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The Power of the Follow Up

When working with shops on sales training, we find many have the belief that the sales process ends at the delivery of a price to a customer. The thought that is often repeated by our clients is, now that the price has been delivered, it is the customer's responsibility to come back with a decision.

The problem with this approach is that the sales process is similar to telling a great story. A great storyteller will expertly take the reader through all parts of a story, from introduction to rising action, to climax, to falling action, to resolution.

Each sale you begin is its own great story - a sales story - and you are the storyteller. To make any sale great, you must model your sales process to expertly take the customer through the same steps as any great story. You need to create a strong impression in the introduction, build your value in the rising action, deliver a price in the climax, and then drive to a resolution - ideally a sale - through the falling action.

By waiting for the customer to make a decision and resolve the story, you are skipping the crucial falling action part of your sales story and handing over the keys to the resolution to the customer.

Follow Up is the Falling Action

We call the falling action of your sales story follow up. We all know the term, and we know we should do it, but few of us do, and even fewer do it well. This is surprising because there are heaps of research on how vital it is to the success of a sale. There are real, tangible reasons why follow up works to drive more sales, just as there is a real need for falling action in a story.

In storytelling, falling action is often the point in the plot where prior assumptions about characters and the plot are undone and reformed in the aftermath of the climax. The truth behind the twists and turns of the journey are unwound, new relationships between characters are forged, old bonds are rediscovered or remade, and subtle details previously missed come into focus as centerpieces for the outcome of the story.

And just as falling action reworks our assumptions about a story, follow-ups allow you to rework your customers' assumptions about you and the sale.

You can build, strengthen, or reforge your relationships with your customers. You can uncover the truth about how they are feeling toward your offering and the needs they have that you can fulfill. You can discover subtle details about a sale you previously missed that may help you close. And you can streamline your sales process to determine which sales stories are worth finishing.

Follow-ups are a powerful tool that can drive you to resolutions in great sales, just as falling action is a powerful tool that drives us to resolutions in great stories. Both are so powerful we have to acknowledge they derive their power from somewhere. And interestingly, that place is the same for both. It is the place where any great human story begins - with relationships.

Building Relationships Through Empathy

One of the core concepts we teach our salespeople at Service Station is demonstrating empathy toward the customer at every point of contact they make with that customer. In the home and auto service industries, customers are not often contacting us because they have some awesome projects they are super excited about getting done.

More often, a problem occurred with their home or car, both of which are significant, if not the most significant investments your customers will make in their lives, and they are experiencing powerful feelings of loss, frustration, and fear. They begin to ask themselves questions such as “What happens next?” “How long is the process to get this fixed?” “It works well enough; do I need to spend all this money to fix this now?”

Even in instances where a customer is making an upgrade or update to their home, the significant investments of time and money they put into the project cause Buyer’s Remorse to be a deep feeling you must address. Questions enter their minds, such as, “Will this update increase my home value?” “Can I make my money back in a resale?” “Will I like the results of the completed project?”

It is overcoming the internal dialogue your customers are having with themselves, or rather, empathizing with it, that will win you jobs.

Follow-ups are about the customer

The best time to position ourselves as empathetic listeners is at the onset of our relationships with our customers. Unfortunately, we are unable to do so at times. Perhaps we didn’t listen properly. Maybe the customer didn’t wholly express themselves. Perhaps we weren’t in the proper frame of mind to respond as we would like.

Following up provides us with the opportunity to refocus, relisten, and respond.

A well worded follow-up will say to customers, “We heard you, and we understand you are facing some difficulties. We are here for you and want to help.” This subtle message transforms the buying experience for the customer from being about you getting work out of them to you working to achieve their goals.

This subtlety is important because customers know that when you follow-up, you are looking to close a sale, which is inherently about you. You must combat their wariness toward being sold by approaching all follow-ups, and interactions in general, with the mindset that the sale is 100% about the customer.

Introducing empathy in your emails

You can achieve this in your follow-ups by demonstrating that you have been thoughtful toward the customer first and that your primary objective is not merely to close a job. Homes and vehicles are very personal items, and customers should receive similarly personal experiences.

Take the following example of two follow-ups attempting to achieve the same goal of closing a sale.

Example 1: Hello, Mrs. Smith. I am calling to see if you received the bids we sent you. We would love to get started on this project, do you think you are ready?

Example 2: Hello, Mrs. Smith. It was great to speak with you the other day. I was reviewing the bids we sent you, and I think the frameless clear channel with brass fixtures would look great in your bathroom. I know there are important decisions to make on this project, so I wanted to gather your thoughts and help you make a great choice.

The simple changes in the second example help to reshape your customers’ perspective about you. First, it establishes a personal experience because you demonstrated enough care to review the customer’s bids and put your own thoughts into their choices.

Second, it reinforces to the customer that you understand they have some decisions to make, which may not be easy ones.

