Do you really know where you stand with the prospects in your pipeline and follow-up queue right now?
Well, of course maybe this doesn’t apply to you, but my experience is that many sales reps have no clue of precisely where they are in the sales process with many of the people they are following up with.
Oh sure you have projections. So do economists and weather forecasters.
Yet, we continue to call and write, leaving voice mails and sending emails that say “Hey, I’m just checking in with you, wondering how it’s going…”, and HOPING that something will happen.
It’s like running on a treadmill. There’s lots of activity, but you don’t go anywhere.
Although some reps argue that at least they are making contact and “touching” their prospects through their messages, I say, bull. Here’s why:
- Repeated messages with no value puts you in a position where you’re viewed as a vendor. The more you call to “just check in,” the more the image of the “stalker salesperson” is solidified. Further, they become desensitized to your messages. They see the company name or your name, and it is viewed at white noise.
- You waste time, and money, on a couple of levels. You are throwing away time–which translates into money–by continuing to call those who will never do business with you. Not only are you wasting the time when you actually DO reach them, but factor in all of the attempts and messages you leave. And then add the prep time for each call (You are doing pre-call planning, right?)
OK, so what should we be doing?
First, I need to put things in perspective. Everything I present here doesn’t apply in total to every professional salesperson, since sales cycles, processes, buyers and sellers’ situations vary widely. That should be a “Duh, no kidding.” But, I’m tired of seeing suggestions written by experts as if they should be universally applied. Ok, got that off my chest.
Let’s zoom in to a sales call, either on the phone or in person. Let’s also assume there has been discovery, needs analysis, recommendation of solution with solid value statements and ROI justification. Ideally, the rep would have a clear picture of authority, budget and time frame as well. Perhaps some buying signals have been expressed. This could have taken place over one or several calls, it doesn’t matter.
Of course, we all know that in the real world it doesn’t always go that smoothly. Because if so, they likely would have volunteered the sale or you wouldn’t have a problem reaching them. We love when that happens, but when it doesn’t, it is our job to not let this thing get stuck in the molasses of eternal follow-up.
Gauge the temperature of the prospect and get a snapshot of precisely where we are with them. I’ve found that it’s always best to let the prospect tell you their perception of the progression of the sales cycle and what the next steps should be.
For example, when you reach the point where you feel things have moved sufficiently, ask,
“So, where are we right now?”
“Where do we sit right now?”
“How far do you feel we have progressed to this point?”
“How close are we to making this happen?”
“What are the next steps?”
“What needs to happen on your end to move forward?”
“How do you see us proceeding?”
Assuming you’ve done this, received good information, and the person truly is a good prospect, then what?
The success of the follow up is in direct relation to the success of the previous call, and what is to happen next. Pave the way for the follow-up while still on the previous call.
It involves getting a commitment that they (the prospect) will do something and you’ll do something as a result of the call.
Then you can follow up with something substantive like,
“I’m calling to continue our conversation of last week where we had discussed ____ and you were going to review the statistics I sent you. I’d like to go through those with you and I have some additional information I believe you’ll find beneficial.”
On your follow-up calls it’s important to remember that your prospects are likely not doing pre-call planning like you. Actually, you should assume they might not even remember you. Then you’ll make it a point to briefly review where you left the previous conversation:
“The last time we spoke you had shown interest in…”
“I’m calling to continue our conversation from last week where we had discussed ____ and you were going to…”
Asking the “Cleansing Question”
Ok, but what to do with the perplexing “problem children,” those with whom we have seemingly done everything right, but still we are going nowhere with? Ask the tough question, the Cleansing Question, when speaking with them (if you can), or even on voice mail or email:
“Pat, we have been talking for some time now, and have agreed this is what will solve your maintenance problems, and have a quick ROI. What’s preventing us from moving right now?”
Move them forward, or move them out. Get a decision, since the “maybe’s” cost you money.
When it comes to your pipeline and follow-ups, activity is not accomplishment. Use these ideas to move your prospects forward, and your sales higher.