Whether they want to admit it or not, prospects rely on us as salespeople to usher them along the sales process.
But here’s the thing…
Though we’re equipped with a CRM and we know what pipeline stage a deal is in at any given moment, surprisingly few of us have a clear framework for what to actually do and say once we finish the introductory call.
Should you call or text or email?
How soon after?
What do you do in the dreaded situation of your prospect going dark?
For years now, I’ve taught a simple follow-up framework to salespeople and RevenueZen clients who are going after SMB and mid-market buyers — perfect for when you’re talking directly to the decision maker and there are only a few stakeholders involved.
You may want to bend or break this framework where context demands it, but you can always fall back on it if you’re lost and thinking to yourself, “It’s been two weeks. What do I say now?”
Time to put your Project Manager hat on. First we’re going to talk about buying urgency.
The 3 Types of Buying Urgency
I always get the question: “How do I create urgency?”
The answer is, unfortunately, you CAN’T!
But what you can do is to effectively draw out whatever urgency already exists. You can help your prospects realize their own sense of urgency.
Here are the 3 types of buying urgency, in order:
- Hard Deadline
- Soft ASAP
- Nothing Yet
Hard Deadline is the best one to work with as a sales rep. The buyer has some sort of compelling event, deadline, or external requirement to implement a solution like the one you offer, by a certain time frame.
Think tax season, board meeting, company M&A — something that isn’t under the seller’s or the buyer’s control.
The best thing you can do is to know your buyer, know your industry, and know what to ask about. Then, ask questions effectively to uncover whether your prospect is under any type of external deadline that you can help them stay on track for simply by working with them.
Soft ASAP is our bread and butter as salespeople. There is urgency because the prospect has a problem they need to fix, but there is no external deadline necessarily. They’re just going to keep experiencing some sort of pain until they buy a solution like yours.
One simple question to ask to figure out if the prospect has a Soft ASAP deadline is to ask, “Do you have a specific milestone in mind that you’re trying to prepare for, or is it more just that you’d like to move forward as soon as possible without rushing?”
The phrase “as soon as possible without rushing” conveys that you aren’t going to move faster than anyone is comfortable with, but helps suss out whether there are any time-based delays to making the buying decision, apart from the time it takes for the stakeholders to evaluate the solution.
Importantly: there is a clear pain point driving the decision. There just isn’t an external deadline to be aware of.
Nothing Yet is the weakest form of urgency. The pain the prospect is experiencing isn’t enough to drive them to action yet, but they feel they should do their duty to research existing solutions that could help with the problem, so they’re ready to act when the time is right.
This type of urgency also exists because people may not understand exactly what your solution can do before they have a discovery call with you, and they think, “I may as well take this call in case it solves a pain greater than the cost of inaction.”
Your job on a discovery call is to figure out whether your solution really can meet that threshold.
But remember, just because someone took a call with you doesn’t necessarily mean they have enough pain to make it worth following up with them. It means they might have when they agreed to the call!
One question you can ask in these cases is, “Great! So when we started the call, you mentioned you were mostly looking to figure out how we work to see what else is out there. Have we accomplished that, or is there anything else you were looking to learn about?”
“Perfect. To me, it seems like there are good reasons to keep doing what you’re doing, and also good reasons to consider making a switch. Where do you stand at this point?”
Hopefully they’ll tell you the truth about where they stand. You’re better off not following up actively with prospects who have a low level of buying urgency.
But, if they have either “Hard Deadline” or “Soft ASAP” urgency, then you can use the following framework to follow up with them effectively:
- Plan: Work with stakeholders to establish a plan.
- Execute: Follow up on the next step of the plan.
- Question Timing: Failing that, find out if the timing of the plan changed in some way.
- Question Interest: Failing that, find out if their interest level has changed.
- Wild Card: If you aren’t getting any response, stand out in some way to elicit a response of any kind (e.g., humor, social media, gifting, mailed note, etc.).
