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.
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.