Follow Up or Give Up!

by Sid Ragona, Ph.D., Ragona Scientific, LLC

Follow-up is the most cost effective and underutilized marketing tool available to a sales force in just about every single industry; however, effective follow-up is considerably more involved than simply sending one or two emails to see if the prospect responds.

While marketing is an important aspect of any business, there is no point in undertaking any form of marketing initiative if there is not first and foremost a well-thought-through follow-up plan that has the buy-in of the sales force. Simply put, it’s follow up or give up. In fact, a marketing plan with no follow-up plan is simply akin to turning up the heating in the house while all the windows are open. It’s expensive, ineffective, and a total waste of precious time. Furthermore, a well-orchestrated marketing plan has to take into account not only the new leads it wishes to generate but also current leads and existing customers. A good follow-up plan needs to take all of these considerations into account.

According to a study by Brevet, 80 percent of sales required at least five follow-ups, yet amazingly 44 percent of salespeople give up after one try and even sadder than following up once, 94 percent of salespeople had given up by the fourth attempt. In this particular scenario, the phrase “close but no cigar” does come to mind. If there is any glimmer of good news here, it is for the remaining six percent of salespeople that were persistent with a well-planned follow-up strategy. They were able to master the lion’s share of the business. Understandably, following up when people don’t get back to you can be demoralizing, but one thing that is certain, if you are not following up on your leads your competition is! That thought alone should be motivation enough to keep trying and follow up a few more times. There is never a scenario where the potential lead is holding out and waiting for you to call. Never!

Occasionally, a marketing campaign may simply funnel leads to the sales force, who had no say in the criteria used to obtain the leads or the additional information that should accompany the leads to enable a more targeted follow-up strategy. Also, it is not uncommon for the marketing department to start posting on social media without ever consulting their field sales force. One does not have to think too deeply about how much more effective the social media post could have been with sales input as to whom they want to target and how best to follow up on this initiative.

The disconnect between a marketing department and an outside sales force can easily occur when one considers two separate companies such as the manufacturer and their reps. Because the reps are external to the company they are sometimes not consulted, as opposed to being an integral part of the plan. After all, it is the reps who will follow up. Therefore, it makes sense they become part of the equation. It is the marketing savvy principal that asks its rep network, “what will work for you?” and “how will you follow up?” Likewise, it is the prudent rep that requests a temporary seat at the table to discuss what they need and informs the principal how they are going to follow up.

Every follow-up plan is designed to engage the potential customer and incentivize them to respond and enter into a dialogue. The exact type of follow-up will vary from industry to industry; however, email is still the number one communication medium that is used for almost every industry. Recent data from HubSpot (2022) showed that more than 50 percent of U.S. respondents checked their email every 10 minutes, and 46 percent of people read their email on a mobile device. Thus, the likelihood that your target audience did not see the email is quite small. If they don’t respond it may be any number of reasons, including they are busy (such as they may be on the phone or traveling) therefore a series of follow-ups should be planned for. Since a lot of effort goes into an email marketing campaign, there must be a well-thought-through follow-up plan that is effective, easy to implement and continues to keep the prospects’ interest ignited. Email is arguably one of most powerful and easiest ways to automate follow-up and is part and parcel of every CRM program. For this to be effective, both the principal and the rep should be working together to ensure a well-choreographed follow‑up campaign.

In addition to email, it is also important to use other methods of communication for the follow-up such as phone and text. People may complain that their email inbox is overloaded, but you will never hear of anyone complaining that their text boxes are full. The effectiveness of SMS follow-up is based on the fact that over 90 percent of texts are read within three minutes. However, an important aspect of SMS follow-up is that it is important to first receive permission to do so, otherwise one will run afoul of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) as well as the Can-Spam Act. The TCPA is based on consumer consent, thus any SMS follow-up is based on receiving permission first, whereas the Can-Spam Act protects consumers from receiving unwanted advertisements. Fortunately, there are a number of ways that potential leads can opt in to SMS marketing plans and these range from filling out a form that they agree to opt in or being asked to text a keyword from their phone to receive updates or be entered into a database. It is commonplace to have a double opt-in, whereby once someone has provided a contact number they can receive an SMS welcome message that asks them to type Y for Yes to receive additional updates.

Marketing and follow-up should also extend to existing customers to ensure that they feel included, and it should be something of value to them, such as timely updates of relevant material. Keeping the existing customer base energized should also be part of a marketing and follow-up plan that is coordinated between a principal and their external reps. After all, there is probably nothing more powerful in a salesperson›s arsenal of tools than a happy customer willing to provide a recommendation. Salespeople that use customer references on average earn a staggering 4 to 5 times more than salespeople that don’t. Even more surprising, only 11 percent of salespeople use referrals. Presumably when one does the math it is the top 6-10 percent that are closing the lion›s share of the sales, clearly aided by a willing army of happy referrals.

At the end of the day marketing and the subsequent follow-up are simply two sides of the same coin.

Sid Ragona, Ph.D., founded Ragona Scientific, LLC, in 2006, and the company has been a MANA member since 2009. Ragona Scientific specializes in nanotechnology from foreign start-up companies that want to sell into the U.S. and Canada. Since 2020, he has cohosted a radio show and podcast about entrepreneurship entitled Rethinking Business: Success Sauce and Two Pickles ( Ragona has also been a Certified Score Mentor since 2011 and serves on MANA’s Board of Directors.

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