5 Steps to a Follow-up System

Successfully Turn Strangers Into Prospects and Then Customers

Turn Strangers into Customers

Do you have a follow-up system? Too many companies are throwing sales away because they don't have a process for converting prospects into customers. Don’t be one of them.

The exact follow-up system you put in place will depend on the type of product or service you sell and the size of your company. But the basics are always the same.

Develop an organized approach that works for you. At a minimum, a process that collects baseline information, identifies who in your company owns the lead, how you'll nurture the prospect to close, and a way to track progress. Think of this as a follow up formula, explained more below.

Converting a lead into a customer begins before you find and meet your prospects. Since the goal is to turn strangers into prospects and then customers, first prepare a strong foundation. Everything from your messaging and value proposition to your follow-up system must be ready to go.

Obviously, the source of your leads will vary – networking events, website contact form, trade shows, calls to your office, email, advertising, and a hundred other ways. The stage of ‘readiness' they're in will differ too. That's why preparation is important so you can decide how to handle them at each stage of your follow-up system and what the next step is.

5 Steps to an Effective Follow-up System

Once everyone is on the same page, you are ready to collect quality leads and significantly improve the conversion to revenue rate.

Here's the five-step follow up formula that has worked well for my clients and me over the years. The information you send, length of time at each stage, and the number of calls or emails may be different, but the process is always the same.

  1. Contact Management System: The way you collect leads can range from a simple Excel form to customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, either as offline software or an online service. Aside from the basics (date, name, title, contact info, etc.) agree on what other data is important for you to collect - see the 'Data Collection' step below. Have columns for who owns every lead, next steps, and comments. Also, rate the lead - see the ‘Ready to Act Scale below. Set a day and time every week to review this with your team. All of this will make certain that everyone is on the same page and the follow-up system is easy to use;

  2. Data Collection: You can never have enough information about your leads. However, on the first contact, don't overwhelm them with questions, particularly on your website contact form. Plan out the discovery process and be prepared to dig deeper when you can. The type of essential information will depend on your industry, products, and services.

    Questions might center on their current problems and competitive products they use, who has the authority to make a purchase decision, when they plan to make a purchase, what criteria they use when purchasing a product like yours, and available budget – questions like these are critical in deterring if they are your ideal customer. Have a data collection form by every phone in your office;

  3. Information Product: Think about the different materials needed to attract a prospect's attention, get them interested in your message, and move them along during the follow up process. These are valuable and educational resources. Get visitors to your website to fill out the contact form by offering a free report and while speaking to someone for the first time offer to send them an article or white paper relevant to their problem and your solution - always ask permission to send it. Decide in advance what you have in your arsenal and when you would send it out. By the way, if you're at a networking event don't hand them anything other than your card and use the information product you mention as an opportunity to follow up.

    Remember my mantra "Make Your Marketing sell". Catch the attention of people who know little or nothing about your company with what they want – information about how to solve their problem. It's not all about you. Branding for Profits lists some ideas for types of information products you can develop;

  4. Ready to Act Scale: Every time a connection is made with someone, determine where they are on the ready-to-act scale. This is the step where the greatest mistakes are made. First, they may not be qualified, as you've defined your ideal customer. Next, there are four quadrants on the Ready to Act Scale – Stranger, Awareness, Recognition, and Agreement.

    The follow-up process moves people from being a stranger (who are you and why do I care) to awareness (I now know something about you and I see where you might be able to help me) and if you're good enough, to where the prospect is willing to explore working with you. Understanding the difference of each will determine how you interact with the prospect at each stage of readiness. Within each of the four quadrants there are more details I teach my clients, but for simplicity just use a 1 thru a 4 to rate them in your Contact Management System;

  5. Follow-up System: This is where the rubber meets the road. Follow up can be with an automated e mail marketing solution, handwritten follow-up letter, or phone calls. Or a combination. You have to decide what works best for you within the limitations of your time, resources, and budget. Certainly, the power of an automated system has benefits. There are great CRM systems that integrate an e mail marketing solution on the market today. To some degree these can put your sales and marketing on autopilot, and should be looked at. But don't discount the power of personal contact by a phone call or handwritten follow-up letter.

Now that you have a follow-up system, use it. And don't forget that timeliness is important. The chances of success drop rapidly as time passes between each contact. Consistency counts too. Sales are lost when you can't be bothered to follow up again and again, or if you follow-up too often.

Pace yourself. Take too long to get back to prospects and they may not remember you or already purchased from a competitor. And if you do it too often, you'll be viewed as spammer and annoying. You may have to experiment to find the right pace for you audience.

Be a fanatic about follow-up, before and after the sale!

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How Well Do You Know Your Customers and What They Really Need? 
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