How Sales Follow-ups Work and How They Are Evolving

Sales follow-ups drive home the favourable image of your company generated by marketing campaigns and nurture customer relationships. They make the difference between a fleeting encounter with your brand and a dialogue that will result in closing a deal.

In this guide, we’ll walk through the sales follow-up process, mapping its various stages, from prioritising leads to timing to follow-up formats and content. We’ll also look at promising new technologies and approaches that are transforming the concept of sales follow-ups.


The Sales Process: From Lead Generation to Contact to Follow-up to Sale

Your marketing team’s lead generation is all in vain if your sales team doesn’t collaborate with them to properly follow-up after the initial contact with sales leads. Once leads are generated – whether through organic traffic to your website, a special offer or webinar, advertising in print or online, or another source – your sales staff is responsible for making the initial contact.

But what happens after contact is established is crucial. How should you structure the follow-up process? How do you establish the “who, when, and what” of sales follow-ups, create a sales plan that is easy to follow, and effectively close deals? Let’s zero in on this middle section in the sales cycle and analyse its components.


Tailored Approaches Based on Data: The Sales Follow-up Process


1) Determining which Leads are Ripe for Follow-ups

Once your marketing and sales teams have delivered leads to the top of the sales funnel, how do you determine which ones should be contacted and which deserve priority when planning sales follow-ups?

Lead scoring is a key methodology for determining the quality of sales leads:

  • Explicit scores are determined by data about the lead: the type of business they represent, location, etc.

  • Implicit scores come from how the leads behave: visits to your website, email analytics, etc.


Lead scoring allows you to decide which leads are Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs): these leads are the most likely to result in sales. (These are not to be confused with Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) – leads likely to be open to marketing efforts, but not yet as likely to buy as SQLs.)

Another key term in the lead scoring process is Customer Lifetime Value (CLV). This metric goes beyond basic data included in explicit and implicit scores. CLV projects how much value this lead is likely to have for your business in the future.

As Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT’s Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business rightly argued in the Harvard Business Review, CLV should be about more than the revenue a lead can generate for your company; it’s also an opportunity for you to consider how value generation can be a two-way street.

He writes: “The best investment you can make in measuring customer lifetime value is to make sure you’re investing in your customer’s lifetime value.” Ask yourself: What can you offer your potential customers to make them more likely to form a relationship with your company?

Organizing your leads and prioritizing them according to scores based on a wide variety of data requires the use of a user-friendly sales lead database. This database is part of any adequate CRM or sales software. Using your lead database, you can set up a systematic plan for sales follow-ups.


2) Timing is Everything: When Should You Follow up?

You’ve got a handle on lead scoring, but when is the time to follow up? One key principle here is to follow-up while the contact with the lead is still fresh.

Research by the Harvard Business Review even suggests that companies who follow-up within an hour with customers are as much as seven times more likely to qualify their leads. You don’t want to let your best sales leads lose interest or be contacted by a more persistent competitor.

This is where the follow-up process often falls apart. Using your sales follow-up software, create a contact plan that your team can easily follow.

But wait, before you knock off after your best leads have been contacted: what about leads that are slightly less promising? Remember that great sales leads deserve attention, but OK leads may also become great leads if your sales follow-ups are delivered at the right time.

Don’t take the easy route, and don’t waste potential SQLs. It can take 6 to 8 touches to produce a viable sales lead. Plan your sales follow-ups systematically and comprehensively, and don’t limit yourself to the flashiest prospects.


3) Meeting People Where They Are: How to Follow-up

Once you’ve established who your SQLs are and you have a plan in place to schedule your follow-up contacts, how do you contact leads?

Decisions need to be made about two aspects of follow-up communication: one is the content, and of the other is the method of communication. Here are some tips for crafting your follow-ups:


Follow-up content:

  • Offer your leads something valuable when you follow up: This is where contact between sales and marketing teams is crucial: your marketing team will likely already have high-quality content tailored to your leads’ interests. Don’t reinvent the wheel in the sales department, but rather encourage collaboration among your staff.


  • Present your business clearly: Use your follow-ups to reinforce the key points of your sales pitch. Don’t assume your leads were 100% clear the first time. You want to convert this lead into a sale, and doing that requires persistence.


  • Don’t make empty contacts: The last thing you want your follow-ups to generate is annoyance. Don’t bother your leads unless you have something to say and something to offer.


Follow-up methods of communication:

  • Choose formats based on data: Your sales lead database should contain the information you need about your sales leads’ behaviour and preferences. Are they reluctant to answer emails? Do they respond to your web-based promotions? Have you simply asked them how they’d like to be contacted?

    Getting feedback on preferred methods of communication as part of sales calls and other contacts includes your leads in the communication process. Your follow-ups will be more effective if you meet your leads where they want to communicate.


  • Get into Social Selling: Speaking of meeting people where they are…In the digital age, social networking has changed the way companies interact with customers.

    Some, like marketing educator and author Marie Wiese, argue that the old sales funnel is a thing of the past, and the new sales environment is all about sharing useful content and building trust through social networks.

    As she writes in Forbes: “Social selling is taking part in the community in which your customers participate to listen, understand, share, and engage.”


AI: The Future of Sales Follow-up

The sales follow-up process described thus far is a data-driven plan that tries to estimate the likelihood of qualified leads becoming sales. But new AI or artificial intelligence technologies are revolutionising the way we put data to work in the sales follow-up process.

Sales AI uses machine learning to harness big data in your database and create well-informed, increasingly effective strategies for contacting your leads. It frees up your sales team, so they can spend less time organising their sales lead database and more time doing what AI can’t do yet: engaging in personal communication and building trust.

Sales AI software is at the forefront of this exciting new use of artificial intelligence for business.


In Your Company They Trust: Psychology and Follow-ups

Trust – it’s one of the most valuable assets in CRM, and one of the most elusive. How do you gain and nurture trust in your customer relationships through follow-ups?

As mentioned above, as useful as AI technology is, human relationships are still difficult for machines to master. The best way to build trust is to pay attention to what matters to them and meeting them on a human level. Knowing and analysing the data is helpful, but data alone will not create customer relationships based on trust. As speaker and author Brian Tracy argues, psychological sales strategies like emphasizing scarcity or appealing to your leads’ emotions only work when they are actually genuine.

Don’t try to impose psychology on your sales leads – rather, try to base your communication on an understanding of your leads’ needs and wishes. As with CLV, it’s as much about what you are willing to invest as the investment you’re trying to secure.

Social selling is closely tied to these psychology-based approaches. The world of social networking runs on personalized communication and trading useful information within networks. Today’s sales employees need more than scripted sales pitches – they need training in the use of social media platforms and digital CRM.

You can perfect your sales follow-up process by staying up-to-date on developments in AI and smart collaborative planning between sales and marketing departments. Helping your sales team reach peak performance is all about incorporating sound strategies and the leading technologies.


This post is part of our Navigating the Sales Cycle series. Download the e-book and discover the 7 steps to sales success



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