, make sure to check in with the customer as soon as they’ve had their first experience with the product, asking them if they had any difficulties or if there’s anything you can do to make the experience even better. This is also a great time to thank them for their patronage, express your enthusiasm about partnering with them, and generally build strength and bring a more personalized feel to your business relationship.
Trying to sell the client something else at this point can come across as scammy (“I just wrote a check for what you told me would solve all my problems, and now you’re already telling me I need to shell out more for something else?!”), but it can be a good time to really listen and mentally note what solutions you should bring up with them in the future, either to tackle as-yet unaddressed issues, or to increase value in areas they’re already experiencing it with your product.
It’s also a good idea to ask the client about what ways they prefer for you to follow up in the future. Is email, phone, or even text the best for reaching them? Find out and make a note on their file for future reference. Even though you’ve probably already asked them this, it can be good to double-check at this point. Once they’re paying you and are (literally) more invested in your services, you may get higher-priority, more privileged contact information.
2. Establish regular rhythms of communication
You really want to build a relationship with your client, and this can only happen through regular communication. However, you are really just a representative of your agency, and therefore can utilize other teams and resources in your agency to build that loyalty between the client and your brand. Set up things like company newsletters, regular how-to webinars, surveys to gather information about what’s working and what could be improved, or even organize events like the ConquerLocal conference, where clients can network and chat with you in person. You also need to be sure to introduce your client to their assigned support professional on your team that will handle all their technical queries and get to know their file inside and out.
Additionally, make the most of your established customer relationships by offering your clients perks such as exclusive promos, early information on new releases, or even early access to new features of your product. This can be a particularly effective sales strategy, as it makes the customer feel valued, trusted, and appreciated, but also encourages them to implement and buy into new features without you needing to really sell them on it.
All this being said, while it is good to encourage the development of a wider relationship between your client and your brand, you do also need to personally keep an eye on things and check in every once in a while. You are, after all, the one who won their trust in the first place and may very well be the one they feel most comfortable with to share their woes and successes.
Furthermore, as your product delivers value and the client grows, they may need more of your services. They may or may not realize this, or may not be aware of the entire catalogue of solutions you offer, but if you’re having regular conversations with them, you’ll be able to identify areas in which you can deliver them more value by increasing the portfolio of solutions their purchasing from you. Not only does this bring you more sales, but it also decreases churn and increases advocacy amongst your customers.
Though this point has been implicitly stated already, you always want to make sure you’re approaching these interactions as check-ins or even as support calls, never as a sales pitch that you barrel right into as soon as the customer picks up the phone. By establishing a relationship where the customer recognizes that you genuinely want to deliver value and support them in their goals, you will have to do far less work convincing them that what you’re trying to sell them is worth the hard-earned money you’re asking them to fork over. Customers will view your sales pitches as recommendations and suggestions based on your knowledge of their concerns and your expertise in your field, rather than sneaky grabs for their money. But this requires taking the time to actually get to know them first. Start all sales calls with a list of specific questions regarding how things are going, both with their business, and with the product.
At the end of the day, you always want to remember the tip from above: always be adding value. Never reach out for a follow-up with no purpose or agenda to your communication. Have questions pre-planned, review their file before you start talking to anticipate needs, struggles, and successes, and always position yourself to make their life easier and their business stronger by what you have to say to them.
3. Generate advocacy!
Turn happy customers into your best sales resource. The flywheel approach has taken the SaaS world by storm, and one of the main reasons is its emphasis on recognizing existing customers as one of your most powerful sales tools. Keep your customers successful and enthusiastic about your product, and you’ll gain a sales team far larger and more powerful than the one you have on payroll. However amazing your sales team is, it’s far more convincing to hear about the value of a product from a friend and real-life user who isn’t being paid to sell it to you, rather than getting a sales pitch from some random salesperson who you just met and whose commission relies on getting you to cough up the cash.
To promote advocacy amongst your customer base, you can simply ask for reviews, include little review reminders in newsletters and other communications, and hold networking events to build authentic community amongst users of your product. If you want to get even more aggressive, you can offer referral incentives, such as receiving a discount or coupon code when they get someone to sign-up for or purchase your product, or access to a premium feature or extra features (e.g., they get 20 free transactions through your e-commerce platform).
While the best salespeople can make it seem like sales skills are built into a person’s DNA, they actually do take time, strategy, and practice to develop. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned expert, with these tips, and the discipline to put them into action, you can take your skills to the next level today and keep building them for years to come.
How Vendasta can help
Stay on top of all your leads with our Customer Relationship Manager (CRM), Sales & Success Center! Use our award-winning Snapshot tool to reach out to prospective clients, then get our data-backed Hot Lead notifications sent to your inbox at exactly the moment a prospect is most likely to make a purchase.