Last week I was onsite with one of my favorite clients, a manufacturer in South Carolina. During a dinner meeting with the CEO and CFO, I heard a great sales story.  My client had been looking  for a new insurance provider. Seems that the company they had worked with for years sold out to a larger organization, and their account was now being handled out of Texas. My client really wanted a firm with an office in their state, and a representative they could meet with in person. Sounded reasonable, so they started taking bids and interviewing providers.

This is where the story gets good. After two-months they narrowed it down to three candidates, and were close to a decision when out of now where they simultaneously landed two big contracts. All of a sudden Human Resources, the department overseeing this decision, was swamped having to recruit, hire and train new staff to handle all of the work created by these contracts. Needless to say the urgency to find a new insurance provider fell to the back of the line. So did two of the insurance providers desire to stay in touch, follow-up and keep in contact with my client.

Six months later, when the dust had settled and the new staff was in place and working, Human Resources was once again focused on finding a new provider. This time the decision was easy. Originally they had narrowed it down to three candidates, but by the end of this whirlwind of activity it was clear to them there was just one choice.There was only one provider who bothered to stay in touch, provide value, and routinely follow-up.

Besides keeping her name in front of her potential prospect, she built a relationship and ensured that when they were ready to make a decision she was top of mind.

If you want to outsell your competitor then you need to follow-up. I know it is not sexy, not exciting, but it is one of the most powerful ways to outsell your competitors. Research tells us that less than 81% of sales people make more than three follow-up contacts with a prospect. Research also show us that most prospects buy after the seventh contact. (I believe that is even higher now, given the shift in our economy.)

Most sales people “give up” because they have decided the prospect is not interested, or they simply don’t want to be annoying. Two very bad assumptions.

The point is, we really have no idea why a hot prospect suddenly goes cold, but more often than not it has nothing to do with us. Perhaps a bigger priority came up at work, they have a family issue, or they simply got behind due to a vacation or holiday. Who knows? You see people are busy, and rarely is what we are selling at the top of their priority list. The sales person who is proactive, makes things easy, and continues to follow-up is the sales person that will win the business.

And this whole idea of being annoying, well you are only annoying if you are making the follow-up contact about you and not about them. Too often, our follow-up systems consist of sending an email or calling every 30-days to ask if they are ready to make a decision. To follow-up effectively you need to keep the focus on the prospect, and follow these three simple steps:

Design A System – you need a process in place that reminds you when to follow-up, who to follow-up with, and one that can record important notes and ideas that you learn from each contact.

Make It Personal – follow-up needs to be customized and individualized to the prospect. Too often I see follow-up systems that are just that a one-size fits all.  Follow-up is about building relationship and establishing trust, so you need to take a very personal approach.

Add Value – however you choose to follow-up with your prospect, you need to add value. Articles providing information about challenges, opportunities they have. Tickets to events they are interested in. Introductions to people they would benefit from knowing. Adding value ensures your client enjoys and benefits from the follow-up process.

My client’s insurance new provider did not win the business because she is smarter, had a better product or quoted a rock bottom price. She outsold her competitors simply by following up!