Permission Follow-Up

This is a guest post by Jarie Bolander, author of Frustration Free Technical Management and a moderator at Answers OnStartups.

the_deal_puzzleIt’d be wonderful if you could run a business without interacting with anyone else — never relying on others to deliver quality work on time and never having to « be salesy » on the phone.

Yeah, but unfortunately you do have to rely on others to respond to emails and phone calls. This reliance can be a constant source of heartburn. So you can either take some Tagamet or learn how to get permission to follow-up with people.

Or both.

You Are Not Alone

Most people dread following up with customers, vendors and even employees. It sounds weird to extroverts, but many of us have performance anxiety that prevents us from following-up even when it’s in our own best interest. You would think that, as social creatures, we would love to interact with our fellow humans, but alas no.

[Editor’s Note: I have an irrational fear of the phone. When it rings I’m overcome with a sense of dread. I have to work myself up to placing an out-bound call. It’s not anti-social — I love personal and electronic interactions equally — it’s something specific and bizarre and, I’ve since learned, fairly common.]

Our irrational dread stems from the following fears:

  • Fear of rejection: The real reason people don’t follow-up. It’s hard to get rejected by a customer or partner, or even a stranger. If you get permission to follow-up, this rejection is less likely.
  • Don’t want to be annoying: This is the most common excuse people give for not following up. This is why it’s important to set natural follow-up points so you can get permission to call, email or meet.
  • Conflict avoidance: A reason that people don’t call you back. If you set up the interactions so that any potential conflict is reduced, then they will want to talk to you.
  • Awkwardness in asking for something: Asking for the sale or clarification produces a lot of anxiety. The trick to asking for something is to make it the natural next step to your series of follow-ups. That way, it builds up gradually.
  • Trust that what you say will happen: A common problem when someone works with you. No matter who you interact with, you need to follow-up with them if they committed to get something done for you. They might have forgotten or gotten busy.
  • Too busy to worry about it: This is common for the overworked entrepreneur. You should never be too busy to follow-up on things you want done. Think about it. If it’s important, then you need to ensure it gets done. Otherwise why did you start it?

Permission Follow-Up

The most powerful technique to get others to help you achieve your objectives is to create natural follow-up points that make it easy for you to contact someone. Think of this as permission marketing applied to following-up. Permission Follow-up allows you to contact your customer, vendor or employee because you have a pre-established agreement on when it’s appropriate for you to communicate with them. The power of this technique is that you make them want to receive your email, call or meeting.

Or at least expect it. When the other person expects you to contact them, and you do, none of the excuses above are applicable.

Natural Ways to Follow-Up

Okay, I am sure most of you are feeling that Italian veggie sub you had for lunch starting to bubble up in your throat. Relax. There are tons of ways to create natural follow-up points that will make getting that customer meeting, dealing with that difficult vendor or making sure your team releases it’s products on time.

Here’s a bunch of specific methods. Next we’ll apply them in a scenario.

  • Take responsibility to do the follow-up: This is most direct way to get permission to follow-up since you actively took responsibility to contact them. When they agree, then you are set. It’s on your calendar, not theirs.
  • Set mutual deadlines: Deadlines are a great way to set expectations and points of reengagement. This will make whomever you are interacting with expect your next communications especially if the deadline is to give them something.
  • Additional information: Committing to and delivering additional information will setup a natural way for you to interact. When you do follow-up, your contact will expect your call.
  • Specific actions you are responsible for: When you take and complete actions it shows that you value follow-up and that makes others expect this from you.
  • Status updates: Anytime your situation changes or you release a new revision, is a perfect time to give a quick reminder or update.
  • Relevant books and articles: A good way to reengage with people is to send them relevant posts or articles. When you do this, it reminds people who you are and allows you to dialog about other opportunities.
  • In town: Face to face meetings are the most effective ways to follow-up on cold leads or to accelerate a deal. Just being in town makes it easier for your contact to meet you and that might be the one thing that pushes your interactions to the next level.

    [Editor’s Note: I have found this to be an especially effective tool. My technique: Whenever you’re going to be in a city, call everyone and say « I’m going to be in town anyway, could I just swing by for 15 minutes? Or longer if you want to go over something? » Almost everyone will agree, and there is nothing like real face-to-face interactions, especially in the age of digital arms-length relationships.]
  • Mutual friends: An introduction (or reintroduction) by a mutual friend can be a powerful follow-up method if your interactions have stalled. Your mutual friend can also be an excuse to reconnect.
  • Ask for clarification: When you ask for clarification, it shows that you are striving for understanding and if done after an interaction, reminds your contact of what you talked about.
  • Time has passed: Sometimes the passage of time can be used to your advantage as long as you have another entry point (like a status update or a mutual friend). In some cases, just sending a “checking in” email or note, can be all that is needed to follow up with other interactions.

These natural follow-up points must be injected into an interaction at the appropriate time — when the interaction needs an inflection point or as a way to tie up some loose ends. Sometimes, it may take several different methods since people respond differently to following-up. (Most have the same anxieties as you do!)

Scenario: A Customer Interaction

Let’s put this into action.

Perhaps the most important customer interaction is your first meeting. It sets the tone for everything to come and is ripe for planting those follow-up seeds. Here’s how it might go:

You: Beth, thanks for meeting with us. We were introduced to you via Matt over at KoolTech. Matt uses our Wizbang SaaS client and thought you guys might find it useful too.

Beth: Yeah, Matt told me about you guys. It sounds like you might have something that will work for us.

You: Excellent. Matt’s a great guy and we were excited to have Matt recommend we get together. Did you get the information I sent you about Wizbang?

Beth: Actually, no I didn’t. However, I did read you site and think I have a good idea what you do.

You: Why don’t I reconfirm your email and send it on to you?

Beth: Sure, it’s ….

You: I will send this out when I get back to the office. Does that work for you?

Beth: Yeah.

You: Excellent. How about we show you our demo?

Beth: Thought you’d never ask.

Demo Ensues. Ooo’s, ahh’s

Beth: Great demo. It looks like just what we need. Can you send me a quote? Budgets are tight.

You: Sure. We can also set up a guest account for you and your team to try it out.

Beth: That will work.

You: Why don’t you give me their contact info and I will set them up

You: Beth, thanks for your time. We really enjoyed meeting you.

Beth: As did I.

You: I captured a couple of next-actions for me. They are …. Do you agree?

Beth: That’s great, just so long as I don’t have to do anything else.

You: Wonderful. I will get back to you in a week with that quote. Will that work for you?

Beth: Yeah, that works.

You: In the mean time, I will setup some guest accounts and follow-up with you to see how it’s going.

Beth: Sounds good. Talk to you soon.

The above interaction had several follow-up seeds planted (in bold) that are ready to be harvested. All of the responsibilities are on your shoulders, and your customer gave you permission to follow-up. This means that they will be expecting your call or email.

So what happens when they don’t return your calls or email? Permission follow-up handles this as well. Not only are you planting follow-up actions with your direct contact, but with others they work with, like what happened above (setting up a guest account for other team members). Doing this allows you to have several entry points. Taken in combination, these entry points give you a better shot at getting your call or email returned.

Go Ahead, Give it a Shot

Practicing permission follow-up does feel awkward. Just stick with it. Over time, permission follow-up will produce results and you will get more comfortable with it. The simple fact is that other people usually don’t place as high a priority on these things as you do, and you have to lean on them to get things done.

It’s not about leaning hard or being an asshole. It’s just about getting permission to follow up.

What tips do you have for following up with customers or vendors? Would any of the techniques here bother you? Leave a comment and join the conversation.

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