Ask the Experts: Am I too pushy?

Dear Jim, 

How many follow-ups are too many follow-ups, too many? I’m under pressure to get answers from prospects before moving on, but sometimes I can feel the irritation in the responses I get. I want to follow through without making a bad impression. When do you know to stop trying? 


Am I too pushy? 

Hi Pushy, 

This is a great question because in today’s business environment, where everyone is pressed for time and are constantly being asked to “do more with less,” prospects and potential customers rarely operate on your timetable – particularly if you’re the salesperson who is paid on commission or production.

Here’s a common scenario:

You’ve identified what seems to be a great prospect for your product or service.

After weeks of outreach (phone, email, text, etc.), you finally managed to secure a call, or an appointment, with someone at that company who claims to be a decision-maker.

You meet with that individual and conduct what you think is a thorough discovery meeting

Determine that your product, or service, is ideal for that prospect.

In that meeting, or perhaps a subsequent one, you make the presentation of your life.  You point out all the features and benefits of your solution, and answer all the prospect’s questions and concerns, and he/she seems genuinely interested.

Your prospect vows to give your proposal every consideration, wants to “run it up the flagpole” to their superiors and asks you to follow up with them next week.

You do so with a well-written email or phone call, but the prospect is not returning your messages and seems to have disappeared.
You’re probably familiar with the term “ghosting,” which is precisely what has happened here. Ghosting typically occurs when the salesperson:

Comes across as too pushy, too aggressive and/or too anxious to close the deal. (After all, everyone likes to buy things but no one likes to be “sold.”) 

Does not build trust, or establish sufficient rapport, with the prospect.

Fails to establish the agenda or the purpose, of the meeting.

Doesn’t set the expectation regarding possible outcomes of the meeting: yes, we agree to do business; no, we’re not a fit; or we mutually agree on clear next steps.

Fails to determine exactly when and where those next steps will occur – dates, times, locations, etc.

As a result, sellers have no choice but to continue to “follow up” with the prospect, hoping that they will take their phone call and, ultimately, decide to do business with them. So, how to “follow up” as strategically, and productively, as possible, without coming across as a pest and alienating your prospect?

Initial Follow-Up: After the initial contact, or meeting, follow up within 24 hours to express appreciation for the meeting and to recap the key points discussed.

Second Follow-Up: If you haven’t heard back after the initial follow-up, send a second follow-up within 5-7 days. This could be to provide additional information, address any questions or concerns raised during the initial contact or simply to determine if they need further assistance.

Third Follow-Up:  If there’s still no response, send a third follow-up within another week. This follow-up could include a gentle recap of the conversation about your product, or service, along with any recent updates or developments that might be relevant to the prospect.

Fourth Follow-Up:  If after two weeks you’ve reached this stage without a response, send a “Close the file” email or voice mail. Let’s face it: If the prospect is not responding, chances are good that you’ve fallen victim to “unpaid consulting” and will not be hearing from them. (Four follow-ups are plenty, as we don’t want you chasing prospects who are not interested.)
The “Close the file” email or message sounds like this:

“I’m writing to follow up on my email and voicemail. We are in the process of closing files for the month and, since I haven’t heard back from you, I’m guessing it means that you’re either really busy or you just aren’t interested in pursuing our proposal at this time. If that’s the case, do I have your permission to close your file? If you are still interested, what do you recommend as a next step?”  

I guarantee that one of three things will occur: either a) they will respond, asking you not to close their file; b) they will give you permission or c) you won’t hear from them.  Regardless, you will know exactly where you stand with that opportunity.

Beyond these four follow-ups, it’s generally best to avoid overwhelming the prospect with too many messages. If there’s been no response after multiple attempts, move on and focus your efforts on other prospects who may be more receptive to your product or service.

Jim Marshall is the founder of Sandler Training of Tampa Bay, which provides sales, corporate and management training to high-achieving companies and individuals. Contact him at 813.287.1500 or [email protected].

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