Sales is (almost always) a process. You can stop a deal before it starts if you fail to leave a positive first impression with a prospect. If you fail to follow-up properly, you might still lose your customer.
The follow-up sales email is a unique challenge.
Mastering your follow-up sales emails means that you must become persistent, but not to the point that you’re annoying. The value promises you’ve offered must be worth something.
“Your prospects will only change because of the impact you can have on their organization,” writes author and speaker Jill Konrath. “Reiterate it. Remind them of how you can help.”
The issue often becomes one of focus. When you contact a prospect for the first time, the focus is usually on their wants or needs. During the follow-up communication, the focus frequently shifts toward what the salesperson desires.
That shift is what destroys a relationship before allowing it to start in the first place.
If you’re pursuing a hot lead right now, the kind of prospect that could earn you a month’s worth of your salary with a sale, then your focus must be on their needs and the processes you must follow.
That means knowing how to master that follow-up email.
The Three Commandments of Follow-Up Emails
Trevor Ambrose, Director of Presentation and Sales Training at Robina Town Centre in Queensland, Australia, suggests that there are several reasons why some people are successful at sales while others are not.
Ambrose lists nine reasons, but it is his first observation which is the most profound.
“Being a good listener is probably the most overlooked sales skill of all,” Ambrose writes. “Many sales reps spend far too much time talking, and nowhere near enough time listening, to what the customer truly wants. If you listen attentively and pay attention, the customer will tell you everything you need to know in order to close their deal.”
Consider fighting the need to push towards a conclusion and consider mixing specific questions in your follow-up email that reference your first discussion alongside reminders of how you can help.
Commandment #1: Persistence & Patience
If someone doesn’t respond to your initial follow-up efforts, then keep at it without being pushy or aggressive. People who are interested stay engaged. They will buy when they’re ready.
Commandment #2: Align Your Values
For your follow-up to be adequate, your values must align with every other department. There cannot be any separation between what you tell a prospect and what the rest of your organization is telling them.
Con Frantzeskos, Chief Executive Officers of PENSO, a global growth consultancy firm, describes this commandment in a unique way. “Every single touchpoint,” he writes, “or moment of truth has to deliver a seamless, memorable brand experience all linked to driving sales outcomes.”
The outcomes are not based on the salesperson earning a paycheck or the company reaching their customer goals.
Outcomes today are based on the experiences your prospects receive. People want consistency.
Commandment #3: A Data System Is Necessary
If you’re busy and active as a salesperson, you’ve got lots of info you’re collecting. And knowing the details of earlier conversations becomes the key to having meaningful follow-up emails.
This is where a CRM can become incredibly helpful.
That’s why sales teams are transitioning to CRM systems.
“As it relates to utilizing a CRM, I have found that by documenting often and letting the technology manage me, I was 10 times more efficient and my sales numbers backed up my argument,” writes Casey Jacox, President at Kforce Professional Staffing.
“The discipline of using a CRM helped me build stronger relationships with my customers. I always remembered who to call and when to call them.”
The First 48
Timing is incredibly important when following up with your prospects. Most follow-up efforts should take place 48 hours or less after your initial contact.
Make sure your follow-up email includes a request to take the next step.
The Provocative, On-Point Open
To market a CRM, we might approach an email follow-up with an important question as an opener.
“Bob, are you doing everything possible to keep track of every prospect and customer contact right now to ensure you’re maximizing each source of revenue?’
You want a follow-up email to grab the reader’s attention. It should force them to stop, think, and consider the first interaction they had with you from a day or two before.
“Am I doing everything to address my problem?” is a question you want your prospect to ask herself.
When you grab the reader’s attention, they naturally want to read more of what you’ve got to say.
At the same time, you’re showing (not telling) the prospect that you have done your homework, are intelligent enough to understand their pain points, and care enough to remember their concerns. Even more impressive is if you said you’d research a question of theirs from your first call and incorporate the answer to that in your opening.
How Long Should the Email Be?
What’s a good length for an email? Not too short, not too long.
