tom-black.jpgNo matter the market or industry, acquiring new customers can be crucial for small-business owners. But, let's face it. Not all entrepreneurs are skilled in the art of following up sales leads. 

The two biggest mistakes small-business owners make in following up leads are not having a sense of urgency and not being persistent, says Tom Black, author of The Boxcar Millionaire and founder of the Tom Black Center for Excellence, a Nashville-based sales-consulting service. Black will be speaking about how business owners can build a successful selling system at Entrepreneur's 2011 Growth Conference Jan. 20 in Atlanta.

"The quality of the prospect goes down significantly as time passes from their request for information," says Black. After receiving a request for information, make the call immediately. If you don't reach the prospect, don't expect them to call back. Call them at least twice per day the first week. "Persistence and determination are two of a salesperson's best friends."

Here, Black shares his three best tips for overcoming these potentially disastrous pitfalls:

1. Make it a rule to respond quickly. You should respond to a prospect within 24 hours. Sooner if possible. 

2. Use 'call blocking.'  This refers to picking a specific time each day to call back leads. It has to be done religiously -- not only sometimes. If getting new customers is crucial for a small business's survival, following up on leads should be a priority on your daily to-do list. 

3. Follow a script. Most people expect their attorney to have planned responses, their doctor to plan the surgery and their preacher to plan his sermon. Yet they won't plan their responses and approaches to leads and prospects. 

While your call shouldn't sound scripted, having a well-planned response will help relieve the fear and emotional avoidance some small-business owners experience when making the initial follow up.