You’re losing ground because you don’t follow up!
My breakdown of one of the most overused pieces of business/life advice
In my work as a trainer, facilitator, teacher and mentor, one of my goals is always to be as specific as possible and to try and stay as far from clichés and empty speech as possible. I also pride myself on not giving advice or speaking on matters in which I have no direct knowledge or experience, preferring to instead point people to others who would know better than I. Some people want to have all the answers and then feel bad when they don’t; this leads to much bad advice being given, and unfortunately, received. So one of my main goals is to break down and explain some of the traditional pieces of advice that often leave people of all ages frustrated, especially young people–who we tell constantly to “listen up” and “work hard” and follow advice of almost everyone around them, even though some of it is thoughtless, silly and downright detrimental. And sometimes giving empty, ill thought-out advice is worse than none at all.
With this thought in mind, today, I’d like to break down, from my humble vantage point, what one of the most over-used, actually under-utilized phrases and singular pieces of advice (and business strategy) means to me. This advice is to follow-up. “You wouldn’t be looked over if you followed-up.” “If you want something, you have to follow-up.” “Did you follow-up?” “I was waiting for you follow-up.” And one million other uses we hear, literally, on the hour, every hour. But what does it actually mean to follow-up? And how do you do it properly?
My simple definition of follow-up is: to remind, poke, prod and otherwise engage a party or parties until the desired decision is arrived at. Notice I didn’t say “a” decision, I said “desired decision.” This is because if you weren’t following up to get something you wanted, why bother following up or initiating the conversation or exchange at all? Hope could work. Not! Simply, you follow up until the other party says “yes” or, “drop dead!” And even with “drop dead”, at least you can move on! Nothing besides these two answers count.
By following up effectively, you force the other party to make a decision, any decision at all, so you are no longer in limbo. And make no mistake, you are in limbo if a person says “not right now” and you never follow up. There are only two acceptable responses: yes or no. They say, “maybe”, I hear “yes! If you follow up with me later…” They say, “let me think about and get back with you.” What they really said is, “no, but I don’t want to say no because I have courage issues” or “I don’t like you” or “I don’t want to hurt your feelings” or “no, but since you won’t probably follow up, I don’t have to face the discomfort of actually saying no!” And so on and so on and so on. Now, I’ve just scratched the surface of possible translations for things people mean when they say something other than a simple and actual “no”, but since I’m speaking generally knowing there are exceptions to every rule and because this isn’t sales training, feel free to use and/or imagine or extrapolate your own insertions. The bottom line, though, remains the same. You’re looking for a yes (or a straightforward NO, or “go to hell”, if you’re feeling frisky lol). Nothing else will suffice.
Essential Ingredients to Effective Follow Up:
- Organization. You must be organized! In order to send those gentle reminders you must be organized in your approach. Create a system. Keep a simple spreadsheet or written tally of who/when you speak to people. Or invest in CRM (for entrepreneurs) when your sales dictate.
- An objective. What do you want in your follow up? Are you looking for an appointment? A sale? A date? Be clear on what you want. This will let you know when you are close or oh so far.
- Fortitude. DO NOT STOP until you get a “no” or a “yes.” Maybe = follow up later. Check back with me = follow up later. Can you call us back in two week? = follow up later (in two weeks). Getting the picture?
- Comfort with discomfort. Following up gets really uncomfortable. That’s why more people don’t do it and/or do it consistently. This is because you are very gently, subtly and tactfully calling someone out for their lack of response or follow through or maybe even performance, depending on the situation.
I’d love to know your thoughts on follow up. When we master this, our entire life is different!
Sadiq Ali, MBA, is a speaker, trainer, professor, and author of Millionaire Manners: The Men’s (and Boy’s) Guide to Social Grace in the New Age and founder of Millionaire Manners Academy, a full service educational consulting and leadership training organization that teaches life and career success through great personal and professional etiquette.