And for this inaction, you probably wouldn’t blame the customer, the economy, or the weather. The blame for not following up falls on you. Seems clear, right?
Actually, it’s about as clear as Brett Favre’s retirement plans.
That’s because most companies can define and quantify getting a lead, confirming an appointment, making a presentation, and offering a sales close. They know the close ratio, gross dollars, and commissions. But almost none define “follow up.” For all too many contractors, follow-up stops somewhere between “Let us think about it” and “We already bought something.”
In the current economic climate, the need has never been greater, nor the incentive more pronounced.
That’s because Harvard Business Review has recently published what you already suspected: sales cycles in the new economy are longer. Confidence-seeking consumers justify putting off sales, or downselling themselves, which compounds itself in the following ways: slower to close; lower price points; heightened loan requirements. Just reading that list is enough to make you want to poke out your mind’s eye. Yet there’s a new approach that benefits the reluctant mindset of your customer while simultaneously trouncing contractors who are still trying the old methods of one-step selling.
The old approach of getting the lead, presenting options, and inking the contract before you leave is shriveling. The new approach stems from a confluence of a changed consumer and social media influence. Best thing, it’s not really new at all.
Selling is - and has always been - a relationship. Yet in a hot economy, when cash is flowing, improvements are incentivized, and home values warranted re-investment, selling was order taking. We got lazy. True sales skills eroded. Case in point, follow up has become nearly nonexistent. Remember my opening question? According to National Sales Executive, the figures have slipped to modern-day lows:
• 48 percent of salespeople never follow-up after the initial presentation.
• 25 percent of salespeople make a second contact then stop.
• 12 percent of sales people make three contacts and stop.
• Only 10 percent of sales people make more than three contacts.
Focus on that last figure for a moment. And since the consumer’s buying cycle is longer, the need for relationship and credibility greater, those who follow up after three tries have eliminated 90 percent of their towel-tossing competition.
Plus with social networking, instantaneous company critiques, and unparalleled comparative shopping, order taking is out. Relationships and true salesmanship re-enters as a skill. It is a skill that requires tenacity and follow up.
A salesperson who doesn’t follow up, doesn’t get the sale.
FOLLOW-UP METHODHow do you get the job done? By using the Follow-Up in Five method. Here is the step-by-step process in a nutshell.
1. Speed Sells - The call, email, online request must be followed up with quickly. Harvard Business Review cites that today’s frenetic consumer doesn’t wait around like they used to. A one-hour response time (meaning confirmation contact, not appointment) has a seven times greater acceptance than three hours. In other words, if you’re slow to respond, your lead turns into somebody else’s sale.
How to Do It?Capture phone, email and texting contact. If the request is generated online, have an Auto-Responder sequence set up with a live call time-window. If generated live, ask for contact preferences and confirm the call, appointment in that way. Simply pre-write emails, voicemail script, and texts. Use as standard procedure. Do not make this harder than it needs to be.
2. Multi-Pathway Contact- In the old days, a phone and a truck did it. Maybe a business card or quote gets left behind. Some still do it this way, but the results are proving the demise. Today, leads are too precious, consumers too distracted, and their home phone is one of about five ways they stay in touch with the world.
How to Do It?Keep issuing updates for the initial contact or follow ups via:
• Invite prospects to grab more information online. Done on phone, invoices, email signature lines, on-hold messages. Why? Activity, relevancy, connectedness, and SEO to name but a few.
• Accept email for confirmation of appointment, including tech/salesperson’s name. Photo is even better.
• Accept text for same as above.
• Voice mail on either/both phones, less than 30 seconds, to confirm/update.
• Optional: email links to audio/video of helpful information about you, service requested, replacement. We created 12 advisor videos to cover most normal aspects of HVAC, all under 4 minutes. These can be sent as links to website, YouTube, saved as DVD to show homeowner on laptop or other.
3. Advanced Sequential Messaging- The old way was the annoying re-contact from the over-eager salesperson who parrots, “Didja make a decision, dija make a decision?” Now it’s wise to structure follow up to “still thinking about it” prospects according to this simple outline, altered for your situation:
How to Do It?
• Pre-appointment: Confirms request for appointment.
• Initial follow up: Thanks for time during appointment, includes highlights, features. Offers help making decision, includes recontact options.
• Secondary: Mild urgency about price increase, seasonal busy time may add delays, financing offer ending, stock depletion, or resisting another high energy bill. Anything truthful to bump progress, resist stagnation.
• Third: Reminder of above, plus any help in making what is apparently a difficult choice. Mention, “not to ‘sell’ but to ‘serve’”. (They’re getting pressure from others, and you stand out by not exerting same.)
• Fourth: Sweeten deal: Got approval to offer “vacation package” or “IAQ bonus” or “maintenance agreement” or “extended warranty at no cost” or any other added benefit. Deadline to include as part of initial offer.
• Fifth: Final reminder. “Hope we can work it out, but understand completely if they miss out.”
4. CFL - Adopt a Customers for Life policy. You simply have a company lunch and ask your staff, “How can we keep customers for life?” and reward them a big $5 for every legitimate idea. You’ll be amazed. Our last idea meeting netted 96 ideas, about 70 percent of which have been done, about 0 percent I thought of myself.
How to Do It? Top 10 inclusions are retention newsletters, thank you’s for each service, customer loyalty rewards, advance notice of sales and price increases, “happy checks” during year that do NOT sell, Facebook posts including happy customers and pics added to the “family” (turn off GPS enabling on your camera), gifts at year-end, gifts at anniversary, incentives for referrals. The list is near endless, but if any contractor included me in this program, I’d sing their name from the rafters, as would many others.
5. The 3 R’s- Retain, refer, reactivate. Retain is covered in No. 4, but referral generation is too often left to chance. Engineer the outcome with a goal: Get one referral from every customer. About two of three of those will turn into customers if you enact this program. (We have programs for referrals, not enough space here to cover.)
The last one, “reactivate” is also complete silliness not to adopt. People forget. They liked you, but got their head turned elsewhere. They quit using you, but not for any particular reason except that you ignored them. Reactivate them through your contact information that apologizes if you offended (even if you know you didn’t, this gets highest response) and/or makes an offer to “come back” since you missed them. You’ll be amazed at the pure gold still in your database that hasn’t contacted you in years, but would if invited. Cut off for active vs. inactive customers? About 48 months.
Basically, customer follow-up is a dying art form. Salespeople from the past relied upon excellence here, but we’ve turned a blind eye to their lessons.
Now, by incorporating new media advances at your fingertips, you can follow-up better, faster, and with results that will leave your “old thinking” competition scratching their head at a continued decline. My guess? They’ll blame it on the economy.