Sales follow-up is like dating

At Fileboard we often talk about the sales follow-up process in terms of dating. Because everyone has experience with dating, thinking about sales and sales follow-up in this way can greatly improve your results. So lets break down a real-life dating process and compare that to the sales process:

Step 0: Your goal
Every date starts with the same goal: you want a new relationship with somebody. In real life it’s quite impossible to achieve that immediately. Building a relationship requires time and trust. Yet often we see that in sales we try to achieve that immediate result. Just look around to see the amount of sales follow-ups stating “buy now”, “we are the best”, “lets schedule a demo”, “click here”, “we can do miracles for you”, etc. Although you might be as lucky as with a one-night stand, this does not generally work in a sales process. The fact is, most prospects are not ready to buy at all.

Step 1: Find a date
The first challenge in reaching your goal is to find a date. There are basically 2 ways to do so:

1. Go somewhere where there are a lot of people that match your interest, like bars, clubs, events, internet dating sites, etc.
2. Meet somebody through another person

What’s interesting about this is that both ways do not happen on an individual level yet. In sales terms, you first need to get your message where your audience is and trigger attention. Similar to dating, you cannot go around selling yourself, you first need to get attention from people. So in sales, that means building and emailing a prospect list or contact people in your network to get introduced. The sales pitch you tell in this stage is generic, not individual, intended to trigger interest and continue the conversation – not to sell.

Step 2: Research
In real life, once you’ve triggered someone’s interest, you don’t know if that person will be your final date. So you start to research that person to make it easier to tell your story in a way that connects and resonates best.

In sales, if you trigger someone’s attention with your generic story, you should research that person. Search on Google, Twitter, LinkedIn and the company website to understand what drives that person and the company. Use dedicated tools like Fileboard to understand how that person interacts with your sales collateral. Get to know us much as possible before actually connecting on a personal level and use that info to write a tailored sales follow-up.

Step 3: Conversate
You now know how to tell your story in a way that will be well-perceived and gives you the best chance for success. The important thing in this stage is that you don’t want to be talking only about yourself, because that’s not going to make you more interesting. Instead you listen, engage, react and talk with your date. And during this process you keep your date interested, you keep yourself interesting and you build trust.

Most sales reps don’t do this in their sales follow-up. They just talk about themselves and their product, they sometimes listen and hardly engage. The trick is to do a sales follow-up that adds value to your target prospect. Your message should include interesting information, helpful advise, but most of all, show that you really care about soliving your prospect’s problems and build a long-lasting relationship.

Step 4: Build trust
You can’t expect to build a long-lasting relationship after having a single date. So you keep meeting, exchange more in-depth information and get to know each other better.

If in sales you focus on that immediate conversion, you could loose 80-90% of your prospects. A better way is to implement lead-scoring: prospects get scored on the actions they take with your company and your sales collateral. And when they’ve reached a high enough score, they are ready to be contacted. This means that your sales follow-ups in this stage should be focussed on offering additional information to build trust. Good relationships simply need time!

Step 5: Keep a relationship warm
Once you get to this point you might actually find yourself in a relationships. You have reached your goal, but you can’t stop here. To keep your relationship going you need to spend time with your partner, have conversations and get to know each other better.

Companies often solve this by spamming their customers with offers to make them buy again, or send them company news. But in this stage your sales follow-up should be focussed on engaging with your customers, listen to their challenges and focus on how to solve that.

Learn from your own experience
You can learn a lot from analysing your own dating experience and use that to optimise your sales skills. Try to think when your dates failed and when they were successful. Use that personal experience to optmize your sales process. The essence is that sales is a social process. It’s about building relationships and connecting with the right person at the right time.