Observations and Insights on Selling

The SalesPractice blog offers weekly observations and insights for sales practitioners pursuing the highest levels of performance in personal selling.

This Week's Post:

It's Follow Through, Not Follow Up.

Gary Boye

SECOND EFFORT is a 1968 sales training film starring Vince Lombardi, the Hall of Fame head coach of the Green Bay Packers. It has been called a "classic" and still regarded by some as the best sales training film of all time. Almost a half century later, the film is still used in leadership and management courses.

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to visit Lambeau Field in Green Bay and take a tour of the complete facilities prior to watching the Packers play a game on Sunday. The feeling and aura was overwhelming and I know that many others have described their visit as almost a spiritual experience. Lombardi was about winning, but, more importantly, he preached the necessity to take the steps, and, pay the price, that lead to winning.

In the minds of most of the people I talk to in sales, the thoughts of "follow up" flow when they hear the words, "second effort." Specifically, the act of following up with an active prospect seems to imply an attempt to salvage a sale that thus far has failed to materialize. I have thoughts about the reasons why that perception is so common.

It's an unfortunate reality that traditional sale training is still fettered on the "one-call closes" that were the desired outcomes of direct sales organizations over a half century ago. It's absurd how little regard is given to the length of the selling cycle in situations where a quick decision could be disastrous for all parties concerned. In a forthcoming chapter, you will meet three successful salespeople from the financial planning, media advertising, and, web marketing arenas, who would be repulsed by writing a premature sale. Worse, they would be repulsed by most of their prospects for attempting to write one.

The "sales industry" is so diversified and multifaceted today that the term hardly fits. Relationship, consultative, and, account management responsibilities take up a huge slice of the pie. The progression of consent that puts signed contracts into the in-basket can take place over a series of conversations that range from few to many.

Second Effort was about persistence and that's an admirable trait in selling and in life. I suspect Lombardi's words and participation made the adrenaline flow for many aspiring salespeople. I know I was affected that way.

I titled this chapter to differentiate a strategic model for "following through" from the tired advice that we should "following up" because I promised that this was a book that focused on understanding. It's only fair that if I'm about to preach on this critical topic, that I come right out and disclose four of my core beliefs.

  • I believe that salespeople that begin a call with "I'm calling to follow up...", or, "I'm calling to touch base..." are salespeople that don't know what they're doing.
  • I believe in The Purposeful Call.
  • I believe in making promises and keeping them.
  • I believe that when persistence is perceived as intrusiveness, our efforts will fail.

If you're one of those people who suffer from "fear of rejection" or "call reluctance", I encourage you to adopt those beliefs because of their healing properties.

Promise Generation: A Strategic Model for Following Through

I want to introduce you to a strategic model for following up with prospects and buyers. One of the points we have touched on is that strategy is a process that consists of putting pieces in place that will result in a desired outcome. The "piece" that I recommend be put in place consistently, as a first step towards following up, or, following through, is a promise.

For use in courses and seminars I coined the term "promise generated." It describes a contact with prospect or client that has been generated by a promise the salesperson makes.

There are four towering reasons behind this strategy.

  • It makes the call a purposeful call.
  • It makes the call an expected, permission based, contact.
  • It demonstrates a promise kept (often with additional pertinent information).
  • Lastly, and most important, it continues and renews the sales process and selling effort.

Once again, it boils down to maintaining momentum, the force that drives the progression of consent called closing sales.

Now it's time for the caveat. Not all promises are welcome. Not all promises will generate a positive response, spoken or unspoken, from a prospect. "I'll call you in a few days for your decision." can not only leave a prospect cold, but also put a perceived burden on her shoulders. "I'll call you next week, just to follow up." is pure fluff. "I'll call you after you've had a chance to talk it over." is adding encouragement to natural buyer resistance which we covered earlier. "I'll call you if I can come up with anything better." shifts all leverage to the buyer, assuming the seller had any to begin with.

A promise to a prospective buyer should always be built around furnishing further information to the buyer that is not on hand at the moment. That is the rule that makes this strategic model work. The promise and deliverance of further information maintains and builds momentum. It can create a frame of loyalty in the mind of the buyer. And, it can enhance the partnership between buyer and seller.

What I have shared in this chapter is sound strategy--not cheap tactics or an isolated technique. I encourage you to embrace the model and the thoughts behind it. If you promise yourself you will do that, I can promise you terrific results in that part of your game. Good luck!