By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
A few months ago, I was doing research on software designed specifically for periodical publishers. The general promise was that this class of software would streamline and integrate operations, as well as provide the ability to offer new services. With all its promises and pretension, I suspected that it would likely be pricey as well.
Why not dream a little, I reasoned? It wouldn’t hurt to get prices. Perhaps I would be pleasantly surprised. I found a resource guide that compared the key factors of the major players’ offerings. Using a couple of basic screens to limit the roster of some thirty providers, I quickly narrowed the list down to four promising contenders. To be efficient, I sent an email to each of them, asking the entry-level price and sharing my contact information.
I chose to request pricing for two reasons. Firstly, if it was astronomical, I could quickly opt out of further interaction and not waste any more time – mine or theirs. The other reason was that I expected a query about pricing to invite dialogue, thereby allowing me to learn more about the product and the company behind it. Although I could have chosen a more formal approach and submitted at RFP (Request for Proposal), preparing it would have taken up a great deal of my time, most likely exposing my naiveté and producing reams of largely worthless documents – not to mention demanding a lot from these vendors. (Now you know what I think about RFPs.)
So, I merely sent an email asking for their entry-level pricing. Of the four, one responded almost immediately, two the next day, and one never answered my query. All three of the responses contained a terse statement of price. Only one asked a solitary follow-up question, and no one attempted to enter into further dialogue. Another promised to send me a demo – but never did. For the third, I needed clarification on his poorly worded message, which garnered me another brusque email.
No one did any follow-up – ever. Although my initial communication was via email, I conspicuously provided both my phone number and mailing address. Sadly, there was nary an email message, phone call, or mailing. It doesn’t even appear that I have been added to any marketing databases for any future sales efforts or routine communication.
Of the three prices, one was too high for consideration, the second was also shocking, although feasible if the software proved as compelling as promised, and the third, although also high, was not unrealistically so. The bottom line is that had either of these later two software packages lived up to their grand pronouncements, I would have made a purchase, most likely within the month. But we will never know, because no one bothered to follow up with me.
Frankly, I am perplexed. At a price point comparable to a decent used car, you would think that there would be sufficient motivation to diligently pursue all possible leads.
The opposite of no follow-up is endless, pointless follow-up. It is perhaps even more deadly, because each purposeless contact serves as an effectively poignant reminder not to buy from that company.
Take Joe for instance. Joe was a good-ol’-boy salesman, with an order-taker mentality. He stumbled onto my name and called to set up an appointment. Even though I stated my preference to conduct business via the telephone and through email, he pressed for an in-person meeting. Since I did have some interest in what he was peddling, and based on his assurances of top-notch customer service and competitive pricing, I eventually acquiesced to meet with him.
During our appointment, it became quickly apparent that his company was not a good match for me. If Joe’s demeanor was representative of his company, I was confident that customer service would be decidedly inadequate. My conclusion of a mismatch was further confirmed with his price quote, which was twenty-five percent higher than “competitive.” I told him so and concluded by saying that I would call him if I wanted to pursue things further.
Sadly, Joe did not hear me, and my name and number were firmly ensconced in his Rolodex. Mechanically, he would periodically call, not for any real purpose, but just to talk. He never provided more information, never shared company news, and never attempted to move the selling process forward. His spiel was always along the lines of, “Hi, this is Joe; I’m just checkin’ in to see how you’re doin’.”
At first, I was relatively cordial and would conclude each call with, “I’ll call you if I need something.” Over time I became less affable, eventually ending a call with “Joe, please don’t call me anymore; I will call you if I need something.” Although necessary, I felt horrible for being so blunt.
My dismay was short-lived, because two weeks later, he called again. I cut him off, and as politely as I could muster, I said, “Joe, I don’t wish to be rude, but I asked you not to call me anymore. Please don’t call again.”
This may have been the first time he actually listened. “D-d-did I do something to offend you?” he plaintively implored. I explained my perspective on the situation. Incredibly, he called again a few weeks later, spewing his same tired, old rhetoric. That was the last I heard from him. Either he finally got the message – or got canned.
You may think me a malcontent, first complaining about a lack of follow-through and then being critical about too much. In reality, there is a middle ground that salespeople should aim for.
Quite simply, follow up until you hear a definite “Yes” or an emphatic “No.” And by all means, do not assume that the lead is not a good lead or infer that the prospect will say “No”; wait until they actually voice it. If they are not ready to make a yes or no declaration, you need to continue doing your job until a decision can be made.
This brings up two more thoughts. First, use careful discretion in the frequency of your follow-up contacts. Many salespeople ask, “When shall I check back with you?” Seemingly, this is a wise tactic, but the uninterested prospect will simply opt for a time as far in the future as possible, without the need to say “no.” All that does is string the salesperson along and waste time. Better is to ask what other information the prospect needs from you or what the next step is in their decision-making process. The other point is that even when a prospect says “No,” that may not mean “Never.” Ask them if they might want to revisit the situation in the future. If so, make sure you contact them at the appropriate time, but not before.
Most importantly, when you call, be sure that you have a reason for doing so. Don’t call just to chat; today’s decision-makers are far too busy to engage in idle, purposeless conversation. Call only when you have a predetermined purpose in mind or have defined a worthy goal directly relating to the sales process. Examples of reasons to call are to provide more information, update the prospect on new developments, share about new products or services, or offer a special promotion.
This way, your calls will be of value and your communication will have a better chance to be welcomed. And then you will be more likely to make a sale and less apt to read about your failure to do so!
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.
[From Connection Magazine – January 2008]