The article “Brush up on your email etiquette” (Evening Standard, 15th Feb 2010), covered the subject of unanswered emails and voicemail messages. The author, Philip Delves Broughton, relates the subject to job-hunters, entrepreneurs, and most importantly business development and sales.
You have met a prospect, established a strong rapport, and they have promised you a crack of the whip at the next appropriate brief/project/pitch.
You have followed up on that meeting with an email or left a voicemail, but………………..silence. Delves Broughton poses the point and the question that “the unanswered message is a curse. What are you meant to do?”
The truth is that there is no right answer to this. There are a number of differing articles relating to this subject and average “touch points” between initial contact and securing business vary from 5-15. It is dependent on so many variables such as company size, industry, offer, right down to the personality and working practices and preferences of the individual prospect.
Some would prefer an email and some a call. Some won’t mind multiple calls and some will. However, that follow up strategy is one of the mystical keys to winning new business and is dependent on a number of factors. What was the opportunity time frame? What was the type of opportunity (brief/roster review/formal pitch)? However, most importantly, what was agreed with the prospect at the meeting?
This last point is paramount and if there is a “golden rule” of a cold approach new business program, this is it. The follow up process must be driven by the prospect. Whether your lead pipeline is generated in-house, outsourced to an agency or the prospect has contacted you directly, never leave a meeting without agreeing the next steps. Once this is agreed, a bespoke strategy for each prospect can be formed.
The article suggests a follow up email and phone call soon after the meeting. I don’t disagree with this, but it then goes on to suggest that once this is done, the ball is in the prospect’s court and if they do not respond, it is because they are busy or have no interest. This, I strongly disagree with.
Prospects are busy, but you have to break through that barrier. If they are not interested, we want to know and rule them out. If they are too busy, fine, but we want to agree a new appropriate time with them. Of course, there is a balancing act between a professional approach and being a nuisance. However, it is a competitive world and you will not be the only potential supplier vying for attention. However, you must make sure that your message is the one that stands out. You can only do this by communicating with them. Newsletters, relevant emails and new case studies are all soft methods our clients use, but there is no substitute for speaking to these potential clients.
Once you have agreed when to get back in touch, make sure you diarise that communication. We know, that for the owner of a busy, time poor marketing agency, that is easier said than done. This is where a professional new business agency can help. Generating fresh appointments is only part of any effective campaign. It is clearly in our interest to see those meetings through to the most positive conclusion as our real margins come in retaining clients and that can only be done through generating ROI. That is why it is in our interest to drive the follow up process. We know you are busy and we know that it could take multiple calls to contact that prospect. We have the systems, processes, skills, and above all, time to make sure that happens, so utilise your agency. It will pay dividends.
As a sign off to all of this, don’t take things personally. In the 11 years I have been in business development, the world is becoming a tougher, busier, noisier and dare I say it ruder place. People forget about emails and voicemails almost as soon as they are picked up. It is nothing against you personally, but don’t assume someone is not interested from his or her silence. Take the time or use the resources available to you to be “politely persistent”.