From the April 2002 issue of Entrepreneur

Have you ever given thought to what the term "follow-up" really means? How does "anything that follows something else as a review or addition" sound? And what about that other common marketing term, "follow-through"? According to Webster's, it's "the act of continuing an undertaking to completion, to its natural end."

But just what does all that mean in selling? What is the natural end of a sale? Is it when the sale is closed? Not if you're looking for repeat business. For most people, selling requires constant cultivation. In order to keep your relationships growing, you've got to look at each one and ask yourself "What related actions can I take today to strengthen this connection and move it toward a natural end (or at least the next natural level)?"

Elements of Success

It's easy to think of follow-up as summary memos and thank-you notes. Those are important, but they're not the bottom line. There are three important areas you can't ignore if you're looking for effective follow-up and follow-through:

1. The Will: If you don't have the desire to move ahead, you'll fall back. It's the will to win-in your heart, body and mind-that will push you toward the next step in the sale. It's the ability to stay focused and concentrate on the task at hand. The determination to keep going and the belief that failure is not an option will lead you to discover the steps necessary to move the sale to the next level.

2. The Steps: What can you realistically do to move this sale, this relationship, to the next level? You can-and should-take the standard follow-up steps: When you attend a meeting, follow it up with a letter that summarizes the main points of your discussion; send thank-you notes for appointments, demonstrations, orders and referrals; send articles of personal and professional interest; and find new ways to reach out to your customers. But these steps should not be taken in a vacuum; they must be taken with an eye to considering the benefits.

3. The Benefits: Effective follow-up is not just about providing additional information. It's about discovering the steps you can take to increase or enhance your customer's growth, how you can help build his or her business in ways beyond this particular sale. A robot can perform standard follow-up tasks. Effective follow-up means finding out what you can bring to this relationship that someone else can't. Think about who your customer is, what he or she needs most and how you can best meet that need. Then your follow-through will come naturally; you'll be following the customer's agenda, not yours, and providing a valuable benefit.

Most people think of follow-up as a system to ensure that everything called for gets done. That's only part of it. Follow-up is what you do to ensure that you build the strongest, longest-lasting relationships possible. Your enthusiasm, will and determination to succeed-combined with benefits for your customers-are the fuel that will help you take the most effective steps to follow-up and follow-through.