Simple vs. easyDoing a good job at follow-up is a piece of cake. You just capture every lead or potential referral partner you run across, then place a call or send them something, or both. If you don’t make a sale right away, you calendar them for the next follow-up and do the same thing again. Pretty straightforward, isn’t it? So why is follow-up such a problem? Here are the four most common reasons, and what you can do about them.

1. Prioritization. With an activity that you must initiate, it’s easy to let other tasks come first: responding to incoming calls and mail, reading what drifts into your inbox or crosses your desk, going to meetings and conferences, and oh yes, doing the client work you get paid for.

If you don’t set aside reserved time for follow-up, it will never happen. Block out a specific time on your calendar each week to review every lead or referral source you have and determine what sort of follow-up might be appropriate. Then treat that time as sacred. If you absolutely must work on something else during your follow-up time, don’t cancel it — reschedule it, just as you would a client.

2. Disorganization. Business cards, email messages, social media contacts, and scraps of paper on your desk do not constitute a contact management system. Without accurate records of who you have contacted, when, and what your last interaction was about, effective follow-up is impossible.

Start now to designate one place where you store details about your prospects and referral sources. This is could be a true contact management system like Salesforce or Insightly, a simple contact manager such as Google Contacts or the address book on your favorite device, an Excel spreadsheet, or even a notebook. For each of your contacts, note a category (e.g., “hot lead,” “former client,” “potential referral source”) and the last date you were in touch. This will make it easy to determine when it’s time to make contact again, and why.

3. Resistance. Do you find yourself saying, “I shouldn’t have to do this? I’m good at what I do. Why aren’t the prospects calling me?” You are sabotaging yourself with this line of thinking. Professionals much more established than you are follow up with their prospects routinely. It’s one of the ways they got established.

Regular follow-up does not make people think you don’t have enough business; it makes them see you as a professional businessperson. When they hear from you regularly, you appear competent, focused, and reliable — exactly the impression you want them to have.

4. Fear. “If I follow up that lead, I might be rejected,” reasons the voice in your head. “So I’ll avoid the pain by not making that contact in the first place.” The reality is that if you don’t follow up, failure is no longer just possible, it’s almost certain!

The thought of making follow-up calls can be even more paralyzing than cold calling. After all, this is someone you already believe needs your services. Maybe you’ve already talked or sent some information. You’ve invested something or made a personal connection, so now if you hear no, the rejection really feels personal.

What you have to remember is that rejection is not about you. This is a business transaction. Your prospect is deciding whether to spend his or her own or the company’s money. The factors that go into a decision like this are innumerable. Here are some actual reasons people with a strong need for the service being offered have refused to buy or bought from a competitor:

  • Decided to take a Hawaiian vacation instead
  • Competing bid was from cousin’s boyfriend
  • Getting divorced
  • Company going bankrupt
  • Didn’t want to take money out of a mutual fund to pay for it
  • Boss doesn’t want headquarters to know there’s a problem
  • Liked the competitor’s logo
  • Project was tabled until next year

None of these reasons are about you. When a prospect tells you a competitor was chosen because he or she “has more experience,” the message is that the company hires only people with strong experience in its own industry. This is not about you. If you are told the competition “came well recommended,” the prospect is choosing to do business with the friend of a colleague. It’s not about you. When you hear that the other guy’s bid was lower, it means the buyer values price over quality. Also not about you.

Whatever is getting in the way of your follow-up, make a commitment to identify it and resolve it. You’re working hard to fill your pipeline with prospects and referral sources. Don’t waste all that effort by not following through.

C.J. Hayden

C.J. Hayden, MCC, CPCC, is the author of the bestseller Get Clients Now!: A 28-Day Marketing Program for Professionals, Consultants, and Coaches, Since 1992, she's been helping self-employed professionals survive and thrive. C.J. is the author of five other business how-to-books, and has taught marketing at Mills College and John F. Kennedy University. Find out how you can work with C.J. as your business coach or attend one of her upcoming programs.

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