You would be surprised by how often we see piles of carefully collected business cards discarded with the stand rubbish after exhibitors have left. Now that is an extreme case, but many more exhibitors miss potential business through slow, or even no, follow-up.
So, we asked Terry Hopper, director at Middlestone Business Analysis, to share his tips for planning and carrying out effective follow-up, and making sure the potential generated at Business Vision LIVE, and any other event for that matter, is maximised.
I was lucky to get a sneak preview of Ruth Badger’s session on Making Sales Where Other People Stop. It was both entertaining and informative. If you are planning to attend, listen out for catchphrases such as “No Wonga, No Badger”—it’ll make sense when you hear it!
While listening, it was clear that Ruth’s own story reinforces the importance of persistence and continuing action in any sales role. She highlights the importance of asking questions, showing a genuine interest in people and then following up where there is potential. For most of us, it is unlikely we’ll “make a sale” with someone the first time we speak to them.
So, whether you’re visiting or exhibiting at Business Vision Live, how do you follow up on interest?
Set aside the time
A good place to start: set aside the time to follow-up. I’ve cleared my diary for two days after the event to follow-up on the conversations I have on the day.
Plan early—prepare a follow-up strategy before you need it
Speed is incredibly important. The likelihood of your contact even remembering your conversation falls dramatically over time. They could have had 300 similar conversations throughout the day. You need to rekindle that conversation you had at the event as quickly as possible.
You can’t afford to be drafting your follow-up emails after the event. Have your plan ready. Have your follow-up emails pre-written, your text messages standing by—or whatever your chosen method is prepared.
Effectively capture leads on the day—not just contact details
Some venues may provide you with hand-held scanners or mobile apps to quickly take down the contact details of visitors.
At a business-to-business event, most visitors will have business cards. I like to write a little about the conversation on the card itself, or on a Post-It note attached to the card. Face-to-face events are about starting relationships with your customers. Building a list of names and addresses is not enough.
If you keep notes, these will also help you qualify the leads and concentrate your efforts on the most promising conversations.
Of course, you should be up-front with what you will do with visitors’ information—especially in light of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). I suggest you seek expert advice if you have any concerns about GDPR.
Email is often the salesperson’s ‘go-to’ technology. It is easy to send bulk messages, you can use them outside office hours and they are less intrusive.
MailChimp is a popular marketing automation provider. They’re best known as a bulk email platform. With MailChimp, the process of designing your emails is very simple and they look great. Plus MailChimp will track your email, and provide statistics on who has opened your emails and who has clicked on links. Oh, and it is free for businesses with less than 2,000 contacts!
The problem is, emails are easy to ignore. Less than 30% of bulk emails are opened. Even if your contact does open your email, an impersonal message isn’t an effective way to continue the conversation you had with a real person.
This is where If No Reply comes into its own. If No Reply is a simple email automation that works from your Gmail account. You can use it to craft individual messages to your contacts, based on a template if you wish, and then send these out in bulk. The best bit is what happens if there is no reply from your contact—hence the name. You can schedule a series of personalised follow-up emails which will be sent out until the contact replies.
If you don’t use Gmail, then other systems exist—like SendLaterEmail.com and Outlook-Apps.com —but If No Reply is top of my list.
Text messages (SMS)
Text messages are seriously underused by smaller businesses. But they can be so effective—Service provider TextLocal, claim 98% open rates for text messages. How many unread text messages do you have on your phone? And how many unread emails?
If you’re going to have to take your time getting back to everyone, then perhaps a quick text message in the meantime may be appropriate—such as “Thanks for visiting our stand, we look forward to continuing our conversation”. It’ll certainly help cement your conversation in the mind of your visitor.
To be clear, I’m not talking about your sales staff texting visitors from their personal mobile phones before the visitor has even left the stand! You don’t want to come off as creepy. Even small businesses can afford to look professional, and SMS is no exception. With TextLocal, recipients will see your business name instead of a phone number. Prices start at £5 for 100 messages.
Of the three technologies here, the most effective way to continue a meaningful conversation is with a phone call. With the exception of face-to-face, nothing is more effective.
The problem is, it is time-consuming and reliant on the other person being available to talk—unlike emails and text messages which can be read at their leisure. The report from Velocify.com—mentioned earlier—found that in 45% of cases sales staff had to phone between 2 and 6 times before first getting through to their contact.
Persistence and patience are key.
To track all these calls, messages and emails, you’re going to need a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. It doesn’t have to be complex, but you’re going to need some sort of system, otherwise calls will be missed and opportunities lost. Again, after the event is not the time to think about this. You’ll need it in place before you have your first conversation.
Your system could be as simple as a spreadsheet or a clipboard. At Middlestone we use Pipedrive.com. We find it is great for reminders, great for tracking activity and it keeps us organised. Of course, lots of other systems are out there too. The important thing is that you are using your system to your advantage.
The key takeaways are simple:
- Get organised.
- Give yourself time to follow up.
- Prepare early—plan your follow-up activity.
- Continue to follow up after the first attempt.
- Use technology to help you.
But do not underestimate the impact of personal communication. As Ruth Badger would say, “people buy people”.