The power of follow-ups in sales!

In my previous blog, I covered the aspect of rejection in sales. In this monologue, let us dive into another important aspect — following up. This is one of my favourite topics, having started as a completely inexperienced person in sales 4 years ago, a noob as they call. In a way, this topic goes in conjunction with rejection and human psychology.

A simple search on the internet will throw a lot of results for “Why salespersons don’t followup”, “number of followups required to close a sale”, etc. There are wonderful articles with statistics such as this and this. Hubspot is a great source of information, with numerous blogs on sales, marketing & email tips, etc. They back it up with a lot of statistics that can elp a salesperson make better choices and informed decisions.

Why do we not follow up?

There are multiple reasons,

  • Laziness
  • Fear of annoying a prospect
  • Fear of rejection (what if he/she says NO)
  • Assuming that prospect isn’t interested

For a salesperson, a ‘No’ is a devastating word to hear, it can shatter his self-belief, belief in the product or service he sells and starts questioning his ability to sell. Expectedly, they tend to gravitate towards generating new leads to balance out the negativity, which is okay too.

First up, a ‘no’ doesn’t mean ‘no’. It just means ‘not now’.

Too often, reps give up in 1/2 attempts. An average salesperson does no more than 2 followups. According to HubSpot, 44% of sales reps give up after 1 follow up, while 80% of sales requires 5 or more follow-ups. The pot of gold is after 8 follow-ups, with highest chances of conversion. In my last blog about rejection, I promised to write about my experiences with Chianti and Toit. Let us get going.

The Italian Job

I got connected with Sudhir Sastry, a partner in Chianti through Zaheer Travadi. Zaheer and Sudhir were colleagues in IBM. This was in 2018 Mar or April, our product was a baby, just a few months old, and he had 2 or 3 outlets in Bangalore. My first meeting with him wasn’t great, he will say very few words, curt and to the point. You would almost think if the man’s a stone and you are in front of Don Corleone. I was petrified. He signed up for a 2 month trial for 1 outlet, he said he wants nothing free and paid for it. This is something unique about him, will come to it later. The trials went well, results were great and his team was happy. Just when we thought he would convert, he called and said “Vinodh, I’ll be quick. I like your product, it works well, does what it claims, but I can’t afford it”. I wasn’t expecting this, but that’s what it is. He wouldn’t engage or discuss pricing. My daughter who was so delighted with Chianti signup was devastated. His colleague Ajay and Babu called and thanked for our support and that was it. One of their outlets was in ITPL mall and my daughter would see it from the bus she took back home from school. At times, she would innocently ask “Appa, did Chianti sign up again?”

Fast forward to 2019. I was in regular touch with him and Ajay throughout, a casual ping, inquiring how they were doing, expansions, blog forwards, etc. In May, this is how the conversation went.

>> This was after the first pilot was over

[3:10 PM, 11/5/2018] Vinodh Rajaraman: Congrats on Chennai launch!

[3:12 PM, 11/5/2018] Sudhir Sastry: Thx Vinodh

>>

[2:11 PM, 5/31/2019] Vinodh Rajaraman: Hi Sudhir, How’s Chennai Chianti outlet doing?

[2:13 PM, 5/31/2019] Sudhir Sastry: Hi

[2:13 PM, 5/31/2019] Sudhir Sastry: Ok so far

[2:14 PM, 5/31/2019] Vinodh Rajaraman: My cousins told me they liked it

[2:14 PM, 5/31/2019] Sudhir Sastry: Cool thx

[2:15 PM, 5/31/2019] Vinodh Rajaraman: Did you settle on a good inventory system?

[2:16 PM, 5/31/2019] Sudhir Sastry: Nothing specific — between the pos and excel we’re good

[2:16 PM, 5/31/2019] Sudhir Sastry: Anything new?

[2:16 PM, 5/31/2019] Vinodh Rajaraman: Yea, we’ve added a bunch of new features, analytics as well.

[2:16 PM, 5/31/2019] Vinodh Rajaraman: Going deeper into analytics part. feature-wise we are good for now

[2:17 PM, 5/31/2019] Sudhir Sastry: Ok let’s re-evaluate

[9:33 AM, 6/22/2019] Sudhir Sastry: Hi can we meet at Indiranagar 11:30 — we can close our discussion

[9:53 AM, 6/22/2019] Vinodh Rajaraman: Hi Sudhir. Will be there.

