by Kimberly Beer, Entrepreneurial Strategist

You don’t have to be in business for very long before you realize  that follow-up is critical to your entrepreneurial success. Sales and service are small business lifelines, and follow-up — along with the resultant customer experience — are integral to both. Yet, most small business owners I speak with feel their follow-up efforts are not sufficient. Nurture emails go unwritten, phone calls unmade, and those “beyond the basics” service calls unfulfilled. Personally, I can relate. More than once, I’ve felt I left money on the table because I didn’t follow-up — and unfortunately those were also times  I watched my competition profit from seeds I planted because they did. That doesn’t feel good — nor is it good business — so it’s time small business owners become better at follow-up. Thankfully, with a little understanding and some wonderful new tools, follow-up is not only possible, but easier than you might imagine.

 

Why do small business owners at follow-up?

If you pose the question to most business owners, “Why do you think you fail at follow-up?” my guess is their response  will include not having enough time. That answer does have merit. Sales and service are only two of the many hats entrepreneurs wear every day, and time is a precious commodity when you’re the person doing it all.  But I suspect the challenge actually goes much deeper, and hits a harder truth, than just the issue of time — sales and service are difficult and uncomfortable.

Have you ever gotten a knot in your stomach just from the thought of  making a sales call? How about the anxiety of pressing “send” on a mass email with a strong call to action? Have you ever been so frustrated by the seemingly endless cycle of reaching out and rescheduling with a prospect that you just give up? Trust me, you’re not alone if you answered yes to one or more of these questions. Top those scenarios off with the fear of rejection and you’ve got a perfect storm that can be much easier to avoid than embrace. Again, sales and service are difficult and, at times, downright uncomfortable, to the point that small business owners unconsciously (or sometimes consciously) simply choose not to do them.

I had a conversation recently with a client who is working to fill her annual retreat. The event has limited openings and requires a considerable investment from participants. The client’s business is still small — growing, but small — and she doesn’t yet have the pull to fill an event simply from an announcement. I had challenged her to reach out by phone to all current clients most likely to attend, and extend a personal invitation to the retreat. She was still in the process of making those calls when we spoke, and she expressed frustration with the experience.. Her clients seemed to be making excuses, missing call appointments, giving vague answers, and often leaving her with “maybe” instead of a firm “yes.” Essentially, she is experiencing the mucky side of the sales process right now and finding it downright disheartening. Did you know, for example, that on average it takes five follow-ups to get a prospect to make a firm decision? Turns out it’s not the early bird that catches the worm, but rather the persistent one.

To avoid the uncomfortable piece of the sales equation, many business owners rely on social media to bypass direct cold or warm sales calls or emails then hope for the best. This scenario often backfires in the most dramatic way when it’s successful because it will bring leads, which means the true work of follow-up begins, often placing the entrepreneur right back in the same dilemma. The more likely outcome, however, is gaining g no traction at all, considering that algorithmic changes to both paid and organic social have decreased reach considerably.

How to Stop Failing at Follow-up

So, considering all that faces entrepreneurs regarding follow-up, let’s bring this conversation full circle. Suppose we have an entrepreneur who is already pressed for time and facing a difficult and uncomfortable activity they’d rather avoid — how can they not fail at follow-up! We are predisposed to it, until —  and here’s what I love about mindful marketing — we become aware of it. Once we see the problem, we can begin to create a solution. 

The answer to becoming better at follow-up is simple but life changing: develop a follow-up system, then automate as much of it as possible.

Sounds easy, right? But I’m sure you know better; it isn’t easy, otherwise everyone would be doing it! It’s going to take work, but it is doable. If you begin by peeling back one layer at a time, eventually, you will get to the core of the issue and make a change that saves time, helps you sidestep the pitfalls of fear and anxiety, and builds your brand, confidence, and business, all at the same time. Let’s talk about what that means…I promise we’re going to start simple.

I’d like for you to take a moment to think about your last few sales conversations that lead to conversions. How did they begin? Did the customer ask you about your business? What did you say in response? Did your answers prompt more questions? How did you answer those?

