The B2E sales process can be split into three phases:  prospecting, meeting, and closing.  The majority of what we actively do each day is prospecting.  A small percentage of the people we contact agree to go to phase two, where we discuss specific needs and include a product demonstration.  Sometimes there are multiple meetings with various stake holders.  Some percentage of these opportunities advance to phase three:  closing.  This is a long phase that includes evaluations, approvals and finally procurement.

Follow up, the primary activity of the closing stage, is the low hanging fruit of the sales skills world.  Unlike great prospecting, great follow up doesn’t require you to have Herculean stamina or be a clever wordsmith.   Unlike great meeting technique, you don’t have to possess patience, poise and the restraint to ask questions and listen when what you really want to do is show features.  To be great at follow up you basically just have to be organized and actually do it.  So why don’t more reps do adequate follow up work?

One of my boys had an interview this week and called me from college right after to say how excited he was.  He thought he did well.  Hooray!  I asked him what their hiring process was and did he need to fill out an online application to complete the process?  Would there be additional hiring managers to meet?  When would he hear any news?  He had no idea; he hadn’t thought to ask.

I didn’t mean to rain on his parade, but my questions took him from a state of euphoria to one of horror.  His lack of curiosity for what would happen next doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t get the job, but he is leaving a great deal to chance.  As a result, he’s kind of stabbing around in the dark at what to say by way of follow up beyond, “Thank you and I’m interested.”  And there it is.  The reason follow up fails.  We don’t form a plan with the customer for what this phase of the sales process will look like, and later have no tangible deliverables beyond, “Thank you and I’m interested.”  You can only send a subject line of “Checking In” once or twice before a sales opportunity shrivels on the vine due to embarrassing dead air.

Fixing your follow up simply requires you to ask the right questions of the prospect up front.  Find out who the decision makers are, what steps will be taken internally, when they will be taken, and how they will evaluate your services.  Who, what, when, and how.  Don’t let the excitement of a great sales meeting get the better of you and trust the client to conduct a good sale of your product internally.  Ask what the two of you need to do together to gain consensus.

As my son just learned, you’ve got to ask good questions while you’re in the meeting.  If your sales conversations include a detailed follow up strategy, you’ll have plenty to say in your follow ups.  Rather than “checking in,” you are forwarding the survey results you just collected from teachers.  Instead of “let me know what you need,” you’ll be saying “here’s a case study to back up your request at the board meeting on Wednesday.”  Great follow up is just informed follow up.

The most critical lesson to learn here is to recognize closing is a stage that can take weeks or months, not something that happens spontaneously during a sales meeting because the client liked the demo.  In B2E a one meeting close is rare due to the many stakeholders, funding sources, and procurement policies that must be satisfied before placing an order.  Presume your prospect has these common issues to contend with and ask her what will need to happen next.  Creating that list will not only help you ace your follow up, but will help your client follow through on her end too!

For further reading on following up try:

Closing is a Process, Not a Sentence

Where’s My P.O.

Closing Through Consensus



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