Last week we looked at the fact that follow up is your marketing lifeline. But how do you manage the follow up process so that you stay steadily connected, in a good way – and you don’t become the stalker who turns prospects away because you’re TOO keen?
First, I should point out that for most accountants, stalking is not a huge problem. As a matter of fact, some of you probably consider what I will call ‘normal follow up’ to be stalking. (It’s not.)
Sales is a relationship building process.
This is especially true for accountants and anyone in professional services. It’s absolutely critical that your prospects like you, learn to trust you, want to work with you. And like any relationship, that trust takes time.
Naturally, as accountants will know, that trust process is speeded up significantly by recommendation.
When someone else who trusts you tells this prospect, ‘Yes, you should definitely talk to them, they know what they’re talking about’, it allows your prospect to skip the long slow process of testing, considering, trying, waiting, and wondering. They may still test and consider a bit, but not nearly to the same extent.
But when you have a ‘cold lead’ – someone who found you online, or attended a webinar randomly, or started to engage with you on Twitter, your follow up is so important because it takes them through that testing process step by step.
It also allows them to work with you when they are ready – and you absolutely must let them be the decision maker as to when that time is.
But the beauty of follow up, done well, is that you’ve put no obstacles in the path of the prospect who is ready. When they’re ready, they start.
Here are a few follow up tips to help you build a good client relationship, rather than becoming a stalker:
Send helpful information.
Yes, if they requested a quote or a proposal, you need to give that to them (presuming you have all the information you need). But once you’ve sent it, stay in touch with helpful advice and support.
In a way, you’re giving them the client experience before they’ve even become a client. If they mentioned an issue with property, send a helpful blog or document or link to a site you’d send your clients.
Add them to your mailing list.
At a minimum, have one main list that sends out blog posts or email newsletters or event invites or links to the helpful information your firm is creating. (If you’re not creating them, pick one of our outsourced marketing packages so that you have fresh content prepared regularly.)
The beauty of this is that your prospects can unsubscribe at their own pace.
So, if you never get a reply to your emails or phone calls or any contact methods, they’re still hearing from you from time to time – and they can start up communications again when they’re ready.
Think of them first, not yourself first.
Putting their needs above your own means that you’re not pushing for the sale. You are building a long term relationship even if they never become a client of yours.
For example, you could look for ways to get them business. I realise this can be hard if the prospect is new to you, too, but perhaps you know someone that you can introduce to them, or an opportunity that might help their business. Even something as simple as ‘Here’s a networking event for creative agencies I thought you might like to attend’ shows that you’re thinking of them first, not yourself first.
Don’t be afraid to ask straight out.
This can be hard for accountants, but rest assured it is not stalking if you ask, ‘Would you like to arrange that meeting?’ or ‘What did you think of the quote I sent?’
It becomes stalking when you ask that on Monday, and then Monday evening, and then you phone them Tuesday morning, and send them a LinkedIn message on Wednesday, and go round to their house on Thursday. (I’m only joking – sort of. Sometimes I feel this way when I’ve vaguely enquired with someone and they act as though I am holding out cash and pleading with them to take it.)
Listen to hints.
Prospects hate to say no.
They really, really hate it.
They will do anything – including telling complete, bald-faced lies – rather than say straight out, ‘No, I don’t like your proposal and I don’t want to do business with you. Please leave me alone.’
It is rare that someone will feel that strongly about their ‘no’ – but the quickest way to get them there is by pushing your services on them when they’re not ready.
So, pay attention to hints, even ones as simple as ‘I’m really busy right now’. We all know that’s the equivalent of ‘I really need to wash my hair’ or ‘My sock drawer is very untidy’. The whole world is busy. You’d be hard pressed to find a prospect who is just sitting at their desk casually sipping coffee and leisurely choosing an accountant before stepping out to do some gardening.
Match your follow up to the hints you get.
The key with listening to hints is to listen to the accumulation of them. When someone tells you they’re busy, say that’s fine and you’ll go at their pace – but go ahead and send them an email a week or two later.
If they say they’re busy again, or just don’t reply, wait another few weeks. If they then explain they’re going on holiday, make a note and wait a month.
If after that they say they’re moving to South America so they may not be able to reply for a while, take that as a no and stop emailing. (But leave them on your email list so they can unsubscribe if they want.)
Check in on your automated follow up.
If you’ve set up any follow up that is automated (emails that go out every few days, then on a staggered system so that you stay in touch without great effort), it’s good to check in on that system now and then.
Have they opened the email? Are you getting a bounceback because the email address wasn’t accurately entered? Did they click a link and go to a page on your website? Most of this information can be known even from a system as simple as Mailchimp.
Don’t take it personally if they say no.
We all know that people do business with people. If you finally do get a reply, and they tell you that they chose another accountant or decided to stick with their existing accountant or something else, remember that you may have done nothing wrong at all.
You may have done everything perfectly, and you’re just not the kind of person they connect with. Or the way you do business isn’t the way they do.
For example, at the Profitable Firm, we work almost entirely remotely. We’re proud of that, and it helps us show accountants how remote and virtual working enable you to get more business than if you only work locally. It’s also central to our culture as a business. We can do in-person meetings of course, but that’s not our standard way of working, and we’ve had a few accountants who prefer to work on marketing with someone they can meet with in person every few weeks, or whenever needed. That’s not us. The other thing we’ve noticed is that the accountants who are open to using Skype and Gotomeeting and Basecamp and Dropbox and Xero tend to be the accountants who work well with us, because we think alike. New ways of working. Online software. Instant access. Apps. The more ‘traditional’ accountants might prefer a ‘traditional’ approach to marketing – and again, that’s not us.
One of the benefits of not taking things personally is that you’re showing the prospect that it’s not about the sale, it’s about the relationship. If you’re not the best accountant for them (for whatever reason), make sure it’s clear that you’re okay with that, and what you truly want for them is that they get the help they need. Perhaps you truly, genuinely, with all your heart believe that you are the best accountant for them, and that if they go elsewhere they’re going to be disappointed. It’s still their choice. Allow them to make it at their own pace, on their own time. Just patiently stay in touch until they do make the decision.
Stay in touch even if they do say no.
Even prospects who have given you a clear ‘no’ may still be happy to hear from you. Keep looking for ways to help them, keep providing helpful and relevant information, and keep listening to the hints. It could be that someone who said no today could change their mind again six months or six years down the road. This is the power of the long term follow up: if they should have listened to you, but didn’t, and you are still kind and helpful and supportive with the decision they made, you may well be the first person they think of later on down the line.
There’s no perfect follow up.
You’ll never get it absolutely perfect. The key is to be yourself, to be friendly and personable, and balance your follow up with a real-world understanding of the fact that nothing in our lives and businesses go perfectly to plan.
Be pleasant, touch base from time to time, keep a record so you can continue doing that, and – as always, have a great Friday!