Determine and set a next action. Before you make in-person or phone contact, decide what you and the buyer (prospect) are going to do next. Convey that to the prospect, with their agreement, so they understand what is going to happen next. Set a time to get back in contact and specify when (date and time), what are you going to talk about, how (phone, in-person), and the purpose. This is a great way to end a conversation. Everyone leaves with clear understanding.
A reader wrote in and said: The “key words where I believe most of us get hung up on is 'the purpose' of the call back or follow-up. Do you have suggestions that won't scare the potential customer off?
Great comment and question. Let’s talk specifics.
Next actions are the fuel by which a seller can encourage a buyer to move forward. Without a seller discussing next actions, all our conversations would end about the same way – with the buyer saying, “Well, I’ll think about it and get back to you.”
QUEUE THE CRICKETS
This is not the way for complex, multi-conversation selling opportunities to progress. They die on the vine here. Plus, during silent times, your potential customer is talking with your industry counterparts, or at least further researching them and getting advice from peers on what to do. They are not counting on you.
Set next actions and get clarity as well as agreement from all the parties involved as you move forward.
IS IT CONTROL?
Years ago in selling, we talked a lot about “gaining control” of a sales opportunity – but control is elusive. What do you really have control over, anyway? It is more about helping create continued interaction with our potential buyer. Yes, you can shake things up by challenging them (see The Challenger Sale) a bit, but if you have no mutual, respectful understanding going on, don’t even think about a deal.
You work for a professional services firm and sell services. Prospective customer (B2B) is talking with you and several other firms, as well as scouring the web for more data as they decide on who to select as a vendor. You think of yourself as a potential partner, not as a vendor, and try to work toward moving this potential opportunity to a “qualified” stage.
To do this, ask questions of the potential client. Learn what is important to them. First find out if your contact person or people are part of the decision-making team. If not, you are fishing in the dark. When you work long and hard, and then propose to people who are not ultimately the decision makers, you end up having people who are not you presenting your solution. Not only are they not you, they are not committed to you so they can easily back down when other options come up in discussion.
Your biggest ally is in understanding your potential client’s vertical industry – what their big challenges are, how things are going internally, and in conveying why your services will improve /enhance / make better their company or their job. If you are not able to have a direct, succinct conversation about the business value of your services, you will not get the business. It is as simple as that.
NEXT ACTIONS GIVE YOU A REFERENCE POINT:
Instead of indiscriminately deciding when to contact your prospective customer next, you talk with them and suggest that you get back with them at an agreed-upon date. This does a couple of things – it gives you a timeframe to follow-up, and it also gives you a chance to show the prospective customer that you will follow-up - as planned – which demonstrates that you are good on your word, organized, and other things. It gives you the chance to show your prospect some of the qualities they’d experience if they were to work with you.
AND THE PURPOSE OF MY CALL?
It may sound a bit old school, so make it yours with your own style. We are simply encouraging you to be direct, honest, and clear - three things that don't always go together in person-to-person communication. The purpose of my call is to see if anything has changed since we last talked. Eliminate "the purpose of" by clearly stating: "I'm pinging you today because we agreed it would be a good time to see how things are moving forward at ____ (their organization) with the ___ project." (if there is a project name.
This is where good CRM, list-making, and note taking comes in – capture your next actions so that you have an automated way of determining who to follow-up with next.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.
Lori Richardson is recognized as one of the "Top 25 Sales Influencers for 2012" and one of "20 Women to Watch in Sales Lead Management". Lori speaks, writes, trains, and consults with inside and outbound sellers in technology and services companies. Subscribe to the award-winning blog and the “Sales Ideas In A Minute” newsletter for sales strategies, tactics, and tips.