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Stop waiting by the phone: 3 steps to keep a sale moving forward

Jan. 20, 2015
Paul Cherry explains the power of scheduling follow-up appointments during a sales call.

Sluggish sales? Learn the power of the follow-up.

Steve was frustrated because he encountered the same problem over and over. He would have a successful meeting with a prospect that expressed interest in his products. The prospect asked lots of questions about the product line and seemed genuinely interested in doing business with him. At the end of the meeting, the prospect told him to reach out in a few weeks when things settled down. Steve called the prospect several times over the next month, but the prospect never responded. Steve, like so many salespeople, is left waiting and hoping that eventually the prospect will return his calls.

How do you avoid suffering the same fate as Steve? Here are three steps to make sure it doesn't happen:

1. Set up a specific time for the next meeting, before the end of the first meeting. Instead of agreeing to call a prospect “in a couple of weeks,” you need to be firm about setting up the next meeting. You can say something like, “I am so glad we got to talk. So we don’t have to play phone tag, let’s pencil in a time and date that would work for us to reconnect on this issue. Would you like me to come to your office again, or do you want to talk over the phone?” Using this tactic holds both parties accountable by setting a date and time for your next meeting.

2. Establish the agenda for the next meeting, before the end of the first meeting. Once you set up the next meeting, you should follow up by confirming what that meeting will entail. You might want to ask a question such as, “To ensure that our next meeting is productive, what should we be prepared to address as our next step?” This question allows you to probe a little further and uncover what the prospect expects to happen during the next meeting.

3. Ask your prospect to do some homework before the next meeting. You want the other person you are meeting with to have some investment in the process, otherwise it is too easy to blow you off; so, ask your prospect to do some sort of “homework” before your next meeting. You could ask him/her to gather some data, bring another person in on the discussion, or anything else that requires them to invest time, money, or resources into the relationship.

Salespeople sometimes fall into the trap of being non-committal, as their schedules get busy and it’s hard to keep appointments. But too often it comes back to haunt them. Without commitments on each and every call, you lose the formality and structure of a business relationship. You would never expect your doctor to say to you, “Ok, it was nice to have you here for these serious medical tests. I’ll keep in touch.” We expect our doctors to set appointments, have formal follow-up, and come up with a plan of action. The same should be true for sales professionals. When ending a meeting with a potential new customer, you want to be as proactive as possible. By following the three steps listed above, you ensure that you will no longer be waiting by the phone hoping for a prospect to call.

If you have put these following steps into practice and are still encountering unreturned phone calls, you may consider the following scenarios:

1. Is it you? If you routinely encounter situations where you feel like you are being ignored or avoided, you need to consider why this keeps happening. Are you cold calling people who simply do not have enough interest in your product? Are you talking to the wrong people within these organizations (people without the power to make decisions or people who don’t feel the business pain)? Is your presentation style off-putting, do you talk too much or bore people with your lengthy PowerPoint presentations? Take a good hard look at your process so that you can figure out what is going wrong and how to correct it.

2. Is it them? If a potential client does not call you back, your mind immediately goes to what you did wrong. But many times, the person who is unresponsive has other things on his/her mind. Maybe he/she is afraid to bring in a new product or service because if things do not go well, it will reflect badly on him/her. To avoid this scenario, make sure to ask your potential customers (during your initial meeting) about any concerns they might have or any issues they think might come up. Then you can help alleviate their fears by discussing the results your products and services have been able to deliver to other companies in the industry.

So what ever happened to Steve? Well, after Steve started being more proactive with his prospective customers, he no longer had to wait by the phone. He made sure to schedule follow up meetings during his initial meetings with prospects, and his sales increased 20% over the next quarter.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Cherry is President of Performance Based Results and is the leading authority on customer engagement strategies. He has more than 23 years experience in sales training, leadership development, sales performance coaching, and management coaching. He is also the author of Questions that Sell: The Powerful Process for Discovering What Your Customer Really Wants and Questions that Get Results: Innovative Ideas Managers Can Use to Improve Their Team’s Performance. For more information on Paul, please visit You can also reach him at (302) 478-4443 or [email protected].

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