Chances are you already have an effective sales script, it’s just hiding within the conversations, text messages, emails and letters you sent t to the last five people you converted from prospect to customer. With that in mind, consider taking an hour or so to go through a few emails, copy and paste your most effective dialogue, and end up with a template for an introductory email that can be sent to a new prospect who is interested in your product or service. How much time would you save if you had this template at your fingertips each time you obtain a new prospect’s email address? You wouldn’t need to think about it, write it from scratch, or type it up, you would simply send it. And, if you have the right tool, you can then follow up with just a few keystrokes and a click. (More about that in a minute!)

Now, I’ll bet you just had a “But wait” moment right there, am I right? I can hear you –  “But I have more than one client type,” or, “But it has to be personal or they’ll know,” or, “But I need it to be perfect, and what if it’s not,” or, “But I change my mind every time I send a follow-up”…but…insert yours here.

Here’s another hard truth I’ve learned over the years I’ve been in business: Within my definition of “perfect,” I am able to follow up about 20% of the time. But when I stop worrying about being perfect, ” I’m able to show up and follow up about 90% of the time. And, here’s the BIG truth bomb – (almost) nobody (but me) knows the difference! As a matter of fact, from the customer’s perspective, their experience was perfect because I showed up for them!

So hopefully I’ve sold you on writing a standard introduction email — and maybe even scripting a standard follow-up phone call.But what if we take that concept a step further? What if you could script the plot of selling your product or service? Again, chances are you’ve already written all the chapters of the story, you just need to go back and put them in order to create a cohesive experience.

WHY will this work? One, it will help you do more in less time, and two, it will take a good chunk of “thinking” out of the equation — you will have done that in advance, so you’ll be less likely to avoid it.

Take my client I mentioned earlier who is struggling to fill her retreat. What if she were to take all the conversations she’s had about the retreat — even past retreats — and reduce them to their plot elements? She could pull out the conflicts (customer objections), and the triumphs (benefits to the customer), and create a storyline that guides the people interested in her retreat through the tale, seriously shortening the time it takes to educate, inform, answer, and sell her event. Does that mean she won’t have to call people? No! But it will shorten and warm the experience, and, in most cases, make it easier as well. It will also make her far more organized and confident in her ability to address prospects because she will have given thought to the entire process and be able to course-correct if things go off plot. What I’m describing here is not new — people have been using “marketing automation” for years. Prior to the internet, I used marketing automation at its most basic level, in telemarketing. Email marketing eventually replaced telemarketing and opened up a whole new avenue for marketers. Today, we have tools we’ve never had before, to help entrepreneurs track, communicate, and manage their customer relationships. Many of these tools, however, are complex and time consuming to learn, difficult to navigate, and expensive, thus putting them out of the hands of most small or solo entrepreneurs.

Full disclosure: I am a Keap Certified Partner, which means I had to invest in training and make a commitment to the company and my clients that I would help both succeed. I did not take this investment lightly. I think Keap is an outstanding product and will help many small business owners find success. 

Introducing Keap

Recently, however, Infusionsoft (now known as Keap), entered a new product into the marketplace that bridges the gap between marketing automation and entrepreneurs. The product, called simply “Keap,” offers CRM (an acronym for Customer Relationship Management, or, for us layfolk, keeping track of your customers using technology), appointment scheduling, marketing automation, invoicing, quotes and reports, all in one place. And Keap does all this in a way that entrepreneurs can actually use on their own every day. Now that may not sound special, but believe me, it is.

I work with a lot of small business owners — really small businesses, one person businesses — and I know that all of my clients are heavily invested in the success of their companies. They want — and need — to be hands-on, every day. Many of the more advanced solutions are not only beyond their budget but also beyond their current level of understanding, which means they have to hire an agency to partner with them, adding ongoing expense. A good number of my clients are just not ready for this step — nor should they be. They are still honing their businesses, learning the ins and outs of their target market, refining their service, tooling their brand — all of which are very important in making an agency-centered marketing program successful. Keap fills the gap between the two steps in a lovely way that assists the entrepreneur in mindfully managing their marketing and services. In essence, Keap sets them up for success now – and later.

No matter where you are in your entrepreneurial journey, follow-up is critical. The bottom line to achieving success at it is to both create a system of consistent brand-aligned messages and use tools that help you organize and automate every possible process. Ideally, your messages will meet your customers right where they are in the buying process, and the tools you use will meet you wherever you are in your business building process. The final result being that both you and your customer will find the process of working together filled with joy and ease.