Follow-up may be the most underrated marketing technique in existence. Self-employed professionals spend an enormous amount of time and money on attracting or meeting people who might do business with them. They build websites, go to networking events, purchase ads, set up social media profiles, and more. But marketing activities like these are aimed at making contact with new potential clients for the first time. Follow-up is missing from the picture.

Staring at phone

You’ve probably heard the following truths about marketing and sales before:

  • People prefer to do business with people they know, like, and trust.
  • It takes five to seven contacts with a prospect to close a sale.
  • Marketing is a process; not an event.

These are all different takes on the same essential message: you must follow up with prospects, over time, in order to get their business. People who have met you or heard about you only once hardly ever buy. But even though the typical entrepreneur knows this, we frequently forget it when designing our marketing approach.

I’ve written before about why follow-up seems to be so hard and the different forms effective follow-up can take. But every time I talk about putting more focus on follow-up, readers and students have questions. Below are the five questions I’m most often asked, with some answers to help you overcome the obstacles that may be keeping follow-up out of your marketing.

1. Why should I follow up; won’t people call when they need me?

No, they won’t. The person they will call is someone they remember. If they haven’t heard from you recently, that person won’t be you. If there are two appropriate people they remember, they will call the one they trust the most. Following up consistently over time builds trust.

2. Isn’t following up being too pushy?

Respectful, timely follow-up isn’t pushy; it’s professional. When you tell prospects you will contact them again, they expect to hear from you. When prospects let you know they are interested in your services, they expect to hear from you. If you disappear after one contact, prospects either forget you, think you don’t care about them, or wonder whether you are still in business.

3. How often should I follow up with a prospect?

That depends on how strongly you believe that prospect needs you. In general, if you think a prospect’s need is urgent, follow up immediately, again in a couple of days, and again after one week. When he/she has a need, but it isn’t urgent, follow up the first time within a few days, then again every thirty days. If you’re not sure he/she has a need, but the prospect fits your target market, follow up the first time within a week, then again at least once per quarter.

4. What should I do if a prospect never responds?

Lack of response tells you nothing. When a prospect doesn’t respond to calls, emails, or letters, you have no way to know why. Keep following up on the schedule that matches what you know about the prospect’s need for your services, as in #3 above. You’ll be glad you did every time you reach a prospect on the umpteenth try and he/she says, “I’m so glad you called.” Trust me, it will happen.

5. When should I stop following up with a prospect?

Usually, never, unless he/she asks you to stop, or you come to believe that prospect would not be a good client for you. A helpful guideline is to measure the value of any potential sale against what follow-up is costing you. A $100 potential sale may only be worth a phone call or two plus an unlimited number of emails. A $10,000 potential sale is probably worth many calls, letters, and emails, plus lunch or coffee.

Follow-up deserves a central place in your marketing plan. Every marketing approach you devise needs to have follow-up built into it. Plan in advance to follow up multiple times with every prospect you attract or meet. Don’t give up on follow-up, and it will deliver for you.

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