Chorus research shows that in January 2020, it took reps just over 150 cold calls on average to strike a deal. By July of the same year, that cold call average was almost 200. While that number has dropped a little since then (to around 165), it remains above the pre-COVID average.
Given the heightened difficulty of cold calling, it’s little wonder that one successful call will feel like a major victory to a lot of reps.
It is a victory, of sorts. It’s also where the hard work begins, particularly in the current climate.
Moving a customer relationship from confirmed interest to deal closed can be a challenge. It’s a road paved with rejection, and your reps will need to prove your product’s level of ROI time and again. Research shows that 92% of all salespeople give up on a lead after four rejections, while 44% give up after only one. All of this, despite the fact that our latest research shows that an average sales cycle for closed-won deals is more than 80 days (though it’s sometimes faster). That adds up to an awful lot of follow-up.
The key to conquering follow-up is not just blind perseverance and motivation. It’s also about giving sales reps the knowledge they need to manage their follow-up sales calls and all the other stages that follow. It can be a hard-to-gauge, even dispiriting period if they’re not prepared for it. That’s why we’ve created this short guide — to help you help them make the right moves and stay on track during follow-up.
Factor Follow-Ups into Your Sales Call Plan
Easing the path of subsequent follow-up should be something sales reps consider when they’re crafting their first sales call plan.
Once a rep has identified a prospect’s genuine interest to progress to the next stage, they shouldn’t just hurry off the call to toast their win. Instead, advise them to establish expectations for next steps as a part of the structure of the call. They should consider it the most important part of any sales call. Our research shows that high-level reps who are responsible for the most closed-won deals created about five next steps during discovery.
These might include the following:
- Scheduling a follow-up meeting
- Scheduling an email response
- Making arrangements for document sharing
- Scheduling a product demo
- Arranging introductions to other team members for multi-threading
- Establishing with certainty that the buyer-side point-of-contact (POC) has decision-making authority and is able to sanction a purchase
On the other hand, our research shows that reps responsible for the most closed-lost deals established an average of two next steps. Ensure that your reps allocate enough time at the end of the call to get these next steps established.
The Forms of Follow-Up
As the list above suggests, follow-up can take many forms, can take more time or less, and can take place across more than one different medium. These factors depend on the prospect, where the prospect is in the sales funnel, and a whole host of other variables. When trying to turn prospects into new customers, the first step is to establish the terms by which your sales rep’s prospect would prefer that they follow up.
Would they prefer:
- An additional Zoom chat to walk through a product demo?
- A demo they can peruse on their own clock?
- Another voice call to answer any further questions?
Getting this info is usually as easy as asking the prospect which mode of communication they’d prefer. Sales reps can potentially save themselves considerable effort down the road and avoid unnecessary additional contact through the media that a prospect is unlikely to use or favor.
Whatever is the best approach, reps can send a short initial follow-up note to a prospect after the call to thank them for their time and reiterate when and how your rep plans to get in touch with them again to discuss next steps.
Making sure that these follow-up notes get sent can be easier said than done. It’s a task that can get lost among bigger, competing priorities — but you can secure it by using the right CRM (customer relationship management) solution.
For example, when using Chorus.ai, sales professionals can easily find next steps anytime while on a call recording by clicking on the Next Steps theme on the Call Review tab. They might have another call to go to straight after, so having a solution that integrates with your CRM makes these next steps easier.
- Stay Persistent with Follow-Up Calls
Even in the days of mass automated emailing, the sales call is still the best technique for advancing a sales process, and sales calls needn’t just be phone calls anymore, either. With the global shift toward Zoom, the video-enhanced sales call gives your rep most of the advantages of in-the-room selling while giving them plenty of scope for thorough demoing.
Sales calls should be the cornerstone of any approach to follow-ups. In fact, until a prospect is at the commit stage, your sales reps’ follow-up should revolve entirely around arranging further sales calls, including discovery calls. The best approach to follow-up calls is to marry a well-thought-out sales call strategy, much like one would in any other sales call, with sheer persistence.
