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Sales and the Art and Science of the Follow-Up Email

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Most sales are not made on first contact. Generally, you make that initial contact, but must then follow up.

Science of the Follow-Up Email

“If you, and the sales people you train, master the art of follow-up early, you pretty much guarantee success,” Patrick Bet-David writes. But, as Bet-David also points out: “Most of the time, people don’t teach follow-up.” (Bet-David is one of our “9 Customer Experience Influencers to Start Following Now.”)

So, how do you master the follow-up email? In this post, we’ll look at how many times you should email someone to follow up, how closely together you should space follow-up emails, and what your follow-up email should say; keeping the psychology of the customer in mind.

How many times should you follow up?

According to Brian Tracy, another of our customer experience influencers, the two most important qualities for sales success are boldness and persistence. How much persistence is needed though?

As Tracy writes in “The Psychology of Selling“:

“At least eight out of ten first purchases from a new supplier take place after the fifth call or visit. These numbers are especially true for when you’re trying to get a customer to stop buying from another company and start buying from yours. Only about 10% of salespeople make more than five calls or attempts to close the sale. Half or more of all salespeople make only one call before they give up.”

In fact, in Bet-David’s experience as an entrepreneur, his biggest sales, biggest commission checks, and most profitable opportunities “typically happened after I reached out to the customer or the person seven to ten times. God knows how many times I reached out to certain people before I made the sale.”

Putting this into practice

  • If you have a conversation with a potential client, make sure you’re following up at least five times.
  • Look at your sales history. Count how many times you followed up with people and who ended up buying from you. Figure out what your average is.
  • Don’t stop following up with a prospect you’ve talked to before you’ve hit that average number.

Going forward

But simply knowing the number of follow-up emails it takes for the “average” sales person to make a sale isn’t the entire answer. After all, you’re not average.

You also need to know how to close a sale with as few follow-ups as possible. Read on to learn how to space out your follow-ups to make them the most effective.

How often should you follow up?

Okay, so you’ve gotten a “no” or no response at all. How long should you wait before following up?

Bet-David likes to put several months in between his follow-ups. Why?

“Things change. I’ve called a client back six months later and found they had a death in the family and got $600,000 from a death benefit…from a life insurance policy. And because I followed up, we were able to help that person out. I’ve called people back that didn’t want to do business, but they were okay with me following up every 90 days. Because I followed up, two and a half years later, they did business with me.”

Another good reason to be patient? “I like to do business with people that are professional,” Bet-David writes. “Most people won’t even stick around for two years in sales. When someone follows up with me for two, three, four years, guess how I see this person? I see them as a pro. The person that’s still selling four years later? I’m doing business with them, because they’re a pro.”

Putting space between emails is important because it tells the prospect that you’re a professional and that you’re listening to them.

Putting this into practice

  • Make sure you’re giving someone at least three months before following up with them, unless they agree to be contacted sooner.
  • Look at your past sales. Count how long it took the people who ended up buying from you to go from first contact to making a purchase decision. Figure out what your average is.
  • Experiment to see what happens when you start spacing your emails further apart.

Going forward

Emailing someone every few days makes you a pest. Emailing someone every six months tells them you’re patient, you’re professionally stable, and that you understand their circumstances are more likely to change over a six-month period than in the space of a few days.

What should your follow-up email say?

This is the most important question.

Both Bet-David and Tracy harp on the importance of being detail-oriented for sales success. “Because if you’re following up with me as a customer, and you don’t remember the details of our first conversation, it tells me you don’t pay attention, and you’re just trying to get the money,” Bet-David writes.

On the other hand, remembering details from your conversation tells a prospect that you’re disciplined and that you value their time, so they’ll want to do business with you.

In the following video, Bet-David suggests that you write down anything the prospect mentions in a sales call and then mention a few things in the follow-up email or voicemail. He gives the example of the prospect’s daughter’s wedding.

Another one of our CX influencers, Matthew Dixon, takes a slightly different approach. He studied the traits that make someone very successful at sales. He and his colleagues came up with five types of salespeople: Relationship Builder, Hard Worker, Lone Wolf, Reactive Problem Solver, and Challenger.

However, Relationship Builders, the types of people who remember that a prospect’s daughter got married since they last spoke, accounted for only 7% of high performers.

In “Selling is Not About Relationships,” Dixon and his co-authors point out that the “Challenger” made up close to 40% of the top-performing sales reps in the study.

So what sets a Challenger sales rep apart from the others? “Challengers use their deep understanding of their customers’ business to push their thinking and take control of the sales conversation. They’re not afraid to share even potentially controversial views and are assertive—with both their customers and bosses.”

Building relationships does lead to sales. Don’t misunderstand that point. But there’s a good way to build a relationship, and there’s a better way. You can build a connection by remembering their birthday and asking about their spouse. But you’ll sell more if you do that and also look for ways to make their lives measurably better.

Here’s how.

The habits of Challengers should inform what you put into your follow-up emails.

Challengers don’t just connect with prospects on a personal level, they offer their prospects economic value before the sale.

Here are a few strategies you can use in your follow-ups based on the Challenger’s sales philosophy:

  • Teach your customers something they didn’t already know.
  • Provide unique, provocative, and useful insights that will help your client’s business, and spend less time simply listing a product’s features and benefits.
  • Come to every call or meeting (or email) with new ideas your customers can use to make or save money.

Putting this into practice

  • As you speak to your prospects, if they complain about any pain point at all, make a note of it. Do the same if they complain on social media.
  • Constantly be on the lookout for potential solutions to their problems, especially solutions that don’t cost them money, even the ones that don’t have to do with your product.

Going forward

The best sales people understand that, in order to create an impactful follow-up email, they must understand their customers on both a personal level and a business level. They understand what their customer wants to achieve, and also what’s standing in their way. They understand the unique challenges each prospect faces and offer ways to make their lives better.

By doing this, they’re able to create both intimacy and economic value.

Key takeaways

“Quite frankly, initially I’m more interested in behavior than results,” Bet-David writes of teaching good sales practices.

“Here’s why: If I teach and track the proper behavior, I automatically know the results are eventually going to be fine…There are two reasons people don’t make money in sales. One of them is discipline, and the other is details. Follow-up is all about both discipline and details. So follow up.”

In summary:

  • Follow up at least five times
  • Space your follow-up emails several months apart
  • Listen closely during the initial call or conversation to make sure you understand how to offer your customer value
  • Make your prospect’s life better with every email you send

How many times do you follow up? How closely do you space your follow-up emails? What do you include in them? Let me know in the comments.

Looking for Email Marketing software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Email Marketing software solutions.

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About the Author

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz helps B2B software companies with their sales and marketing at Capterra. Her writing has appeared in The Week, Forbes, the Chicago Tribune, The Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications. She has been quoted by the New York Times Magazine and has been a columnist at Bitcoin Magazine. Her media appearances include Fox News and Al Jazeera America. If you're a B2B software company looking for more exposure, email Cathy at cathy@capterra.com . To read more of her thoughts, follow her on Twitter.

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