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Following Up with Prospects

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You meet with a prospect and give a great presentation. She seems very excited and says she's interested, but needs to get approval from her boss. A few days pass and eventually you call her back and get her voice mail, so you leave her a message asking for a call back. After waiting another few days, you call again and she tells you that her boss is on vacation, but as soon as he gets back next week she'll get the approval and call you back. A week passes, and guess what? No call from her.

Many salespeople have an aversion to “being a pest.” They don't want to keep calling or emailing a prospect because they're concerned that he'll view them as an annoying disruption. And it's true that after a certain number of attempts, it's time to give up on a prospect for now. The problem is that salespeople often give up way too soon.

One frequently cited study showed that the majority of sales require five or more contacts from a sales rep before they close the sale, yet 90% of salespeople quit by the fourth call. Clearly a lot of sales are falling by the wayside because salespeople aren't persisting long enough.

Lack of interest on your prospect's part can lead to this kind of foot-dragging, but it's even more likely that something more important is taking up her time. Most prospects who seem enthusiastic during a presentation aren't faking their reaction. Generally speaking, they have every intention of buying from you – but then they return to their normal lives and get caught up in daily activities.

The best way to handle such situations is to prepare in advance. Anytime a prospect (or customer) says that they'll need to talk with someone else or collect some vital piece of information and call you back, the first step is to set a firm deadline. In the original example, when the prospect says that she needs to get approval from her boss to close the deal, say something like, “That sounds great. When should I touch base with you to finish the purchase?” That gives them a deadline while simultaneously priming them to expect a call from you.

If a prospect sets a deadline herself, saying, “I'll talk to my boss tomorrow and get his approval,” respond with, “Terrific! If I don't hear from you tomorrow, I'll give you a quick reminder call the next day, if that's OK with you.” Since the prospect fully intends to get that approval, she's almost certainly agree, possibly with a caveat like, “Actually I'd prefer an email.”

Once you've gotten permission from the prospect, you can feel free to get back in touch with her and prompt her back into action. And if, when you call, she isn't yet ready to close the deal, simply start the process again – confirm her action, set a deadline, and arrange for a day on which you'll get back to her if she still hasn't finished her part.

Whatever the circumstances, remember that your role is to bring your product to the attention of people who can benefit from owning it. Sometimes you'll have to be fairly assertive about getting a prospect's attention and keeping the sale on track, but that's not being a pest – it's helping your prospects acquire something that will improve their lives.

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