5 Secrets to Mastering Sales Follow-Up

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In his book No B.S. Ruthless Management of People & Profits, business coach and consultant Dan S. Kennedy presents a straightforward assessment of the real relationship between employers and their employees, and dares you to take action. In this edited excerpt, guest contributor Clate Mask, CEO of Infusion Software explains the five things you need to do to send your sales through the roof.

You have a great product or service, and you have big aspirations for your business. You’re confident, you’re working hard, and you’re enjoying some success. If you could only get more out of your sales and marketing efforts, you know your profits would soar. If this strikes a chord, then you need to learn about the one thing that's sure to dramatically improve your sales: follow-up.

If you’ll apply the following foolproof secrets, not only will you close a lot more sales from your leads, but you’ll also do it in less time and your margins will be higher because you’ll be selling your product or service from a position of respected authority.

Secret #1: “Cherry picking” and the three types of leads.

Every time you run a marketing campaign, the leads you get can be divided into three categories:

1. Leads ready now (hot),

2. Leads that will be ready soon (warm—these leads are critical to your success), and

3. Leads that may never be ready (cold or bad leads).

The problem is, you can’t divide the leads into categories because you don’t know which leads go into which categories. So you or your staff members or salespeople call every lead once or twice, then you spend the time with the leads that look like they’re going to close.

Every smart salesperson that works on commission does this—they go for the low-hanging fruit. Cherry-picking is the natural result here because

1. Sales reps are paid high commissions for a sale.

2. Sales reps can’t tell the difference between warm leads and bad leads until they reach them.

3. If your sales rep does reach the prospect and the timing isn’t right, the sales rep doesn’t have the time or patience to constantly follow up.

There’s nothing wrong with your salespeople spending their time with hot leads. The problem with cherry-picking comes when they neglect all those warm leads. Instead of doing the tedious, follow-up grunt work, sales reps usually wait for a new batch of leads to come in. In the meantime, the warm leads from the last batch get cold, and they're soon forgotten. You need to get more out of your leads, and when you do, your profitability will soar.

Secret #2: Timing is everything.

People buy when they're ready to buy, not when you're ready to sell. This means you have to be in front of folks when they’re ready to buy. In other words, you have to follow up with them religiously: 

1. You need to follow up with warm and even cold-that-may-warm prospects consistently and frequently for an extended period of time.

2. You can't afford to leave this in the hands of your salespeople.

3. You need a system for follow-up and tools to implement the system.

Secret #3: Integrate sales and marketing.

In most companies, the marketing department’s job is to get the leads and the sales department’s job is to call on the leads and close the sale. But in between getting the lead and closing the sale, there’s a huge gap. To close the gap, you need to recognize that:

1. Marketing’s job doesn’t begin and end when the lead is acquired,

2. Sales' job doesn’t begin and end with a “heat check” phone call to each lead, and

3. Someone (either marketing or sales) has to be in charge of “warming the leads” that aren’t hot right now but will be hot down the road.

Think of it this way: Every business has a lead generation department (marketing) and a lead closing department (sales), but they’re lacking a lead warming department. To bridge the gap between marketing and sales, you need a lead warming department.

Here's how to make that happen:

1. Send relevant, valuable information to every prospect regularly, relentlessly and frequently.

2. Communicate with prospects efficiently, aside from the normal, time-consuming, one-on-one methods.

3. Log all communications between your office and the prospect in an organized fashion.

4. Arm yourself and your sales reps with an arsenal of specific information you can send to prospects on request.

5. Track the progress of each lead through the sales pipeline, so you always know where every lead stands.

Secret #4: You must have a living, breathing customer database.

If you want the strongest possible customer base, you must actively, systematically, and methodically build your customer base. All your contact, prospect and customer data, order and billing information—everything—needs to be entered and stored in the database.

You need these people organized into meaningful groups. And you need the flexibility to sort through the database so you can easily pull up prospects or customers who might bring you more business.

Secret #5: Education, repetition and variety.

Your follow-up must take a combined approach that incorporates these three elements:

1. Education. Your follow-ups must inform your prospects and customers. You need to provide valuable information. If you’re showing up with no value, you’ll wear out your welcome fast. Give them the information they need and you’ll earn their trust.

2. Repetition. It’s a proven fact that human beings have to hear the same thing over and over before it sinks in. You may know your products and services like the back of your hand, but your customers don’t “get it” the first time they hear the message. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that if a prospect heard the pitch once, they understood it. Chances are, they didn’t. Tell him again and again and again.

3. Variety. To maximize your sales, you must use multistep follow-up sequences that incorporate and orchestrate direct mail, phone, email, fax, voice and other media. Some prospects will respond to your call, others to your email or letters, and others to more innovative options, such as invitations to teleseminars or webinars.

If you combine all five of these not-so-secret secrets into one cohesive, automated, fail-safe system, you won’t just see incremental sales improvements—you’ll see revolutionary transformation.