Step 1: Outline the Plan
So you just finished a great discovery call. You asked some open-ended questions, some closed-ended questions, and taught the prospect something new about how they can do their job a little better.
You showed your software for a few minutes and tailored your quick demo directly to the pain points they expressed to you, and they gave you high-level indication that your budget is in range for them, if everything else checks out.
If it was appropriate, you scheduled a follow-up call for a deep-dive demo.
The first thing to do is something you probably already do:
Set up the plan!
This is the time to outline what was discussed, summarizing the needs they brought up and the concerns they had, plus a brief description of why you feel the conversation is worth continuing.
If you didn’t already set up the follow-up call, that’s probably because you needed some other information to qualify them. Or, they were supposed to go gather a document or two and send it to you.
Whatever it is, there’s some action item one or more parties needs to take care of. Here’s an example of what that might look like:
Hey Elisa and Tim,
Thanks for spending an hour of your Thursday afternoon with me talking about your immigration strategy. I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon myself, but I realize I’m a little biased.
I know you wanted to make sure your new process was set up in time for the next visa cap season in 2020, and that you also have time to finish evaluating both our solution and your local attorney’s services, before you make a decision. That way, you won’t be rushed and you’ll minimize the risk of any disruption for your foreign-national employees.
In my experience, this evaluation process usually takes 4–7 weeks, so that means the best time for our next call will be toward the end of next week.
Does either the 26th or the 28th work for you, in the afternoon? It will be a 45-minute video call.
In the meantime, the only thing I need from you in order to prepare a quote is the breakdown of your foreign nationals that you foresee will be on Green Cards, H-1B visas, and L-1s. I’ll follow up with you on Friday if I haven’t heard back from you, to help us stay on schedule.
Have a great rest of your afternoon, and enjoy the company HH later!
Let’s break that down.
After a little dry humor up front, we’re re-stating the concerns they brought up, as well as the external reasons why they need to finish evaluating solutions by a certain date.
Next, we’re demonstrating credibility by helping them understand how long the process for picking an immigration solution usually takes, and what to expect on the next call, plus a few dates that align with the plan. This helps cut down on friction, helping them easily say “Yes” to next steps.
They also have some homework to do. We want to make it as easy as possible for them to do the homework, and why it’s important to do. (If they don’t do it, they won’t get the exact quote that they need.) Yours may be different, but the point is: Make it easy to do this and make sure they know why it’s important.
Finally, we’re reminding them of when the deadline is, and letting them know that you’ll catch them and remind them if they forget. Assuming they agreed with this plan while on the call with you, this type of follow-up will help them feel supported.
Step 2: Reminder of the Plan
Let’s assume it’s Friday morning, and they haven’t gotten you the information you need to give them what they want: an accurate quote to share with them, along with the customized demo on your next call.
Our goal now is to casually remind them of the next step you all agreed on, why it’s important, and how long it usually takes.
This email should not have any insecurity in it. Now is not the time to question whether they’re still interested. You shouldn’t express any disappointment, defensiveness, or arrogance. Keep all of that out of it, or your prospect will, rightfully, doubt your confidence and business acumen.
After all, it’s normal for things to get busy.
Here’s what that email might look like:
Elisa/Tim, hope you had a wonderful week. I just left you a quick voicemail; was hoping to help with figuring out how many of each type of visa your FN employees are on, based on their immigration status.
This should be recorded in your HR platform. Would it be easier to jump on a 4-minute call and walk through how to pull that report?
Once we have that, I can produce a quote for you that you can rely, on and we’ll be on track to finish our evaluation in the next 45 days.
Keep it short. Break up your email into short paragraphs (kind of like this article is written!) to make it readable.
Think about what your prospect is going through. They’re busy and have many competing priorities. Make it as simple as possible for them to check this item off their list.
Finally, reduce friction and be empathetic to their situation. They’re not on commission like you are.
Step 3: Question the Timing
Several more days have gone by, and they’ve opened your email but haven’t responded to your phone call or your last email.