There’s a reason why “calls” is plural in the subhead. Even if a rep has been following best sales practices from the start, 80% of all closed sales require five follow-up sales calls, on average, in order to close. Remember, decision-makers are the most targeted people at the company you’re prospecting. Just because they don’t have time to advance things now is no reason to presume they won’t have the time or the interest to do so in the future. Your reps should not be discouraged!
It is conventional wisdom now that the best time to make sales calls is during the last hour of a prospect’s working day (4 p.m.-5 p.m.), on a Wednesday, with Thursday and Friday also being workable days. However, while in the follow-up stage and looking to qualify a lead, the Lead Response Management Study also suggests that the early hours of business (8 a.m.-9 a.m.) are effective times. Throughout 2020, and particularly during the winter, we saw the percentage of sales calls before 9 a.m. rising.
More broadly speaking, your reps should track trigger points in your prospect’s buyer journey — those triggers will tell your rep what a prospect is thinking and whether now might be the best time to approach them again. Did they subscribe to your mailing list or your shiny new podcast? Did they just share your latest blog post? Did they just RSVP to your online event or webinar? Then it’s time to make contact again.
As with any other sales call, it’s best to have a strategy before you reach out. Calls and emails that have no purpose other than to “touch base” and remind a prospect of your existence will accomplish little other than to annoy your lead. Instruct your reps to kick off calls by mentioning something that was said at the end of the prior call or bringing up a detail that’s key to the next steps.
Reps must come prepared and refreshed about the fundamentals of the company in question. They might have sales battle cards before they pick up the phone and plenty of social proof of your product or business’s success to leverage when guiding the deal toward closed-won.
These articles of proof should come in the form of hard metrics that are engagingly visualized. Social proof is doubly important in times like these, where sales reps are more likely to encounter a C-suite presence on calls and have to answer tricky questions about ROI. About 10% of the time, CXOs will attend sales calls without being invited, so sales reps should be prepared for all eventualities.
Team selling has also increased over the last year. Selling-side representatives will find that they need to convince a wider variety of buyer-side stakeholders than before — not just CXOs, but tech leads and customer success personnel, as well. To give your sales org the best chance of convincing all necessary stakeholders, have your reps schedule appropriate personnel from your company to appear on follow-up sales calls.
Talking the Talk
Reps can tailor their language to warm up a call. As this ordinarily requires a lot of real-time call logging/note-taking, having a conversation intelligence program like Chorus that your sales team can use and integrate with your CRM can make all the difference when a rep’s trying to hit the right spots.
- Make good use of the familiarity your reps began building on the first calls in the sales process. They should begin their call slightly before the hour and ease in with some small talk to build rapport. If they have a mutual point of connection with a prospect — an old company or a colleague in common — mentioning it will be effective.
- Make room for prospects to ask questions, but not too many. Our research suggests that the ideal number is four well-chosen questions. Asking six or more questions increases the likelihood of a closed-lost outcome on your deal and is a sign that your research during the discovery phase was not sufficient.
- However, reps needn’t be afraid of a monologue. Reps are trained to be interactive and to build two-way conversations, but closed-won deals often see reps talking uninterrupted for up to two minutes at a time. This is known as value-based selling and is based on sales team members’ ability to tell prospects an amazing (and relevant) customer story.
Our research suggests that reps who come to calls armed with more customer stories, solution capabilities, recent launches, use cases, etc., have a higher customer success rate during follow-up, and even more so if they’re restating some of the same talking points brought up during the prior sales call. Repetition, particularly when it’s a success story, is a powerful technique in winning new business.
That's because these kinds of touches form engaging moments in a call, and our research suggests that calls resulting in closed-won deals reliably contain 50% more engaging moments than the average call. In fact, our research shows that winning reps create three to four engaging moments per call while refraining from asking more than two questions per minute (to avoid that “interrogation" vibe).
Use Emails, Social Media, and More to Follow Up
Between follow-up calls, reps can factor other approaches and channels into their follow-up strategies. Emails are the next-best tool for follow-up.
