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Startup Sales: the Art of the Follow-up

If you fold at the first un-responded email, you won’t make it. Not now, not ever. Sales, especially startup sales, favor the bold. Who is the person willing to get after the opportunity more than the competition? Who is the person willing to flat-out put in the work? If you aren’t quite that person or if you just really want to be, here’s how the art of the follow up can help get you there. It isn’t about spamming your prospects or smiling and dialing. It’s about finding the right mix between being obnoxiously annoying and pleasantly persistent. The tactics we’re going to cover relate primarily to an outbound sales team or a sales team generating opportunities by proactively reaching out.

How much is too much?

The first touchpoint is very rarely the one that closes the deal. It takes about eight touches for most prospects to engage with a company. These can be simple blog posts, email case studies, or calls. We know that having multiple at-bats is important to reach customers, but we also know that eight touches spaced within a total period of three days is obnoxious. However, if you spread that same approach over two weeks you are in fine territory. So be sure to consider the amount of time in between your touchpoints (two days between emails, one day between back to back calls). You also want to make sure you can unenroll prospects if you get a response or OOO. As a prospect there is nothing worse than getting six emails from the same person while you were on your vacation. Once you have the right number of touches, the next step in setting a good outreach cadence is using the right mix of reach out methods.

How to stay top of mind without email

Email is a fantastic channel to reach customers. When you are developing your outbound strategy as long as you are targeting teams at businesses, you will probably want to use email. That said, most startup sales teams over-rely on email. They forget that there are so many ways to talk to a prospect. One of the most effective tools you can use in startup sales is the phone. You can dial prospects, leave voicemails, and quickly identify blockers and pain points. Yet how many early stage startup reps actually call 60 prospects a day? Phone fear is rampant in startupland, but it’s a fear that you have to overcome quickly. A good phone call will do in five minutes do the same amount of work as four emails over two weeks. What method will help your business get customers faster?

Social is another great way to connect with prospects. LinkedIn has a myriad of different tools and tactics that are used by sales reps. You can use profile viewing tools (Dux-Soup) in mass to see which prospects are active on LinkedIn (who views you back). You can then message them directly through the platform to get additional time.

If you have not heard from a prospect after using one channel heavily, be sure to mix up your tactics. The number of times you’ll email a prospect 5 times and hear nothing, only to get a demo the first time you connect on the phone is staggering. If you haven’t tried another channel do not give up on the prospect. Some people just do a poor job managing their inbox.

What can “no” do for you

One of the most important parts of following up involves how to handle a no. No really means one of three things:

  • No can mean “I don’t understand what you do.” In this case you want to follow up with a quick line asking how the prospect is handling your product category currently. This allows them  to save face by not having to admit they don’t understand your product and also gives you the insight to see how the solution comes across in your previous message.
  • No can also mean “not right now.” The number of customers that told me no because ‘now is a bad time’ but later moved forward with my product is in the double digits. Do not lose these leads! Instead of giving up after you hear no ask them, “What needs to change for it to make sense for us to re-engage?” Sometimes a priority can shift around or a new feature release is all it takes to get back on the radar.
  • Lastly, no can mean no. If a prospect says no and you ask them the questions above and they clearly reiterate that they do not want to work with you respect their wishes. Treat that response with the same care as you would treat an unsubscribe from an email list.

There are no silver bullets when it comes to startup sales. That’s exactly why following up is so important. Sometimes you’ll need as many shots as you can get, without scaring them away of course.

Happy hunting!

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