The Importance of a Solid Sales Follow-Up

Sales follow-up

The newest member of your sales team returns from an appointment, and you call her into your office to ask how it went.

“Great,” she says.

The problem is: “Great” might not mean the same thing to you as it does to her, and if she’s not feeling chatty, it might be awhile before you find out what happened. You need a tool that will help you monitor what went on and let you know that she pre-qualified the client and that she’s got a clear next step.

Such a hack exists, however, and it is simple.

A word about coaching

Most companies have a set of prescribed steps in their sales process, Bob DeGroot of Sales Training International said. To ensure that reps are completing these steps, most sales managers typically meet with their teams once a week to review upcoming opportunities.

“During these sessions the salesperson would bring up a priority account or top prospect and talk about what steps have been completed and what steps they will implement next,” DeGroot said. “At the next sales meeting, at the beginning of the meeting, the participants go around the room, each telling about a win they achieved as a result of their account discussion during the previous sales meeting. As another step in the sales process was completed, the sales manager would ask questions such as, ‘How’d you do that?’ The salesperson would then give the necessary information so that everyone in the room can understand what the person did during the client meeting. Not only did the sales manager learn, so did the others in attendance.”

This process, a staple of sales management, is called the peer-to-peer strategy meeting. But it doesn’t always happen. In the ‘90s, DeGroot conducted research at a large phone company. He found that most sales managers there spent only 15 minutes a month coaching each employee. In 2005 and 2010, DeGroot conducted the same research at a major medical device company and got the same answer.

“Many managers spent a lot of time on individual questions or errors, but little time, if any, on actually coaching,” DeGroot said.

The art of the follow-up

Sales managers who are pressed for time, working with large teams or remotely working with a sales team quickly need to be able to find and troubleshoot the reps who need help with their approach.

“What are they doing on the appointment? Are they asking questions? Are they finding out about their budget? And are they getting what I call an if/then, which is if they do this, what happens then,” sales coach Greta Schulz said.

She recommends what she calls a “recap email,” a detailed follow-up email sent to a prospect after a meeting, but with the sales manager blind carbon-copied.

This email should:

  • Include a bulleted recap of the rep’s conversation with the prospect, including the prospect’s concerns, needs, the products/services discussed.
  • Recap the prospect’s budget.
  • Lay out a clear next step, with a date and time for a next meeting or a proposal.
  • Include a statement of what sort of timeline the prospect is on. (For example, if the prospect said he’d be able to make a decision by the end of the month.)
  • Be sent within the day of the meeting (or the next morning if the meeting took place late in the day).

“Now, that email would go to the client, It’s extremely professional, it zeroes everything in, it recaps everything,” Schulz said. “The prospect looks at that and says, ‘Wow, they really paid attention,’ or ‘Hey, you missed something here.’ They look at you as a very professional person in that you paid attention and you’re summarizing everything. As a sales manager, I would look at that and say, ‘OK, I see they covered everything.’”

Unless, of course, something was missing. Maybe the salesperson ends the email vaguely. Maybe she says something to the client along these lines: “I’m going to get a proposal together for you and get back to you when it’s done.”

“I would email my salesperson back and say, this all sounds great, the problem is you don’t have a clear next step,” Schulz said. “Why don’t you email a couple of times that you will assume you will be finished, for example, if you think it’s going to take five days. Give her two or three dates and times for next week and pin it down.”

Using an email to catch up with reps is a tool that can work for sales teams that operate remotely; Schulz used to manage a team of eight. Because she did a lot of traveling at the time, email was an ideal solution for her.

“The email wasn’t sent to me, so they can’t BS me,” Schulz said of the emails from her reps. “It was sent to the client, and I’m just being blind copied on it.”

Troubleshoot your salespeople’s approach to a prospect

A solid follow-up email is a triple threat:

  • It keeps a salesperson in touch with a client.
  • It functions as a to-do list for a rep. (“As a salesperson you’d know exactly what you need to be doing because you’ve summarized it,” Schulz said.)
  • Most importantly, it gives the sales manager who is bcc’d on the email a window into reps’ behavior on sales calls.

“When I had a sales team, we would always have them do that for me,” said sales coach Manny Nowak, author of My Sales Follow-Up Sucks. “I really want to know what they’re saying to the customer in case I’ve got to coach them.”

Nowak used this method to keep tabs on his own reps when he managed a team. He recalled one salesperson attempted to close deals in those follow-up emails.

“The rep was really being way too aggressive in an email,” Nowak said.

While being an aggressive salesperson is good, a certain type of aggression can go over like a lead balloon in an email. This particular rep was assuming that his prospect was ready to buy, and was attempting, in his follow-up email, to close the deal.

“I didn’t see anything from my documentation that made it clear that the customer was anywhere close to that,” Nowak said.

Nowak differs in one respect from Schulz. Where Schulz advocates a detailed follow-up, Nowak believes in brevity.

“I think you’ve got to highlight the things the customer told you, but still very briefly. I’m a big believer that an email shouldn’t have more than one basic focus because people’s reading time is generally eight seconds or less,” Nowak said. “I always try to keep emails very simple and to the point. Otherwise, I’m going to pick up the phone.”

Other ways of understanding your reps’ behavior on calls

There are other ways to learn about your reps’ approach to sales calls, of course.

If your sales team spends a lot of time on the phone, your business can simply record the phone calls, for example. If you’re a team seller, you’re likely to have more than one rep on every call.

DeGroot encourages sales managers to coach proactively, conducting regular peer-to-peer coaching sessions. He also encourages managers to observe their team during meetings, or to ask for spontaneous demonstrations.
The sort of follow-up that works for your company will depend on you and your clients. If your sales teams operate remotely, and you can’t have an in-person meeting, a detailed email may be the hack you need to help you coach your sales team.

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AJ O'Connell

A.J. O’Connell is an author and journalist, and serves as a field reporter for Pipedrive. Elsewhere, her work has appeared on several trailblazing websites, including The Next Web, The Mary Sue, The Establishment, The Billfold and SkilledUp. Read more of her work at ajoconnell.com.