Develop a muscle memory around follow through and follow up to get ahead in the business development game.
In the sports world, most any athlete knows the importance follow through has on their ability to hit an object or move in a certain direction. Most athletes also know that when they anticipate the thought, and hold back on follow through, it will alter their body mechanics, so hitting an object or moving in a certain direction often becomes less powerful and/or less accurate.
In the field of business development, follow through or follow up works much in the same way. When a business developer dedicates a certain amount of time, energy, and resources into connecting with a prospect, often the full potential of that connection (i.e., the power and accuracy for an athlete) will not be realized if the business developer holds back on their follow through. Let’s look at a couple of examples to better illustrate the point.
- Mixed messages. As you conduct your market research, you learn John Doe is a person with whom to connect because John is a key stakeholder in most any building design project with which his company gets involved. Knowing this, you take the time to craft a compelling introduction email, and, with a certain degree of confidence, you send it to him. One week passes, then another, then another, and you never hear back from John. Because of this, you believe he isn’t interested in meeting with you and learning more about your product offering, so you move on. But what if you followed up on your initial email and, in doing so, learned John had been on vacation for 10 days and your email simply got lost in his inbox? John, it turns out, is very interested in your company’s product, and looks forward to meeting with you. Without follow through you would have written off John entirely, but with it you learn you’re still in the game.
- Top of mind. Suppose you go to an industry event one February afternoon and find yourself talking with a potential prospect, as well as a direct competitor. During the conversation, you learn about the prospect’s line of business and realize she would be a good person to know for potential future projects, so you exchange contact information with her. After the event, a couple of days pass, then a week, then a month, and you never contact the prospect again until it’s time to send holiday cards in December. But, what if the competitor you met at the event emailed or phoned the prospect every four to six weeks throughout the remainder of the year? When it comes time for the prospect to send out a request for proposal in say, September, to whom do you believe the prospect would be more inclined to send the request for proposal: you or your competitor? Yes, I’d say the competitor, too.
If it all sounds so simple, why do so many business developers fail when it comes to follow up? As someone who has practiced business development for several years, I believe it’s a matter of three main issues:
- Not having a follow through or follow up routine or schedule
- Not knowing what to write or say in a follow through or follow up contact
- Not keeping detailed notes
Regarding a routine or schedule, there’s no fixed rule here, so you really need to take your cues from the prospect and/or previous experience. For one prospect it might make sense to follow up within two to three days after the initial contact, for another it might be closer to two to three weeks, and for yet another they might be the one to tell you when to follow up. Regardless, it’s safe to say that some follow up over time is always going to be better than none at all.
With respect to knowing what to write in a follow through or follow up email, or say on the phone or in person, the most important item here is to offer information or something of relevance, value, and/or benefit to the prospect. For example, you can forward an article you believe the prospect would find of interest. You can invite the prospect to an event your company is hosting which is relevant to their line of business. You can send the prospect a new research study you found that discusses the market in which the prospect’s company operates. It could be almost anything, but the focus must be on the prospect and his/her needs, wants, expectations, interests, etc., not yours.
The third issue, detailed notes, can help with keeping track of the timing and frequency of the messages you send out and the actual connections you make, as well as with the subject or content of the messages themselves. You can also keep track of personal information that you learn about a prospect, like an anniversary or birthday, so an appropriate message can be sent accordingly. What really helps in this area is a customer relationship management (CRM) application, or some sort of database, of which there are many on the market.
As I practice business development, I try to keep these best practice points in mind and, like an athlete, I’ve developed a certain muscle memory around follow through and follow up. Hardly a meeting, phone call, email, referral, etc., goes by without me making a concerted effort to follow up. With the information provided here, I hope you can recognize the importance and impact follow through and follow up can have on your business development game.
Roger Marquis has practiced business development in the AEC and design industries for the past 10 years. Prior to this, he managed business development and marketing at his own company, where he manufactured, marketed, and sold nautically-styled travel accessory bags. Roger is active in his local CoreNet and SMPS chapters. Connect with him on LinkedIn.