No matter how persuasive, compelling or brilliant you may be, it's difficult to build a relationship with a prospect if you can't get them to call you back.
Most sales people use boring, outdated voice and email methods, which leave them sounding just like every other sales person in the world. If you want to get more return calls from your clients, then you have to do something different from everyone else out there - you have to stand out, be likeable, and actively deserve a return call.
Here are 12 of the best ideas we've found to help you stand up, stand out and make your clients want to return your calls:
1. The fine line between persistence and stalking.
I rarely ever give up. That being said, I don't call my prospects twice a day, either.
The trick is to call consistently, and if you leave a message, tell the customer precisely when you will call them back - and then stick to it. I usually say something like: "If I don't hear from you by March 15th, I'll call you back on the 16th." I get return calls more often, because my prospects know that I will be calling them if they don't get in touch with me.
Most experts agree that it takes at least 4 attempts to reach your prospect. Realistically, I find that number can be closer to 8. But some of my best customers today are those who I was initially the most patient with, and to whom I made multiple calls over a period of weeks, or even months.
2. Let them off the hook.
In a voice or email, it's a great idea to tell a prospect that's its OK for them to say no.
Say something like: "If you've chosen to go with a different product, that's okay. Just let me know so I don't become a follow-up pest." The vast majority of the time, one of two things will happen - they'll either call you back and say, yes, we've chosen someone else, or they'll say no, we haven't made a decision yet, and apologize for not getting back to you sooner.
Either way, you're ahead of the game because now you know the truth about what's going on.
3. Send a handwritten note.
Sending a handwritten note after your first sales call or presentation will dramatically increase your chances of getting a return call. Why? Because a handwritten note increases your likeability, helps make the prospect feel good about you and encourages them to take your calls.
I never cease to be amazed at the number of emails I receive from clients and prospects thanking me for my handwritten notes. Obviously, they have an effect on people that yet another voice or email doesn't.
4. Put them on auto-drip.
If you've tried everything you can think of and still can't seem to get through, but you aren't quite ready to give up entirely, put the prospect on auto-drip, and send them something interesting and of value (not simply advertisements) every month or quarter. This will help to keep you top of mind for when the time is right for them to make a decision, or go looking for a supplier. For more tips on how to stay in touch without straying into stalking territory, check out our article, The Fine Line Between Persistence - and Stalking!
5. Ask if they're okay.
This is an excellent idea from Engage client Michael Freer, who uses it in both voice and email to drum up a response from clients who have unexpectedly gone silent:
On the XXth of June, I sent you an email asking for and as I haven't heard from you, I can only assume one of the following:
1) You're now not interested and I'm reduced to the status of an annoying piece of spam clogging up your email; or
2) You desperately want to contact me, but you're trapped under a fallen filing cabinet and can't reach your phone or PC.
Your guidance would be greatly appreciated.
P.S. If it is #2, please let me know and I'll send someone round to help you out.
This very simple approach works because it's different and fun. We tried it, and received almost immediate responses from previously silent contacts, many of whom started off by apologizing, saying that they've been buried in work and then going into great detail about why they were still interested. The ones who don't respond are either on a really long vacation, or really aren't interested, so it isn't worth wasting any more time on them anyway.
On a happy note, we never did get any responses from prospects who were indeed trapped under their filing cabinets, saving us the difficulty and expense of organizing a costly rescue mission!
6. Create a deadline.
After every conversation, you should gain agreement from the prospect as to next steps, and the date they will be accomplished. That way, when the time for the follow-up call comes around and the prospect doesn't show up, you can leave a message like: "I'm calling because the last time we spoke, we agreed to chat today about ."
Reminding them of your agreement will help move them to call you back. If they don't return your call in a couple of days, keep calling, and gently remind them of your mutual agreement.
