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Productivity / Business Productivity

How to become the master of following up

Do you follow up every inquiry or meeting immediately? If you're not following up, you’re not only losing out on revenue, but you could also be damaging your professional reputation.

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As solopreneurs (in fact it is true of most people in business) it is really hard to find the time in an already hectic schedule, to commit to following up. The task of following-up promptly and efficiently sounds like one of the simplest tasks that we can do.

However, if so many proficient and technically skilled business people and solopreneurs struggle with it, it can’t be that simple to do, can it? So how do you become a master of following up?

Why following up is important

The early bird catches the worm
Everyone has a website at the very least these days, and most people have a digital marketing or advertising strategy. It’s a big investment for any business, whether it’s huge sums that the major global brands invest or smaller sums that entrepreneurs and solopreneurs invest. The investment is made for pretty much one thing alone, to get leads or enquiries to your business. The speed in which you follow up these up has been shown to be important. Figures reported a few years ago by HBR revealed those who contacted potential customers within 1 hour of receiving a query were nearly 60 times more likely to effectively qualify the lead, than those who waited 24 hours or longer.

Following up can help build trust
Unsurprisingly, in our business we focus a lot on trust and how you can develop and build it with others, in a business context. To help us define and understand what trust is, we use the trust equation from the book “The Trusted Advisor” by David Maister et al.  The equation states that your trust is defined by your credibility, combined with your reliability, and your intimacy, and it is all undermined or divided by any time you act in purely your own self interests. Simply put, your credibility is your experience and skills, and most people have this; intimacy is how well you understand the other person’s world, i.e. do you take an active interest in them? and your reliability is whether you do what you say you’re going to do.

"It is in following up promptly that you can start to show that you are someone reliable, and that helps to breed trust."

It is in following up promptly that you can start to show that you are someone reliable, and that helps to breed trust.

So what habits do you need to adopt to become a master of following-up?

Set aside the time to do it. This is important. To make anything become a habit you have to start by scheduling the time to do it. If you want to get fitter you should create that routine, where, for example you set your alarm earlier so you can go to the gym before you start your day’s work. Same with getting into the habit of following up.

Across the various different types of business and activities you run, below are some practical examples of how to do this:

  • Web leads: If you don’t have an on-call response, set up some automated messages which, at the very least, give the customer a realistic expectation of when you’ll contact them. If you are the business, schedule time, say 10 minutes every hour or every 2 hours, to check inquiries and follow them up.
  • Post-meeting: This is simple, if you have a 30-minute meeting scheduled in your diary, allocate 40 mins. This allows for you to open your laptop in the office foyer or next-door café, and type up and send the follow-up note.
  • Post Networking:  I’m sure most of you attend networking events, but do you follow up with everyone you meet? If it’s an evening event, either do it when you get home, or if you’re tired or enjoyed the event’s drinks a bit too much, schedule in 10-20mins in your diary the next morning to do follow ups. Send out those Linkedin connection invites with a personalised note. It really makes the networking experience much more valuable.

Do it promptly

This is massively important. The longer you leave it, the less impact this note will have. After any meeting, our rule is a follow-up / summary of meeting email must be sent within 24 hours. Recently I had a meeting with the MD of one of my clients, on leaving the meeting, just as I was exiting the car park, my phone beeped and the follow-up note had arrived in my inbox. It really did help me remember this meeting and I took care of my actions ahead of time, thanks to the helpful note I received.

Make it a meaningful follow-up

After every meeting or meaningful phone-call, we’ve established that you need to send a follow-up note, but it can’t just be “it was great to catch-up” or “thanks for the coffee”. Ideally, it needs to be something that prompts a response and keeps the conversation going.

One of the most simple and successful tools I share with my clients is what we call Confirm & Clarify (CC) notes. In sending a post-meeting or post-call follow-up, we bullet point the main area discussed, with the next steps as agreed in the meeting below that. However, the main twist we give is starting the note with something like, “Below is a summary of what we discussed and the next steps. Please let me know if I’ve misheard or misunderstood anything, or if you have anything further to add?”

It’s simple, it engages the other person to participate and maintain the conversation, and it’s not only good manners, but it demonstrates your reliability.

How to follow up when a contact has gone cold on you

This is one of the things I get asked about a great deal. You had a meeting, now you’re waiting for the second meeting or feedback on your proposal, but have heard nothing. What do you do? Firstly, don’t simply ask for a “catch-up” or send an email saying “Just checking in..” It is unlikely they’ll respond. Instead, don’t ask for the meeting or even feedback, but send them something that will be of value to them. This could be a new contact that you think may be able to help them, a report or article from a third party which you think will be of interest or helpful to them and their business.

If you get this right, it will be really valuable to them, and since it isn’t about your product or service it won’t be seen as a sales pitch. It will actually help you build rapport, which means they are more likely to come back to you and request a meeting. Sometimes it takes a couple of articles over 2 or 3 months, but it is a much better and more valuable way to move to that next stage.

So there you have it. If you put into practice the four steps above and create the habit, you are well on the way to being the “Master of Following up” and the people you work with will start to see you as someone they can rely on.

Now that’s a great trait to be known for.

Got any tips of your own to add to this list? 

Keith Dugdale

Keith Dugdale is the founder of the Business of Trust and co-author of Smarter Selling. He works with individuals, teams and organisations build deep trust quickly beyond technical expertise. Connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube.

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