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C.J. Hayden, MCC

Doing a good job at follow-up is a piece of cake. You just capture every lead or potential referral partner you run across, then place a call or send them something, or both. If you don't make a sale right away, you calendar them for the next follow-up and do the same thing again. Pretty straightforward, isn't it? So why is follow-up such a problem? Here are the four most common reasons:

1. Prioritization. With an activity that you must initiate, it's easy to let other tasks come first: responding to incoming calls and mail, getting the invoices out, going to networking events, and oh yes, doing the client work you get paid for. If you don't set aside reserved time for follow-up, it will never happen.

2. Disorganization. Business cards and scraps of paper lying on your desk do not constitute a contact management system. Without accurate records of who you have contacted, when, and what your last conversation was about, effective follow-up is impossible.

3. Resistance. Do you find yourself saying, "Why do I have to do this? I'm good at what I do. Why aren't the prospects calling me?" You are sabotaging yourself with this line of thinking. Business owners much more established than you are do follow-up every day. It's one of the ways they got established. Regular follow-up does not make people think you don't have enough business; it makes them see you as a professional.

4. Fear. "If I follow up that lead, I might be rejected," reasons the voice in your head. "So I'll avoid the pain by not making the call in the first place." Or conversely, you may be thinking, "If I place the call, I might get the business, and then I'll have to do the work, and people will have all these expectations of me." The reality is that if you don't place the calls, you're going to fail even more dramatically than in these two imaginary scenarios.

The thought of making follow-up calls may be even more paralyzing than cold calling. After all, this is someone you already believe needs your services. Maybe you've already talked or sent your literature. You've invested something or made a personal connection, so now if you hear no, the rejection really feels personal.

What you have to remember is that rejection is not about you. This is a business transaction. Your prospect is deciding whether to spend his or her own or the company's money. The number of factors that go into a decision like this are innumerable. Here are some actual reasons people with a strong need for the service being offered have refused to buy or bought from a competitor:

  • Decided to take a Hawaiian vacation instead
  • Competing bid was from cousin's boyfriend
  • Getting divorced
  • Company going bankrupt
  • Didn't want to take money out of a mutual fund to pay for it
  • Boss doesn't want headquarters to know there's a problem
  • Liked the competitor's logo
  • Project was tabled until next year

When a prospect tells you a competitor was chosen because he or she "has more experience," the message is that the company hires only people with strong experience in its own industry. This is not about you. If you are told the competition "came well recommended," the prospect is choosing to do business with the friend of a colleague. It's not about you. When you hear that the other guy's bid was lower, it means the buyer values price over quality. Also, not about you.

The real trick to vanquishing fear of follow-up is to have so many prospects in the pipeline that any one "no" becomes much less important.

Copyright © 2009, C.J. Hayden

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"Thought you'd like to know I posted your article about follow-up on my discussion board today at"
— Paulette Ensign, The Booklet Queen, San Diego, CA

"Thank you for your recent article on following up. I almost feel like it was meant for me! I am a member of the Association of Business Support Services International... Do you mind if I post your article to the ABSSI Yahoo group?"
— Cheryl Hill, Web & Graphic Designer, Linden, VA

"I loved your article on follow-up! I will share this article with clients (of course, with attribution intact!) and will also apply your ideas to my own business."
— Jan Gordon, LCSW, Executive & Personal Coach, Miami, FL

"May I have your permission to reprint this article in my Tips 'n' Tactics column in The Journal of Graphoanalysis, the monthly print newsletter that is distributed to members (and prospective members) of the International Graphoanalysis Society? ...I enjoyed it, and I believe IGAS members would benefit from it also."
— Janet Tilden, Dean of Instruction, Chicago, IL

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