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Why you're (probably) not great at following-up on new business—and what you can do about it

Something that’s prevalent in professional services is people avoiding following-up with clients to try and close deals.  

They work hard on the pitch presentation and submit a great proposal, but then—inexplicably—just wait to hear back from the client instead of following up.

There are several reasons for this, such as not wanting to pester the client, which is a legitimate concern. But often people simply feel awkward about following up because they don’t want to come across as pushy or salesy.

A deeper challenge is that product companies have dedicated sales teams staffed with career salespeople … who do nothing but sell.

Whereas the backstory of (most) “salespeople” in professional services is they followed a vocation (e.g. architecture, accountancy, economics, graphic design, etc.) that had nothing—or at most very little—to do with sales. Then, as they rise through the ranks and gain more responsibility, they arrive at a point where selling is required.

The word “sales” itself is curiously emotive—you might even have shuddered at the use of it—but ultimately that’s what we’re doing when we bring in new business.

Nevertheless … not following-up is detrimental to your chances of winning business, irrespective of whether you’re competing for a new client or in an uncompetitive situation with an existing client.

Let’s look at these two situations in turn, as they’re a little different.

Winning Brand-New Clients

In a competitive situation, if one of the other vendors does effective, value-added follow-up, they’ll build a relationship with the prospect and a sense of value in their mind. If the other vendors simply “wait to hear” from the client, the proactive vendor will win a lot of business!

Here’s a couple of examples of value-based follow-up:

  • Follow-up a few days after submitting the proposal with a relevant case study from another happy client that the prospect will find useful
  • Share a tool (e.g. a spreadsheet calculator that does something useful for them) that you’ve created N.B. These can also be great “lead magnets”

In other words, try to provide value in your follow-up rather than generic “just checking in” messages and you’ll stand out against the competition.

It’s often said that there’s “1/3 of business you’ll always win, 1/3 of business you’ll never win, and a 1/3 that’s up for grabs”.

That final 1/3 is usually won by the most effective salesperson.

Effective follow-up is a critical skill if you want to get really good at winning business. The good news is most of your competitors are really bad at it, so it’s an opportunity that’s there for the taking.

Winning More Projects from Existing Clients

So, what about when you’re trying to win business with an existing client? Just because your client has an idea for a project and asks for a quote doesn’t mean you’re going to win it—even when the only horse in the race if you.

Why’s that? Because clients suffer from distraction. Your client has a lot of different things competing for their time and attention. Opportunities often wither on the vine simply because the client gets distracted with other things.

Look at the pipeline of most professional services companies and you’ll find lots of “drifting” projects. The client seemed keen in the first place but, for some reason, they’ve gone quiet.

Often, this isn’t because they’ve gone ahead with a competitor—they haven’t gone ahead with anyone. What’s more, it’s probably not because they decided not to progress with the project. They’ve usually had their attention diverted to something else and the project has fallen down the pecking order.

So, how do we address this? With proactive follow-up.  

If you leave your client to it, you’re opening the door for distraction. However, if you follow-up consistently and politely, you help ensure they don’t get too distracted and it’s more likely the project will get the green light and you’ll win the business.

So many companies leave money on the table simply because they aren’t good at sales follow-up and they allow opportunities to disappear.

Get good at following up and you’ll win more business, both from existing clients and brand-new ones.