3 Keys to Increasing Sales by Following Up
It involves more than just "checking in"
It’s one of the least emphasized aspects of the selling process. Sales trainers typically give it a small portion of their overall training time. With cold calling, prospecting, closing skills, and overcoming objections taking up most of our training time, we tend to give little attention to this very important part of selling.
National statistics suggest it takes an average of five sales calls to sell an account. While 48% of all sales people don’t follow up after one sales call, less than 10% follow up more than 3 times. For an ag sales professional, following up is even more critical than other selling environments. We work with long term relationships that involve daily, weekly and monthly interactions with our customers. First, we become part of their business. Then we become part of their lives. These relationships last years and even a lifetime. So, unseating an entrenched competitor is going to take a lot more than 1, 2 or even 5 calls. To be successful, you have to be in the game for the long haul.
Step one of following-up is to have a system. I prefer electronic over manual or written and I prefer that salespeople use their company’s CRM program if they have one. Either way, any system is better than none at all. And, scraps of paper or your memory is not a system. To manage a large prospect funnel with changing needs for each interaction requires that you take good notes and get back to prospects. Getting back to them requires timeliness and accuracy. Your organization skills around timeliness means that you get back to the producer when they said to or when it’s seasonally appropriate. If the prospect said he’ll decide on his fertilizer in a couple weeks, then you need to have it on your calendar to reach out for an appointment in 7-10 days. If the prospect is filling a building with pigs in February, then you need to schedule a phone call in late December to get an appointment to discuss his feed needs by early January.
Unless you have a picture-perfect photographic memory, build a simple spreadsheet to track your prospects and the critical time & task to follow up with
Planning for it:
Besides disorganization, one of the main reasons sales people fail to follow up is they have no reason to go back. They don’t know enough about the prospect or his business to go back and add anything new to the discussion. Getting the initial appointment, the salesperson spends the whole time on small talk and then presenting on their products. Learning little about the prospect, the salesperson now has to wait weeks or months to go back and “Check in” with the prospect. The prospect’s usual response to this check in is “Nope, nothing has changed. I’m still happy where I’m at with my current provider.” So, it’s another couple months before the salesperson can “check-in” again to see if anything has changed.
Prevent this by having a follow-on goal in mind prior to any prospect interaction. There’s an old say, “The purpose of the phone call is to get the first appointment. The purpose of the first appointment is to get the next appointment.” The concept behind this old saying is that you need to have enough information and understanding of your prospect to come back for a follow-up sales call, before you leave the farm, feed mill, or grain elevator.
So, now you are organized for timely follow up. You also have a plan going into every prospect call for how you want to follow up on the next call. Now, you have to execute! You have to just do it. Here are some tips and advice for making sure you do it.
- Fear of being pushy or "salesy" – If you dug deep enough and have a plan to bring back new and relevant material, you shouldn’t feel pushy. Remember, you found a way to help this person. The sooner the better for helping them.
- Feels futile – Prospecting and endless following up can seam futile. It’s hard to see progress and you feel like you are wasting your time. Often, that’s why many salespeople continue to call on customers when they should be out prospecting. Calling on customers gives a feeling of accomplishment. With a prospect, you might be right at the doorstep of closing the deal or you might be miles away. This feeling is what causes salespeople to “just check in” to see if something has changed. Prioritize your prospect list and spend some quality time on following up as if the prospect is going to buy on the next sales call.
Ways to Follow Up
Bring someone new back with you: Your tech department or research department are popular choices. However, don’t forget your folks in production, distribution, and customer service. They do a lot for customers and you want prospects to know the quality people in your company.
- Go back for a tour or an opportunity to see operations first hand: If the buyer is in an office location or removed from the actual production of their products, ask to take a tour of their farm or operation. This can reveal a lot of ways for you to follow up.
- Network: Find where your prospects go for business meetings and go to those meetings, if you can. Find a way to connect with prospects and customers other than a sales call. Customers want to know their vendors are involved and support their industry.
- Call to Action (CTA): Every industry has seasons, especially agribusiness. They make for a great call to action. Spring planting, Fall calving, harvest, federal crop insurance dates, etc. A prospect has to decide on their supplier prior to these dates. This timeframe is a great reason to follow up.
Developing long term relationships with customers is one of the great elements of selling in agribusiness. Please don’t underestimate that relationship when calling on a prospect to switch them over to your products. Keep your focus on what you can do for them and keep adding value as you return. In time, it will happen. It starts by helping them in a way their current supplier does not. To do that, you have to keep going back.