I have never come across a business that has achieved that nirvana moment of reliably converting 100% of their prospects into clients. Some have come close – a few I have met are in the high 80’s – but none have hit that magic 100%. It’s probably a near impossible act to reliably achieve.

Which makes it very surprising when I come across clients who fail to operate a prospect follow-up process in even the most basic of forms. For them the ones that don’t say “yes” are never followed up and fall into a big bag of lost opportunities.

I covered this during our monthly conference call, in which I mentioned how improving your follow-up processes is one of the five fixes to implement when turning around a low converting website. Yes, this was a fix that needed to take place away from the HTML and super nice graphics and to occur AFTER the sales lead had arrived by email.

Some view all this follow-up work as just too hard and complicated to set up, as well as being filled with what they see as nothing less than “pestering” their prospects to buy. On both counts they are far from the truth. The tools you need to build a credible follow-up process are not complicated at all and you are not “pestering” – you are showing “polite persistence”.

Now, this last point will require some explanation. To help, how about I list some of the many reasons prospects could decide not to say “yes” during the time frame you would normally expect?

  • They have received a cheaper quote.
  • The money that was going to be spent with you now needs to go to solve more urgent matters.
  • They have changed their mind – what they thought needed work now doesn’t.
  • They have lost your quote / proposal / details.
  • The thought of making a decision is just too hard an act for them to move ahead on.
  • They don’t think your product / service is suitable.
  • They just don’t know what to do next.

Now, I realise that this isn’t a complete list but in nearly all of these cases some polite dialog is required between you and your prospect to move things ahead. When this is done properly, it adds value to your proposition. Like me, you have probably been on the receiving end of the few sales people that do this. Perhaps a phone call – or an email – or even a short note in the mail. All small details that show that they are keeping in touch after the quote has gone through. Only a really pushy sales person could make the act of practicing great follow-up into something that could actually reduce the likelihood of them making the sale.

So it needs to occur. Let’s work through the tools required to operate the most basic of follow-up systems. First, you need a place to store all your customers’ details. I’m a big advocate of using online-based CRM systems – I have written about them in previous newsletters. Permission uses Highrise from 37 Signals – some of our clients use Zoho or Sugar CRM – they all do a very similar thing and allow you to rent for a pittance all the functionality to store and manage your sales leads.

How you decide to follow them up depends on the length and complexity of the decision cycle your prospects go through. Usually a mix of phone, print and email is enough to keep the decision moving ahead. Obviously, the phone is the most direct of the options and email is the slight gentle nudge in comparison. If you are uncomfortable doing the direct work yourself then why not outsource it to others? There’s a mass of highly experienced telemarketers out there looking for work who would love the chance to follow up people on your behalf. Just find one that suits your needs.

When I’m describing the task of effective sales follow-up the image I use to illustrate my point is a big fat leaking bucket. Now I don’t expect you to plug all the holes and achieve that 100% conversion rate I mentioned at the start. Nevertheless, taking it from a struggling 50% to a credible 85% could just involve the judicious use of some smart lead collection methods and a series of carefully worded and implemented follow-up messages.