Career 15 July 2017
I was recently a guest on a popular business podcast and I was asked a very significant question regarding follow-up activities as they relate to time and money. As I pondered this question, I realized the importance of the answer as it pertains to entrepreneurs. I knew that time and money are equal.
I have counseled many entrepreneurs about following up and the message I relate to each one is this: if you don’t follow-up with prospects you have spent valuable time with in meetings, calls, or emails then your efforts are wasted. Prior to creating a follow-up system, I always ask entrepreneurs to put a monetary value on their time. This helps put your follow-up efforts into perspective and ensures you monitor your efforts accordingly. I have listed a few steps that you can take to ensure your follow-up techniques are increasing your closing ratio and keeping your pipeline full.
Follow-up begins when you meet someone.
This might sound a bit premature, but if you want to create the right system, you need to start detailing your experience with your prospective networkers. For example, if you meet a prospect at a networking event make sure you get their business card. While you are talking to them, make notes on the back of their card – what they currently need, who makes a good strategic partner, what they're seeking, and put yourself in a position to help them. This step will help you during the follow-up process; if you meet a lot of people in your line of work, chances are you won’t remember all the details for each person, so writing it down on their card will help you tremendously.
Create a system.
After sales meetings or networking events, gather your new prospects' information, whether it’s two or twenty, and put their information into your contact database. First, make sure you send each one an email or card in the mail to say how great it was meeting them, then use the notes you took to put personalized details in their email. For example: “It was great meeting you at last night’s event, I enjoyed talking about our kids' common interest in soccer. Let’s schedule a time to meet for coffee.”
Databases can be as extravagant as Salesforce or as simple and inexpensive as a notebook to staple the business cards into each page, leaving room for you to make notes. Online programs can help you set up reminders for reaching out in the future and have everything organized as far as notes, contact information and other details. You can do the same thing with a notebook, since you are just writing down details. I personally keep a notebook for prospects, and I can still take it with me when I travel and I use a color-coding system to simplify who I need to reach out to and when.
Should you use a notebook, you can staple a business card to one page, preferably at the top, since this leaves ample room for notes. You can abbreviate your notes to make it easier, such as LVM (left voicemail), LM (left message with someone), B (busy), NA (not available) or NI (not interested). Whether you use a manual system or automated one, I would still recommend color coding, since it catches your attention quickly and you can assign any designation to each color. If you choose a manual system you can get a pack of highlighters and just brush across the bottom of the page.
My personal system consists of: Red for Not Interested, Green for appointment, sale or very interested prospect, Yellow for information requests, and Orange for prospects that request a call back at a later time. Again, you can change the color scheme to suit your preferences and if you use an online system, such as Excel, you can use the fill-in tool to color-code the cells. The leads that I'm not interested in I pull out of my notebook and place into a folder (also red). Every six months to a year I pull these leads out and make a call into the company to see if the prospect I spoke with before is still there.
If they are, I hang up, but there is so much turnover that sometimes that person may have left the company and someone new took their place. I get a new contact to pitch to and a fresh new lead. Just because they are not interested doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reach out again in the future.
Another thing you can integrate into your follow-up process includes social media: follow them on Twitter or Facebook or send an invite to connect on LinkedIn. Keep in mind everyone treats social media differently, so your prospect may log into these sites a few times a year so it shouldn’t be your whole follow-up regime. Another tip that works very well is to find industry-related articles or articles of interest for your prospect. You can mail them, send as an attachment or send it through social media just letting them know that you came across this information and thought they might be interested. I have found that one of the best methods of really getting their attention is to refer prospective clients.
If your prospect is an accounting firm that specializes in the legal industry, try setting up a meeting for them with an attorney you know who could be a prospect for them. Nothing gets someone’s attention like a potential customer, and every industry is in need of sales.
Your next step is to work on scheduling. Look at the hot prospects, since those need to get on your calendar first, so start the follow-up process with those contacts. Follow-up is considered getting them on the phone or responding to your email, so don’t make the mistake of thinking that connecting with them on social media is following up. Take notes each time you call, and if you want to leave a message, only leave one. After the first voicemail, continue to reach out periodically, but not through phone. Typically it takes an average of 10 to 60 dials to get a prospect on the phone, depending upon their rank at the company. The higher their rank, the more difficult it is to get them on the phone. If their voicemail says they are on vacation, make a note so you don’t waste your time calling them next week.
Always refer back to your notes and don’t assume since you haven’t heard back from them that they are not interested. There are many factors that go into whether or not you get a call back, and most are related to timing. Those who request information, send it over and let them know in the email you will be following up next week or in a few days and of course, make sure you keep your word and follow-up with a phone call. The same applies for the prospects who want a call back later in the year, make a note of it and contact them at the specified time. If you don’t reach them continue to call, maybe leave one or two voicemails but keep records of each call made; for businesses I would suggest two to three times a week, and if it's consumers, I would say once a week.
Lastly, if you get them on the phone and you found they don’t have a need right now, ask for permission to follow-up in a few months. This shows respect for their decision and gives you the opportunity to set up the next step in the follow-up process.
3 Min Read
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.