It takes a lot of work to generate leads and turn them into qualified prospects. It’s harder still to convert those qualified prospects into clients or customers.
Unfortunately, many small business owners give up on their prospects way too early in the sales cycle. HubSpot indicates that 44% of salespeople give up after one follow up while 80% of sales are made after five follow-ups.
The reality is that few leads are "hot" in that they're ready to buy on that initial contact. Many will be warm leads—people who are interested and who might buy in the future. The challenge is being able to cultivate the warm leads.
This is where a follow-up system can help. Knowing what to do at every stage of the process can help increase your sales.
Send an email to let the prospect know you're on top of things, even if it's an automated email response to a prospect's email.
Follow up the email with a phone call.
Follow up the phone call with a snail-mail personal note.
Qualify your prospects to determine whether they're worthy of future effort.
Strike a balance between staying in touch and being annoying.
Ask for a referral to another prospect, even if the first one has hit a dead end.
Your Initial Follow-Up Tools
- Contact relation management: The very best tool in your follow-up arsenal is a contact management system. A CRM not only allows you to record your contacts’ information, including important tidbits such as birthdays, but you can also track the results of follow up contacts and set up automatic alerts to remind you to reach out for further follow up.
- Spreadsheet and Calendar: You can create your own CRM system if you’re not yet ready to invest in one. Document your clients’ information and follow up notes on a spreadsheet. Schedule your follow-ups, including reminders, with a calendar that includes an alarm.
- Email: Email is an excellent way to stay in touch with your prospects. With a combination of an autoresponder, as well as sending personalized messages to your prospect, you can build trust and a relationship with your prospects.
- Telephone: Many people are afraid of the phone, but it’s one of the most effective ways to make a personal connection with your prospect.
- Snail Mail: Don’t underestimate the power of a personal note or card. Fewer and fewer people use paper these days, so you’ll stand out from the crowd if you do. Thank-you-for-your-time notes can go a long way to enticing a prospect to buy from you.
Your Initial Follow-Up System
The exact details of your follow-up system will depend much on how the lead enters your sales funnel. One advantage of an email sales funnel is that it can be set up to send emails automatically. This allows you to make several contacts without much work on your part, but it can be difficult to rely on email alone to make a sale, particularly if you provide a service or a big-ticket item.
Leads can come to you through other ways as well, such as at a networking event or a referral. However it happens, you'll want to set up a system through which you can track them and move them through your sales cycle.
- Send a thank you email immediately: If the lead comes through email, have a welcome or thank you email go out right away to anyone who fills in your lead form. If you met your lead at an event, send an email.
- Pick up the phone: Better yet, call within 12 to 24 hours. People won’t want to hire or spend a lot of money with you without first talking to you and having their questions answered. Research shows that the sooner you call, the better the chance that you’ll get the sale.
- Qualify your lead: Don’t waste time on people who won’t ever buy from you. When you make your call, qualify the lead by making sure he has the motivation, means, and permission to buy. In some cases, a lead will meet a couple of qualifications, but isn’t able to buy at this time. In that case, he needs to go into your follow-up system.
- Schedule a follow-up call: Most people won’t buy on the first contact, so make an appointment to follow up. Provide whatever your prospect needs to make a decision, whether it's more information or a quote, and make an appointment to call back.
- Send a thank you note: Ideally, this should be a handwritten, snail-mailed note.
- Send an email reminder about the follow-up call: Some people don’t want to do this because they’re afraid the prospect will skip the call if he’s reminded of it. On the other hand, it’s a waste of time if your prospect forgot about the call and isn’t available when you make it.
- Make the follow-up call: You'll want to review the information you sent to the prospect during this call and answer any new questions. It doesn’t hurt to finish with a buy pitch or a call to action. Many people won’t buy unless and until you ask them to make the order. If the prospect still isn’t ready or she has objections, you'll want to repeat the previous steps in terms of sending new information.
- Put prospects into long-term follow-up: If the prospect still isn’t ready to commit, put her into your long-term system. This should be a combination of emails and phone follow-ups that are frequent enough to keep your business in the prospect’s mind but not so often that you’re annoying. If the prospect isn’t already on your email list, ask if you can add her and tell her the benefits of being on the list. Finally, use information you got during qualifying or follow up contacts to schedule personal contacts, such as sending a birthday card.
Long-Term Tips for Working With Prospects
- Focus on benefits: People buy because you’re going to solve a problem for them or benefit them in some way. They don’t care how great you are—they only care how you can help them. Pay attention to what they’re saying they need, and tailor your sales pitch and follow up contacts to how you can benefit them.
- Don’t rely on soft touch marketing tactics to make a sale: Sure, a low-cost book or email course might sell through an email autoresponder series, but you'll have to make direct contact by phone or in person for a service-based business or larger ticket items. Include personalized contacts every so often.
- Make it personal. This is where your CRM system comes in. It will help you create a prospect-centered pitch, and it will also give you clues for great follow up ideas. If your prospect says he’s running in a 5K, you can send him a card urging him on. If he says he’s having trouble with something and you see a great article about it, send him a link via email.
- Ask for referrals. In many cases, your prospect might not be ready to buy, but he could know someone who is. Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals.
- Remove prospects from your follow up if you're asked to do so. Anyone who tells you to stop calling or emailing isn’t going to change her mind if you keep contacting her. Thank her for her consideration and move on.