7. Keep track of who hasn't answered.
Document each call or email in your CRM, so you can remember when you last spoke with, left a message for or sent an email to a client. You can then bring up those dates in a subsequent message, such as: "When we last emailed on Feb 1st, we agreed that I would "
8. Separate the facts from your imagination.
Try to find out what's really going on, rather than what you simply think or assume is happening. The following 3-step voice mail strategy works because it increases your chances of getting a return call, and it always gets you to the truth:
VOICE MAIL #1: "Mr. X, this is John Doe from ABC Company. Paul Smith suggested I call you because Sorry I missed you today, but I'll try to reach you again on DATE and TIME."
Make sure your tone is soft, non-threatening and friendly. You don't want to sound like a radio ad for a furniture liquidator. Plus, it's critical that you do call back on the date and time that you say.
VOICE MAIL #2: "Hi Mr. X, this is John Doe from ABC Company calling because I promised to reach you today at TIME. Sorry I missed you. Paul Smith suggested I call you because I'll try you again on DATE and TIME."
Again, it's critical that you call back exactly when you said you would. Anything else would result in your being less than honest, and risk losing your contact's confidence.
VOICE MAIL #3: "Hi Mr. X, this is John Doe at ABC Company calling, because I promised to reach you today at TIME. Sorry I missed you. I notice that you've been difficult to reach and I'm wondering if that's because you're swamped at work, you aren't interested in doing business with my company or I've been wrong at guessing the times you might be at your desk. Any of these is okay, but if you wouldn't mind letting me know how to proceed, that would be great. I promised Paul Smith I would be in touch with you, and that I would get back to him about our conversation. My number is 613 730-7700, extension 111."
The last reason for not reaching the prospect - that you've been wrong at guessing the times he or she might be at his or her desk - is important because it lets you take ownership of the reason you can't reach the customer. You can change the other two reasons based on your specific sales situation - for example, if this was a follow-up call after sending a proposal, you might say: "I'm wondering if that's because you didn't have a chance to see the proposal, you were unhappy with the pricing I sent or I've been wrong at guessing the times you might be at your desk."
9. Call early or late in the day.
One of the ways I follow up with senior-level decision makers is to call either quite early in the morning (say around 7:30am) or late in the day (after 5pm), without leaving a message if I don't get a person. I've found that, by calling at these times, the decision makers are often alone in the office without a gatekeeper, and therefore more likely to pick up calls themselves.
10. Change your media.
If a prospect hasn't responded to an email you sent within 5 business days, call to ask them if they received it. Likewise, if they haven't responded to a phone call, send them an email.
Everyone has their own preferred way to communicate. Your job is to find out which communication tool is easier for the prospect. One Engage client specifically tells customers on her voice mail messages that she'll be sending them an email as well in case that is better for them, and in her emails, she lets them know that she'll be calling in case that works better. This not only increases your chances of reaching the prospect, but also shows them that you're putting their interests first.
11. Prepare for the "Final Approach."
Whether in voice or email, when you're ready to permanently write an uncommunicative prospect off, let the customer know that this will be the final attempt you'll be making to reach them. Try something like:
"I notice that it's been X weeks since we last spoke, and I'm assuming that's because you are no longer interested in our product. That's OK, I understand that we are not a fit for everyone. The last thing I want is to become a follow-up pest! If you're still interested, you can reach me at 111-1111. If I don't hear from you, then I'll assume that you are moving ahead in a different direction, and I won't call again to interrupt. I wish you all the best on your project, and thank you for considering us."
12. Have some fun - and take a risk!
Engage customer Greg Higgins uses this approach with great results:
"Hi Bob, this is Greg from ABC Corporation. I'm beginning to feel that we have a love-hate relationship with your answering machine - I love to leave messages, you hate to return them. Maybe we can talk soon. Thanks."
Yes, it's sassy. But Greg reports that 99% of the time he uses this, he gets a call back. And of course, he only uses this approach on the most desperate cases.
Here's your challenge: try something new this week! After all, what you've been doing so far hasn't been working, so what have you got to lose - especially with those prospects who've been silent for a while anyway?
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Make sure you check out Colleen's latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.
Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.
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