This is a guest post written by Scott Sommer, PA, CAP, who is an Automation Technology Manager at Jacobs Engineering Group and a business development and sales guru in the automation industry. Scott shares his thoughts on sales follow up activities, and how to move closer to a sale.
In a time not so long ago, sales people used to knock on doors, selling everything from encyclopedias to brushes to vacuum cleaners. Perhaps you are too young to remember those days, but the key to their success was often not the timing of the sales call, but the effectiveness of the follow-up to the initial contact. Most sales were made during the subsequent visit, after the potential client had a chance to look over the brochure, or try the product for 7 days, or view the samples.
In the “old days”, timing was paramount. Don’t disrupt meals. Avoid “high-traffic” times, like right after school. Even though the times have changed, the need for good timing has not. In the “modern” scenario, calling on someone as they first walk into the office in the morning, or during lunch time, or at the end of the day should be avoided. The temptation is to “catch them when you know they are in the office”, but this can back-fire if the interruption to the day is viewed as an annoyance. Make your follow-up call strategy less of a sales pitch and more of a conversation. Taking your client to lunch makes that “interruption” in their schedule enjoyable. Even a well-placed voice mail during those hours when your client is likely to not be able to take your call is not only non-intrusive; it can give you the opportunity to “plant a seed”.
It would be wonderful if the first follow-up after the initial sales call always yielded a sale. It most often will not. But every contact should encourage the client to move closer to the sale. So the intent of the follow-up call is not to scratch out an order (if that happens, it is a bonus!). The intent is to continue planting seeds. Give the client something they can think about that would help them identify your product with a solution to their needs. Perhaps it is an email with an article that highlights how others in their industry found real, tangible benefit from implementing your product. That will open the door for a follow-up conversation about how the product could do the same for them. Or perhaps a phone call to invite them to a free ½-day educational seminar which presents the technology your product employs. Engineers love to receive technical manuals, application data, and sizing software. Seeds, one at a time, planted subtly, can lay the foundation of a winning follow-up strategy.
Every follow-up contact should give the client something of value that moves them closer to a sale. Follow-up should be a regular part of your sales strategy. Ask your client how often he should follow-up if there is not an immediate need for your product. Engaging the client to help set a mutually-agreeable follow-up schedule helps establish a relationship. Take clues from your client. If you sense they are being annoyed with weekly follow-up calls, then they probably are annoyed. Back off to monthly calls or try other forms of contact, such as the ones given above. Gauge each contact by keeping a journal of how the client responds. Remember, each contact should move them closer to a sale. If you don’t sense movement in that direction, try something else.
Finally, use follow-up contacts to help separate those clients who will probably never buy from you from those that have possibility. There is only so much time in the day, and sales energies must be spent on those clients who are likely to buy, now, or in the future. Use a follow-up strategy to know when to walk away.
Follow-up must be an integral part of your sales strategy. To get you started, the first follow-up after an initial client visit should always include a simple Thank You for the time they took to meet with you. The rest is up to you. Tailor the strategy to your industry and client base. Plant seeds, and watch them grow. Happy selling!