Email can seem like a double-edged sword for sales reps. They’re incredibly easy to send off in huge volumes, but crafting the perfect follow-up email can be tough and requires careful consideration and tailoring. Reps must avoid over-reliance on templates and instead try to identify where a prospect currently sits in their decision-making relative to your product and tailor their approach based on that information. As before, going with a “just looking to catch-up with you” hook won’t cut it.
The Right Subject Line
The first rule of the follow-up email is to prioritize your top line. Going with the wrong (or the right) subject line can change the complexion of a sales process. Where you currently sit in your prospect’s buyer journey will dictate the most appropriate approach.
For example, if your rep’s last sales call was a week ago, and they’re looking to follow up in a general manner, they might use a subject line that gently reaffirms the prospect’s idea of what success might look like with your company. They might also include a reference to pain points or company objectives that a prospect already mentioned.
Here are some examples:
- “We helped [similar company] do better than ever. Are you ready to level up?”
- “Don’t miss out on these [ways to meet the prospect’s objective].”
- “There’s still a chance to [meet the prospect’s objective].”
- “[Prospect’s Name], let’s talk about [business goal].”
If, however, your rep is nudging a potential customer after a period of silence or after a few calls or emails, they’ve missed, use a subject line that implies the benefits of resuming talks on a potential deal.
The previous examples can work in this context as well, but more specialized subject lines include:
- “Are you still looking to [business goal]?”
- “Are you still thinking about [prospect’s objective]?”
If your prospect has come to you through an existing customer’s referral, you might consider including this in the subject line of your nudge email.
Keep follow-up emails simple
The main body of your email should be to the point and match where your prospect is in the sales process. If your rep has just had a great meeting and is reconfirming next steps, ensure that they mention how well the previous meeting went. If they’re sending an email after a trigger event, focus on what about the trigger (blog post, use of a demo, etc.) might have appealed to your prospect. Reps should also take time here to remind prospects of any and all pertinent social proof, which helps demonstrate product ROI and your company’s track record of customer success.
How sensitive your rep is to a buyer’s position in the sales cycle will dictate what an “ideal” follow-up email will look like. Reps should assess the situation, be deliberate in showing that they’ve identified the prospect’s thinking, and be clear when articulating what can happen next if a prospect wants to take things forward.
Part of any approach with follow-up emails includes your company’s tech stack. To prevent any embarrassing double-sends or other complications, ensure that your team is using a high-quality CRM that helps them organize and keep on top of their follow-up campaigns.
More Channels of Approach
To augment your efforts on the phone and in the inbox, there are a few other avenues that can be used for follow-up.
Social media is one. Many younger sales reps today are adept at selling through social media, and making themselves available through social media can be effective. It has an informality absent from a regular sales call and a directness missing from email that can prove effective. Moreover, they can capitalize on the buyer impulse by targeting a prospect through social media and maybe even edge a deal forward while a prospect is just surfing LinkedIn at their desk.
Voicemail! It might seem old-fashioned, but leaving a voicemail is still an effective way of moving things along in a sales cycle, especially if combined with a well-deployed email (“I just left you a voicemail concerning [recent trigger event] . . . ”).
Face-to-face meetings aren’t in the cards at the moment — but they’ll be back. Although there are various remote methods of communication, sometimes you just can’t beat a little in-person repartee and a chat over a cup of coffee. Both reps and sales leads should embrace in-person events as a part of follow-up strategy where possible. Familiarity is a key driver of success in sales cycles.
Always Be Following Up
The follow-up to a successful sales call can seem like the most uncertain part of the entire sales process. It’s true that sometimes, regardless of perseverance or the soundness of your strategy, even the most promising lead won’t work out. In times like these, where your buyer base is still recovering from the economic aftershocks of COVID-19, a certain amount of added frustration is to be expected.
But hard times needn’t equal bad times. Embrace the unpredictable nature of the follow-up period and the knock-backs that inevitably come with it. Sales reps should remember that their only obligation is to do their best to show the prospect the value that your product might add to their business. By focusing on value, on how your product can meet a prospect’s needs instead of thinking of follow-up as a playbook of crafty selling techniques and sales tips, they’ll maximize their chances of success. Successful follow-up is as much a question of perspiration as inspiration.