How long should your subject line be? Pretty short, usually.
The Lack of Follow-Up Follow-Up Email
The uninformed, dis-continuous email is so frustrating to receive. You’ve already had a conversation. Don’t send a follow-up email that has no detailed reference to or continuity with that first conversation.
Being detailed is not pushy–it shows respect and that you value the information the prospect is sharing with you.
This can often happen when a team is disorganized and someone is following up on an initial contact done by another team member. If you’re working in a team, you should always check your CRM before following up. There should be notes on the first contact and what needs to be addressed in follow-ups.
You can also check your CRM to make sure nobody else on your team has already followed up to ensure you’re not sending a duplicate email (again–a very frustrating scenario for the recipient and one that makes your team look disorganized and unprofessional).
Document everything. That way, there are fewer opportunities to ignore the prior history you have with each follow-up opportunity.
Your Follow-Up Email Addresses the Wrong Person
In the March 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Karl Schmidt, Brent Adamson, and Anna Bird looked at the idea of a consensus sale.
Like most sales and marketing professionals, you were likely taught to find the one person at each company who can approve a deal.
The problem today is that even small businesses with 10 or fewer employees often make consensus decisions on purchases. Organizations with a unilateral decision-maker have become the exception, not the rule.
In a review of surveys that included over 5,000 stakeholders, Schmidt, Adamson, and Bird found that the average company required a minimum of 5 people to sign off on each purchase formally.
If your initial contact was with more than one person, make sure to ask who the right person is to follow up with. (Pro tip: it might be more than one person and your follow-up emails should have multiple recipients.)
Your Writer’s Voice is Monotonous
Have you ever sat through a public speech or university class where the speaker used the same tone of voice and sentence structure throughout the entire presentation?
The boredom that a lack of inflection causes will make anyone squirm in their chair. That truth applies to emails which are written in the same way.
One easy way to avoid making your follow-up emails sound like they’re on autopilot is to eliminate all the jargon. Speak to your prospect as if you’re having a conversation with them on the phone.
There are some catchphrases that you are likely using in your emails right now without realizing that you’re doing it.
“Back when journalists were somewhat fastidious with the language than they are today, newspaper editors often kept an ‘index expurrgatorius’: a roster of words and phrases that under no circumstances would find their way into print,” writes Bryan A. Gardner, an attorney, teacher, and lexicographer.
“You want to sound like a person, not an institution.”
Know Your Prospect’s Name
This one seems obvious and easy, but it’s an unforced error that gets committed with surprising frequency.
When you’re working with prospects, it is imperative that you use their preferred name when continuing the conversation with a follow-up email. Not doing so indicates to the individual that you haven’t taken the necessary time to get to know them or don’t care enough.
Your prospect’s formal name is Robert. Does he prefer Robert, Rob, Robby, Bobby, or Bob? Do you remember from your first interaction? This is something you should listen for and note in your CRM.
You’re Sending the Emails at the Wrong Time
The best follow-up emails ever written are still ineffective if they aren’t opened. Sometimes the issue is more about timing than the quality of the work produced.
If you send follow-up emails at the wrong time of day, or during a busy part of the week, there is an increased chance that they will be missed.
MailChimp put together information using send time optimization to see when the optimal time is to send emails that generate engagement. They found that the middle of the day on Thursday produces an open rate of 18%.
If an email is opened the same day it’s received, there’s a good chance it will never be opened.
Now You’re Ready to Send a Better Email Follow-Up
Holding back from your follow-up attempts will hold your prospects back. It sometimes seems like you’re pestering them when you send a second or third email, but that is not the case. Especially, of course, if your follow-ups deliver value and are interesting.
With organized and personalized processes, you create more opportunities to find the sales and marketing success you want.
One effective way to improve that organization is to use a CRM. By keeping everyone in the company on the same page, your teams become consistent in how they communicate with each prospect.
Consistency and ongoing testing and optimization will lead to more engagement with follow up emails and, ultimately, more sales.