The Big Networking Dilemma
You know how important prospecting for new leads is in business development. So you’re building your professional network and attending business events. You’re working LinkedIn and starting conversations. You’re putting together a strong referral network.
Soon your networking efforts pay off and you encounter a decent prospect. Or your referral network kicks in and you’re introduced to a potential client. So you meet up, have an excellent conversation and are encouraged by their positive response. You agree to send them further ideas, a quote or proposal with a view to you working together. Which you do. Then what?
Nothing. No call back, no enthusiastic response, no email. Silence. Tumbleweed. Now you’re not done, because you know the power of persistency. So you call back and leave a voicemail message. Or send another email. And nothing. It’s a game. A dance. A chase. What do you do now? Constant follow up may smack of desperation, which undermines your expert status and credibility. Yet letting this one go may allow a big fish to slip the hook.
What Went Wrong?
Did you do anything wrong? Probably not. They were willing to meet and seemed open to your ideas. Usually it’s not your fault. You often need to give people time to do their due diligence on your proposal. They need to assess fit, run it past other people, take a look at budgets, think things through.
The one thing you probably did do wrong was to NOT position the follow up while you were in the meeting. Once you agree to send them a proposal, you must educate them on what happens next. Lead them in the sales process. Then you can lead them in the delivery. WHich is how it should be as you are the expert practitioner.
The following questions are helpful to ask as you position any kind of follow up:
- If I send you a few thoughts, when do you think it would be good to talk them through?
- Once you get this proposal, when would be good to talk again?
- If this proposal lands in your inbox tomorrow, how long do you want to think it through before we talk again?
Then you’ve got your next point of contact scheduled and they know it’s coming. It’s an agreed touch point. An agreed call or meeting. Which makes your next move less of a follow up and more keeping a commitment to re-connect as agreed. Not only does this make you more confident in following up, it makes them feel bad if they don’t take your call or meet up as they proposed. This is known as closing the loop.
Closing the Loop
They say stalking is a long romantic walk that the other person isn’t aware of! Your job is to strike a delicate balance between being persistent, being a pest and being exclusive by withdrawing.
Closing the loop means arranging your next point of contact while you’re in the present one. That way THEY know it’s coming and YOU feel better about following up. Closing the loop gives you higher status in the engagement. You’re ‘bossing’ the interaction and nudging things forward. Mere chasing or stalking is a low status activity where you’re adding little value. They’re not so bought into the engagement.
So you’ve positioned the follow up BEFORE you send the proposal or quote. Then as part of that interaction, position the agreed next one:
- Let me know you’ve got this quote safely. And I’ll call you late next week as agreed to follow up. Thanks Jim.
- Please confirm you’ve received this proposal Jim. I’ll also follow up Wed 21 as we discussed to explore possible next steps.
- Jim, this quote is valid for 30 days as I mentioned. You said a couple of weeks is a good time to talk again, so I’ll call you then.
- Jim, for the sake of good order, can you confirm you’ve got this? And I’ll call you Fri 31 as agreed to talk further.
Emails or phone messages with some kind of call to action keep the engagement moving. You’re closing down open ended loops that arise from either no arranged next step or a weak one like I’ll call you sometime to follow it up. The problem comes if your follow up doesn’t work.
When NOT to Follow Up
Nobody has too much time. It’s a scarce resource. It’s why a lot of people don’t follow up – they don’t have the time to chase. But is there a danger that if you’re not willing to follow up, then what you’re proposing isn’t that important? Yes. But you must draw the line somewhere.
This is where you close the loop by taking the engagement AWAY from your prospect. If you keep emailing and leaving messages that say you’ll keep trying, you’re telling them you’re happy to keep chasing. So effectively they don’t need to do anything until you actually catch them. To counter this, put the ball in their court. Try these when you leave voicemail message:
- Hey Jim, not heard back from you on that proposal for X. Don’t want to be a pest, so call me back if you want to discuss further. Otherwise I’ll assume your situation has changed and you’re no longer interested. Thanks.
- Hi Julie, it’s Jim from [firm name]. You’ll recall we met recently and discussed some ideas around X. You asked for a proposal but since then, it’s gone quiet. I appreciate you’re busy but if this is still current for you, call me this week. Cheers.
- Jim, it’s George from [firm name]. You don’t want me to keep calling and neither do I. We’d love to work with you on this but I’m assuming your priorities have changed since we met? No hard feelings, but do you want me to close the file on this one?
You can only take this approach be being courageous and confident. That comes from having plenty of quality leads in the pipeline. Then your targets won’t suffer if they don’t bite. Otherwise you’ll be desperate. As pitch expert Oren Klaff says, ‘people want what they can’t have. People chase that which moves away from them.’