What you’re about to read is biblically stupid.
You spend ages trying to get someone’s attention. It’s a potential reseller you’ve had your eye on for a while and you just know they’ll make a massive different to your business.
So, you keep an eye on their movements on LinkedIn and spot that they’re heading to a local networking event tomorrow.
Brilliant – this is it; your chance to finally get in front of them and ensure you bring on board what will almost certainly be your best ever reseller.
So, you head to the event, meet that person, get on fabulously, swap business cards, chat the chat and agree that a beautiful future is inevitable for you both.
What happens next?
Nothing. And for one very simply reason: neither of you bothered to follow up.
Why we’re all guilty of poor follow up
If you think you’ve never been guilty of the above, you’re almost certainly lying to yourself. We’ve all done it – even if the situation isn’t quite as exciting as the one just described.
In-person networking events are a classic example of where it’s easy to screw up an entire day by ignoring the importance of follow up, but it exists elsewhere, too.
The hot lead that drops into inbox; the promise to an old friend that you’ll meet up for coffee; the decision you make to finally kickstart that new website project.
We’re all pretty useless at following up because the world we live in is so bloody noisy and full of distractions.
Despite this, there really is no excuse not to follow up, and the next bunch of tips could transform your ability to be both productive and successful.
The 5 principles of a follow-up-first mindset
In order to get things done and come good on your promises, you need to have a follow-up-first mindset.
That means the next task that relates to the one currently underway should always be on your mind.
Here’s five principles of follow-up that should be engraved in your mind.
1. Make it part of your strategy
Follow up always takes time – that’s life – but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored.
To ensure following up on a promise or task never strays from your mind, ensure follow up becomes part of your strategy or plan. Always factor it in, and you’ll never have the excuse of ‘not having enough time’.
2. Never assume
Following up isn’t a two-way street. If you assume the other person will do so before you, it’ll never happen.
Never assume someone is better at following up than you, because they’re almost certainly not.
3. Follow up with intent
Following up a chance encounter at a networking event with a half-hearted “let’s do coffee sometime” email isn’t going to get you very far.
Instead, make sure every piece of follow up you do is undertaken with intent. Know what you want to accomplish (even if that goal is miles away) whenever you follow something up.
4. Always say “thanks”
This is vitally important.
If you just use following up as a method to get what you want, it won’t work. Instead, always start by placing the focus on the person in question and say “thanks” for the time they’ve already given you.
Politeness will get you everywhere.
5. Don’t assume people owe you anything
This bears repeating: following up isn’t solely for your benefit – it should be viewed as beneficial for both parties.
Never assume the other person owes you something. If you do, the follow up routine will quickly become one of rejection, and there’s no quicker way to put you off the task entirely.
But, how do I follow up without being annoying?
Ah – good question.
As bad as it might be to ignore following something up entirely, it’s much worse to do so in a way that makes you as irritating as treading on Lego.
So, here’s a few simple, proven tips for following up in a way that won’t consign you to the spam folder.
- Ask if you can follow up first. It really does pay to be polite, and if you ask someone if they’d like to be followed up, you’ll get the conversation off to the best possible start.
- Ask the preferred method of communication. Some people like email, others like face-to-face while some may only ever provide a response if contacted by phone. Always ask the best way to follow up if you want the best results.
- Always put in place next steps. When you finish a follow up task, agree on a next step with the person you’re talking to. You want to keep this conversation going, but it will inevitably end if you don’t follow this tip – no matter how well the conversation went.
- Summarise conversations in email. This is a matter of preference, but I think it’s good practice to summarise any in-person or telephone conversation you have with a quick bullet-pointed email. That way, there’s a record of what was discussed and promised.
- Never ‘touch base’. Ugh. Apart from being literally the worst phrase ever to be uttered by anyone on the planet, ‘touch base’ doesn’t exactly reek of intent. So, never touch base or ‘check in’ – make sure you always have a specific reason for getting back to someone.
If you follow the above tips, you shouldn’t ever come across as being annoying. On the contrary, people should want to chat to you for an awful lot longer.
5 follow up rules not to be ignored
Before I sign off, here’s the five most important rules of following up. Don’t leave home without them.
Rule 1: Be more polite than you’ve ever been
This might sound obvious, but by being polite you’ll have far more success when following up anything.
Make people like you, even if it means being irritatingly polite. You can’t be ‘too nice’, no matter what your mum once told you.
Rule 2: Be humble
No one likes a smart arse or someone who’s head is stuck relentlessly up their own.
The person you’re talking to might know far more than you. Always operate on that basis, unless the knowledge you have can help them.
Rule 3: Be persistent – properly
Persistent follow up doesn’t mean badgering someone on the phone or email every day – you need to be smarter than that.
Try and give at least a week in-between following up, and if you feel like you’re doing something too soon, go with your gut.
Rule 4: Ask if you need to stop
Get the feeling you need to pull back a bit or stop entirely? Ask your opposite number if they’ve heard enough. They’ll value that honesty and – hopefully – be just as honest with their reply.
Rule 5: Try different methods
If you’re really struggling to get hold of someone (even if you’re doing so via their preferred method), change it up and try a different method.
Only stop when you’ve exhausted every single avenue.
Don’t waste any golden opportunity to follow something up. Hours – if not days and weeks – of work can be made wasteful if you don’t follow the tips above.