Third, you demonstrate that you are interested in a collaborative discussion by leaving the call to action open-ended. This also has the secondary benefit that customers will have more difficulty merely responding that they are not interested at the time.

Ultimately, following up will position you in your customers’ minds as the shop who legitimately heard their needs and is coming back around to make sure they are taken care of. Even if you don’t close the sale, a customer will remember your efforts for the next time they have a need, and your follow-up will set you up to forge a long-lasting relationship that will result in future sales or referral business.

Power 1: Following up provides another point of contact to address customers’ questions and concerns with empathy.

Power 2: Following up strengthens your relationships with customers by being at the forefront of their minds and demonstrating persistence in helping them achieve their goals.

Selling to Deciders with a Value Proposition

In sales psychology, there is a thought experiment where a salesperson is talking to a couple, and he asks them a question about their preference for a feature for the car they are interested in buying. He closely observes the couple’s interaction, and carefully notes which person is given the ultimate say in response to his question. He knows that person is the person he is selling to because that person is likely the most crucial decision-making persona in the buying process – the Decider.

The Decider has the final say in the purchase decision-making process and is ultimately the person a salesperson is selling to. The Buyer persona (the one stroking the check) has sway throughout the process. Still, any objections they have over price will ultimately be overruled by the Decider if they feel their needs are met by the value presented in excess of the price. A great salesperson will overcome the objections of the Decider by learning about their needs and selling to the benefits which best fulfill those needs.

We must remember that the goal of every sale is to present enough value to a customer to overcome any objections that arise over price. Through this complex back and forth of delivering value vs. price, we will encounter and need to overcome objections from various personas throughout the decision-making process.

Dealing with the Decider persona

In some instances, the same person is every persona, and you only need to sell to that person. But because we are in the home and auto service industries, and we are dealing with homes and cars, which typically represent significant family level investments, there are generally multiple parties involved, with various needs, and strong opinions. You may have one person who is every persona, two people who split all the personas evenly, or even multiple people acting as each persona at different times!

In fact, we track the reasons customers don’t immediately book when we present them with a bid, and 23% (n = 36,258) of the time, their response is, “I have to speak with my partner or another third party.” That means for nearly one out of every four jobs you are unable to close, you failed to do so because you were not selling directly to the Decider.

This happens for several reasons, and we see it every day, even in our own lives. One partner wants something around the house taken care of, so they ask the other partner to present them with solutions. A tenant needs an issue addressed, and they call a provider without realizing the landlord needs to be involved. Your estimator sits down with a couple to present a bid, and they make the wrong assumption about the needs of the Decider or are unable to recognize who the Decider is.

Offer your value proposition

Unfortunately, not selling directly to the Decider is a dangerous, and often losing position to be in. If you spoke with the Decider but didn’t recognize their needs and or didn’t correctly translate benefit to those needs, you aren’t going to close the sale. If you haven’t spoken with the Decider, and your message is being presented through another party, even if that other party is close to the situation, you likely won’t close the sale.

The only person who can completely understand and present your price to value proposition is you. How often have we asked our partner to get an estimate on a job, and they say, “The person I talked to said it would be $987.67 to get it done.”? There is no value or competitive differentiation expressed in that statement, and that is the danger of relying on someone else to present your message.

This is where following up comes in. By giving yourself more opportunities to speak directly to the Decider and reiterate your value offering, you are going to see better sales results.

Power 3: Following up gives you another opportunity to get in front of the Decider.

Power 4: Following up allows you to present or restate, your value offering.

Streamline Sales Processes and Generate Results

The most compelling reasons for following up with customers are the simple reasons that follow-ups are effective at generating results. They give you a good idea on which leads are strong leads and should be worked, and which are most likely lost and should just be monitored.

This categorization of leads will increase the productivity of your workforce by giving everyone a unified direction on which customers are valuable in pursuing. This streamlined focus will save your business time, effort, and money in the long run.

Follow-ups are also very effective at closing jobs. Across the BidClips customer base, when our customers use automated follow-ups, they experience a 12% (n = 2,729) average increase in overall sales, with some experiencing as high as a 23% increase. When we layer on following up via phone call or direct message, the increase in sales rises even further to between 20% and 30% (n = 56,982).

While those numbers are significant, the hidden power of closing an already bid lead is that an already bid lead is much more valuable than a new lead. The saying “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” is extremely appropriate when applied to follow-ups.

By the time you get to the follow-up, you have already put in 80% or more of the time and money needed to close the sale. The cost of the lead from PPC or other lead generation, and the overhead cost of bidding the project, are sunk costs you could recoup by closing.

Power 5: Following up helps your team prioritize leads so their efforts are focused on closing high-value customers and not wasted on pursuing lost opportunities.

Power 6: Following up results in better closing results, which translates into more sales and less wasted resources.

Follow-ups are powerful. There are many more direct and indirect benefits your business will receive by doing follow-ups other than the ones listed here. If you aren’t doing them, you need to be.