The biggest mistake mistake you can make at this point to jump to the conclusion that the prospect isn’t interested, and make that fear explicit.
Confident people selling great solutions don’t assume that right away, and if you do, your prospect will assume you lack unconfidence or you don’t have a great solution.
Here’s an example:
Morning folks. I wanted to be conscious of getting our next call on the books to answer the workflow questions you had, and to go over pricing. It sounds like other projects have taken precedence this past week, which I completely understand.
Should we push our next meeting back a few weeks, or perhaps more? Let me know more about your workload and priorities this month, and I’ll come up with a new plan to get this done for you.
Your main goal here is to create safety.
Work to eliminate the fear in the prospect’s mind that if they respond with anything but a contract signature, you’ll go into “pitch mode,” ruining their chances of having you help them in an unbiased way with an unfamiliar process.
Make it okay for them to say “No” or “Not now” or “Yes, but we thought of additional questions.”
If you don’t, they’ll still decide against you, and you’ll never even have the chance to frame their thought process.
Step 4: Question the Priority
Another 6 days have gone by, and they’ve continued to ghost you. Now it’s okay to ask them if this is still a priority.
Be respectful and, again, hold space for them to tell you the truth. Remember that no deal is better than a bad deal, and remember that you’re interested in winning their business only if it’s truly the right time for a deal to happen, and not otherwise.
Here’s a good template for this stage of the sales call follow-up.
Hi Elisa, Hi Tim!
If your strategy has changed, that’s perfectly fine. Do you still consider setting up an immigration solution for 2020 to be a priority for you?
If yes, what’s the best time to talk again in light of the upcoming March/April deadlines?
If not, may I ask what changed?
All the best,
Be sure not to browbeat anyone or make them look bad, or like they’re procrastinating on something they need to do. Nobody wants to be made to look bad, and plus you’re not their boss. If you try to act like their boss, you’ll just cause them to be resistant and defensive.
Step 5: Wild Card
This is my favorite step.
Your goal with this step is to get a reaction of any kind, as long as it isn’t a negative reaction! Nothing else has worked, so you have little to lose.
Some options for what you can do:
- Send a text to one of the decision-makers, saying, “Hey, it’s Alex Boyd. Is text okay? Np either way. LMK if this is an easier way to communicate.”
- Engage thoughtfully with their most recent LinkedIn post in a non-self-promotional way.
- Use a food delivery service to have cupcakes delivered to their office, with a note saying, “Thanks so much for talking with me a few weeks ago. I enjoyed the conversation and hope to have another one in the future. All the best!”
- Send a gif, meme, or a comic. With no explanation. Just send it as the body of your email. (If you want to see my favorite one, connect with me on LinkedIn and I’ll send it to you privately!)
Just don’t be disrespectful, invasive, or desperate. Be omnipresent, persistent, and funny.
Adopt an abundance mindset: You do deals all the time, and you don’t need this one. It’s your prospect who needs the help. You’re fine as it is!
Most importantly, after Step 4, you should have already mentally “moved on.” If you were forecasting this deal in your pipeline, somewhere in Step 4–5 is where it should have come out of that forecast. Move on to higher-probability opportunities elsewhere.
Remember that this whole framework is a simple one, meant for uncomplicated B2B sales processes.
This isn’t a good process to follow for complex enterprise deals, where there are many stakeholders and where, to keep the momentum going, you need far more than a few emails’ worth of follow-up.
This also isn’t something you should use when the prospect doesn’t have enough urgency to stay committed to the next steps after the call.
Also remember that, when it comes to following up with people, the important thing is not the process itself, but the reason for the process.
The reason is that people are human and don’t always adhere perfectly to what they said they would do. Our job is to guide them.
If you’re in a sales process and you find yourself needing to break the process in order to be a better, firmer, more empathetic guide for the prospect to make a good purchase decision, then do it!
And remember: Most of the work to determine whether you will have a successful follow-up process happens before you start following up. It happens on the call!