Mastering the Art of the Follow Up:
Planting and Nurturing Your Clients for Long-term Success
by Edward DuCoin & Stefan Schulz
Anyone who has ever had business success understands and preaches the importance of the “follow up”. To reach your target sales and ultimately grow your business, a clear follow up plan and execution is imperative, especially for sustaining long-term clients and relationships.
It is important to make sure your prospects and clients believe that they are being cared for with the highest level of service and professionalism. Your purpose is to address their needs and wants, and provide a solution. You need your clients to listen to you, and to continue to do business with you because with no clients, you really have no business. Show sincere interest in your prospects and clients, offer adjustments, walk them through each step in the relationship, and identify their preferences. But is it really as simple as picking up a phone and making a call? And is there more to it than cashing in on immediate business?
What’s Your Goal?
How you approach your follow up should always depend on the nature of your business. Think of your business as a garden and your clients as tomato plants. You can plant a seed and let nature run her course, or, you could position yourself for success.
Ideally, you’ll choose to position yourself for success. And the first step is to determine what type of tomato you want (the goal). Do you want to grow an heirloom tomato, known for it’s characteristic shape and flavor? Or do you want to stick with a hybrid, and increase your yield? It’s important to understand that in business, before a follow up can even start, you need to have the end in sight.
Gather Your Tools
Okay—you’ve determined your goal. The next step is to begin to plan your attack. What type of tools will you need to get the job done? Are you going to send an email campaign? Are you using social media? Do you have marketing materials to feed to the target? Stress the importance of knowing everything about your client, so you can get what you want. The more you know: the easier the job.
Using the tomato plant analogy, we know that we could easily plant a seed in the ground. But wouldn’t it be nice to boast about having the best tomatoes, or clients in town? The way you can do this is simple—by doing your homework, gathering the right tools, and planning the right way. If you were to do your homework on tomatoes, you would quickly learn that they are heavy feeders, meaning that they are plants that need a lot of fertilizer for optimal performance. So in turn, by doing this quick background check, you would know that investing in the right organic material, fertilizer, and tools would drastically help you develop the perfect bed, helping push you ahead for success, and continued performance.
So, the Seed Has Been Planted…
You’ve identified your goal, completed the careful steps of preparation, and you’ve planted your seed. Your client or prospective client has a foundation, but is that enough? Again, if you have done the proper homework you would know that your job is only half complete.
Like tomatoes, your clients need careful attention. Your clients require frequent and deep “watering”, or follow ups. It is important to implement your “watering” to maintain a consistent buying attitude and to prevent your relationship from rotting. Once the relationship rots, so does your fruit.
Fortunately, you have already done your planning, so you know what type of “watering” is needed and how often it needs to be completed. For example, you might have a business that sells green technology; and you might have a client who is interested in buying an energy management product from you. Already, you should have planted the seed: delivered a proposal, and discussed the opportunity by identifying the key reasons why they should buy your product. However, the client just is not ready to buy—perhaps they are not convinced in the technology, or do not understand how it works—so, your harvest has been postponed.
Your “watering” in the example of the energy management system might be scheduling a conference call with an engineer to give a more technical background on the system, and address additional questions you might have. Another watering might be to offer some additional marketing materials, case studies, and white papers catered to the client’s industry. The sole purpose of the follow up, or “watering” is to provide key nurturing, so you do not lose sight of the end result—getting your sale, or harvesting the fruit.
Bottom Line: carefully planned and frequent follow ups are important, but they aren’t fool proof. There’s more than one way to grow a ripe tomato.
Pulling the Weeds
We cannot understate the importance of a scheduled follow up, but they only cover one spectrum of your business. Things happen. Weeds grow. And any gardener or business leader can attest to this.
To truly “Master the Art of the Follow Up” you need to combine your scheduled follow up efforts with practice, and execution of the chance, or unplanned follow up. For instance, what happens if the prospective client you were targeting goes cold. Is all of your hard work just lost and tossed in the garbage?
A business unpracticed in the art of the follow up might think starting over is the best thing. But many successful business leaders might tell you otherwise. An unplanned follow up is important because it salvages relationships that once seemed to be dead. It prepares you and gives you new life, so you don’t have to simply cut your losses. An unplanned follow up gives you a chance to plant your trimmings elsewhere and continue to grow.
In the instance with the company that goes cold, ask yourself is there anything that you can do. Can you start a drip marketing campaign and automate a follow up for every 30-days to rekindle the relationship? Is there another point-of-contact within the company that you can approach? A follow up might not always be planned, but it always opens new doors.
Bottom line: It’s not dead until it’s dead. Clients occasionally require unexpected attention, so businesses need to be prepared to get their hands dirty to save their work.
You say Tomayto, I say Tomahto
When it’s all said and done, a follow up is sometimes just a follow up. And as long as there is business, there will be discussion on what is working and what isn’t. There will always be various strategies—new and old—configured to execute the ever so important tactic.
However, the most successful businesses and business leaders, the true master gardeners, are always sufficiently prepared, adaptable, and practiced. Fostering these skills helps businesses identify exactly what is working, and what isn’t, so they can implement key processes for improvement.
Bottom line: One way or another, a follow up always delivers a learning experience. The key is to take that learning experience and make improvements to yield better results.