Eight tips for following up with clients

Make sure communication remains on track.

So, you have just had this amazing first meeting with a potential client. Naturally you are excited! It is set to be a wonderful project, and you know you are capable of delivering exactly what the client needs within their budget and specified time frame. You email your thanks, including follow-up questions, and then… They’ve disappeared from your radar, without a trace, or a response. At this time, you make the painful realisation that you have no strategy for following up with your prospects.

You go through a stage of being annoyed, then frustrated, then you finally panic. Have I lost the deal? Is it that they did not like me? Have they changed their mind? Did they get a better offer from a competitor? Its possible none of these are the answers, yet its also possible that they may hold true. Still you do not know your position.

There are many different reasons why clients may fail to respond or contact you as expected. Although it is not unusual to start doubting yourself when this happens you need to remember that it may in fact not be about what you said, or what you did or what you did not say or do for that matter. You should not let the doubts take over! Your next move should be to to follow up with the clients, establish why there has been a lapse in communication and possibly get the communication back on track!

When are you supposed to follow up with your clients?

You need to have definite next steps that you have decided to take whenever a particular situation arises. For instance, you should know what to do when the following happen for instance:

  • You have sent in your proposal and there is no response from the client.
  • You had agreed a project with a client but somehow it has stalled.
  • You have requested some materials or information from a client and they have delayed in sending.
  • You have issued an invoice and its past the expected payment time-frame.
  • There has been an event which halts business such as a holiday, or a lock-down such as the recent COVID situation.

In the first place, why do people fail to respond?

Do not take it personally when a client fails to respond. It is best for you to reach out to them and let them explain. Do not always assume that it is about you, most of the time it is some other factors.

  • Your client is busy too, remember they also have a business to run.
  • They might be seeking input or feedback from within their circles before they get back to you. Unfortunately, they may not always let you in on that fact.
  • Imagine this, they may not have actually received your Email. It might have been labelled as junk or some similar situation. While you worry about their failure to respond, they might actually be worrying why you did not send your proposal.
  • They have concerns and are trying to work out how to convey them to you. When you follow up, you obviously expedite the process!
  • They are not yet prepared to commit to the deal. This could be for a variety of reasons. If you do not follow up, they may remain quiet, but if you do, they will usually let you know this.

So how long should you wait before making a follow up?

Waiting to make the follow up can be a bit uncomfortable. You want to know where you stand. The waiting period really depends on your patience and the nature of the deal you want to make a follow up on. You do not want to look desperate or pushy by following up too early. But you still do not want to leave it too late. Sometimes you sell a good idea to a client and if you are quiet for too long someone will come to them with the same proposal and they will sign on without hesitation. Why? Because you sold so well and failed to come back for the kill. However, if your approach is right, I do not think following up too soon will cost you.

In the end, it depends on your patience and how you phrase your follow up. I desist from WhatsApp communication once a deal is on the table. While that is a personal choice, I can definitely tell you that sending a message which says “How Far?’ may get you ruled out as unprofessional. My personal time guidelines are as follows.

I have made a call/meeting request during an on-going project: I believe two days is a reasonable time to expect a response. If I am working on something that is expected to be done urgently, I will make a follow up after one day of sending my request, just to make sure they are working on it. Most of the times the blame for time overruns will still come to you, despite the circumstances!

I have submitted proposal: A week is a reasonable time to expect a response. Chances are that they are going through several proposal and that involves getting input from others so you need to give them time. After a week I will send a short email just checking in. I normally frame it as asking if they need more information or have questions regarding the proposal. Basically, offering them to provide any new information that may help them in assessing the proposal

Overdue invoices: This is the tricky one. You do not want to damage relationships, but seriously a non-paying client is a liability. A friendly reminder when the payment is too weeks overdue. Another reminder after a week. A week later another reminder. Beyond that I would send a message spelling out the consequences of failing to pay. Tolerance levels on overdue invoices obviously differ with the nature of business.

Some useful tips

So, you are wondering how best to follow up on that request, proposal or invoice. Try these useful tips.

  1. Be pragmatic.
  2. Use a direct subject line for emphasis.
  3. You call-to-action should be specific and clear.
  4. Keep it short and to the point.
  5. Maintain a neutral tone.
  6. Focus on the client’s interest.
  7. Avoid being annoying but you should still be persistent.
  8. It’s fine to follow up for other reasons.
  1. Be pragmatic

Is it necessary to follow up, already? If you had a request which is not very urgent there is no harm in waiting another day or two. Are you sure they did not respond? Check your messages again, see if their message is not in spam or if they called and a colleague forgot to convey the message. Sometimes their response may just have been misfiled.

  1. Use a direct subject line for emphasis

It is possible that you did not make your request clear enough and your subject line was noncommittal. Clearly state what you require and when you need it

  • Images needed by close of business Wednesday, 25 November 2020
  • Signed proposal needed by Thursday 26th November 2020
  • Please settle this overdue invoice immediately
  1. Give a specific call-to-action

Be specific about next steps that require action. Clarify the time-frame, and make it one where an extra hour or day won’t negatively impact your progress. For example, if I need something by close of business Friday, I’ll ask for it by close of business Thursday.

  1. Keep it short and to the point

Address the reminder to exactly what you are following up on and keep it short. A common error is that your request may be buried in a rather long email. Be direct.

  1. Maintain a neutral tone

You do not want to sound as if you are accusing the client or to be seen as aggressive or irritated. A presumption of bad intent or failure on the client’s part is the last thing you need if you are to prevail.

It is best to give the client benefit of the doubt and assume that they failed to respond not by design but by oversight.

To get the best results in a follow up conversation speak precisely and listen in a forgiving manner. That way you may find common ground and proceed with the stalled project.

  1. Focus on the client’s interests

When following up, you need to highlight how the client’s interests are served by providing you with what you are requesting. Make sure they understand stand in what way fulfilling your request helps them to achieve their goals. THE FOCUS SHOULD BE ON THE CLIENT’S GOALS NOT YOURS. Always remember this.

  1. Avoid being annoying but you should still be persistent

If your reminder sounds annoyed, harsh or snarky, best to take a breather and revisit your words after calming down.

  1. Create a plan to follow up with clients

Before the next time when you need to make a follow up, come up with a comprehensive plan for handling follow ups. For a start it would be a great idea to come up with your own templates which you can use. You can use the follow up emails which I am sure you receive often, as a starting point for coming up with your own response templates. From there you can utilise these tips to make your follow up activities issue-resolvers rather than stress-inducers.

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