Customers avoid talking directly to salespeople–and this behavior can easily be observed among buyers in the B2B space. According to Forrester Research, 59% of B2B buyers prefer self-service and managing relationships on their own. This now poses a dilemma among B2B sales professionals who have been taught that ‘touching base’ is essential in getting a deal. Is follow-up still necessary?
Yes–but the key is figuring out the fine line between an effective follow-up strategy and being a nuisance to prospects. If the seller is too relaxed, sales will never get closed. On the contrary, the tenacity of an aggressive seller will drive clients away. The latter is also why customers have become averse to interactions with sales reps.
The client’s follow-up experience should be pleasant enough that they want to continue the business relationship.
So, keep the following P’s in mind when transforming current sales strategies to better suit the self-reliant lead.
Follow-ups should be thoughtful and personalized.
Customers spend a lot of time researching and coming up with a shortlist of companies. They will only make the initial contact to get additional information that they can’t find on their own like price lists, special packages, or contract terms. Hence, the first company to respond will most likely get the deal. It’s best to follow-up within five minutes of a customer making a request. This not only deters the lead from contacting other companies, it also shows appreciation for the client’s time.
In addition, send a thank you email after an initial call or meeting. Then, send a handwritten card after a day or two. Cite details from previous conversations. Never send a cold sales email or a form letter to a prospect who has already made contact.
Buyers also appreciate receiving care packages especially when they are personalized. So, don’t just send a generic PR package prepared by the marketing department that contains brochures and company-branded office supplies. Instead, tailor the package to the recipient’s interests or personality. If the client has children, send along something for the kids. If the client loves Starbucks, then send over coffee and pastries to their weekly meeting. The prospect will not only welcome the gesture, it will also be far more likely to respond to follow-up requests.
It’s vital to adapt to the customer by being perceptive. Figure out the buyer’s preferences and explore what they like in a seller. Take note that some people hate talking on the phone while others find it more productive. In contrast, there are some who prefer long, formal e-mails as well as those who don’t mind seemingly curt responses.
Sometimes, it’s just a matter of catching the client at the right time. The basic rule may be to contact business buyers while they’re at work during office hours–but that’s not always true.
Some people like coming to work very early, so call them when they’re relaxed and perhaps not guarded by a secretary. Workers on flexible schedules are often night owls, so a late-night e-mail will get their attention.
Furthermore, if they don’t respond, find out why. Are the emails not getting through? Has the contact resigned? More importantly, tell the prospect that it’s OK to say “no.” It is very important to maintain a consistent tone during email communication.
Usually, it’s because they’ve decided on another company or they just haven’t made a decision yet. Knowing this will save a lot of time and effort on leads that are already dead.
The client should that they’re on the same wavelength as the sales rep to avoid future misunderstandings. Beyond matching communication styles, sellers shouldn’t insist on pushing products and services that the customer never asked for or doesn’t need.
Persistent doesn’t mean pesky—it’s about patience. Enterprise deals entail big decisions and will require the participation and sign-off of multiple parties in the company.
B2B sales typically get closed months after the lead qualification stage, so follow-up until a clear “yes” or “no” is received from the prospect. As long as the prospect remains promising, persistence is bound to pay off in the end.
William Ballard recommends following a four-step follow-up process. It adds value at every step, so the seller doesn’t come across as repetitious and it makes the buyer feel like the service is customized.
- Re-state or re-sell the existing offer by clearing up the reasons why the prospect hasn’t accepted the proposal.
- Give a second notice to create scarcity by offering a ‘buy now’ reward like a gift or a discount.
- Firmly reiterate the points in the second notice by emphasizing the possible losses.
- Present another product or service that might better suit their needs.
The last step also requires being perceptive to what the client actually wants. After several follow-ups with the buyer, it should be clear to the seller why the initial offer has been rejected.
What to do next
Drop the old tactics and opt for a new strategy that’s personalized, perceptive, and persistent.
It will not only save B2B companies a significant amount of time and money, it will also make their sales teams more capable of handling modern customers who are hesitant to interact with sellers.
The follow-up doesn’t have to be unpleasant for either party. At its core is customer care coupled with creativity. Accommodate the client’s personal interests, behavior, and business needs at every step of the way by being imaginative, yet purposeful in approach. This also makes the process continuously engaging for everyone involved.