He didn’t have a look at the system in detail but had it evaluated by Babu in June 2nd week. On 22nd June, I met him in Indiranagar to finalise, it was a fine Saturday morning with very less traffic. I was expecting the same toughness from him I had got used to, but he was surprisingly very warm. Over a cup of coffee, he explained his business, how he’s planning to scale, how the backend and inventory metrics need to be tracked closely and asked that we support his team. Normally, I tell prospects that we help them save and control food costs and that’s one of the main reasons they sign us up. But in his case, it was already under control (can’t reveal what it is), I was a bit unsure and sheepishly told him, why would you need us if the costing is sorted. He said “How would I know what my expected COGs is and if actuals are close? Further even a small % saving matters as we have scaled, we do need a solid back of house restaurant management solution”. I asked if he needs POS or integration and he said “no”. There was this interesting part when we discussed pricing and he said that we are too still a tad expensive. I told him, “You know our price, but now I won’t quote a number. I know you are a fair man, make an offer but don’t beat me down on price”. To be honest, he was fair and committed to a 3-year contract. We signed the contract for all of his 6 outlets, with 2 more promised in a few months. Even during the lockdown, I asked if he could share his feedback with a potential investor who wanted to speak to some of our clients, he immediately obliged and said: “Let me know when”. Well, due to Corona, they are heavily impacted like many others are, and we hope he bounces back to his glory days.

Now that the story is out, let us get back to the main topic, shall we? Needless to say, I have given an abridged version of the entire year and more towards the ending. But what happened in between is more important and one shouldn’t miss it. I never felt that I was annoying him with my WhatsApp forwards or casual messages. Nor did I lose hope that we can’t get a re-entry. I genuinely felt we could add value and strongly believed he would be a great client for EagleOwl. He had also tried different software during that period and probably the timing just worked. With time, things change, and as facts and circumstances change, so does opinion, mind.

Another important aspect salespersons should consider is that the person who has said no also might feel awkward to call you back, even if they wanted to. It is a normal human tendency. But by continuously keeping in touch and nurturing a relationship, you are keeping the channel open and warm, either for you reach him or vice versa. Also, you have nothing to lose, you have had a no before and another no isn’t the end of your world, in fact, it gives you more data points. But what if it turns out to be a ‘yes’? They also appreciate the fact that there is a history they can recall and respect the fact that someone is very persistent while being respectful and non-intruding.

A point to note, figure days and times when they are less loaded and open to a conversation. We wrongly assume that a CEO or a VP or an owner of a chain is always busy and they won’t pick your calls — not true. There are certain times in a day when everyone is bored and want to strike a conversation with someone, new or an old acquaintance. We see this even more due to Corona, social animals have been forced to be anti-social and they are keen to meet or talk.

We are Toit:

I met Sibi, way back in 2018 April/May. I, Venkat and Yogesh met him. He’s very articulate, jovial and casual, has immense knowledge in tech, knows ops in and out. He appreciated what he saw, spent an hour chatting about the industry, people who use the software, the customisations he has done over the years and said: “Sorry, am on a custom-built software, spent enough time on it, am good for the next 1 year or so”. The iconic brand that they are, it was quite disappointing that we couldn’t convert them.

I wouldn’t say I was in regular touch with him, perhaps 5/6 times over the next 15 months. We conducted an event in Oct 2019, where we invited him as one of the panel members. He readily agreed and shared his views on marketing, branding and storytelling. During the event, Ajay Nagarajan prodded, “Vinodh, do you think Sibi will sign up, go ask him”. I asked Sibi only to hear, “No dude, am good for now, will let you know”.

Sometime in Nov 2019, Amit Ahuja, a restaurateur asked me to meet him in Indiranagar, again he was a prospect who had taken a demo and said no a year ago. This was our second meeting. This time he looked keener only to say no again a few days later. But since I was going to Indiranagar, I thought I could meet Sibi at his office. His office was bright, beautiful and aesthetically designed. Told him that there are enough open spaces that I would like to work from his office. He spoke about how many restaurant owners overspend money, particularly on controllers, managers, and on tasks that don’t take much time, things can be automated or done by existing staff. And quipped, “Now, you know why I can afford such an office”. He asked how we were doing and asked me to show a few screens of EagleOwl. He then dug deep into recipes, multi-outlet scenarios with same recipe name but different ingredients, SKUs with multiple purchase units, conversions, sales import, variance reports, etc. As mentioned here, he belongs to the ‘data-oriented’ group, with deep domain knowledge. I also told him about current flaws in our system, apropos recipes in multi-outlet case, that would be fixed within 2 months (done in Feb’20).

He casually about the commercials and said, “Great, let’s start”. I was in for a pleasant shock because I met him with zero expectations and with no intent to sell. I asked him if he wanted to start with one outlet, but he said, “All 4, 2 here and 1 each in Pune, Mumbai, only liquor COGS and daily variance”. I then offered to slash the quoted fee by half and told him it is unfair for me to charge him fully when he’s covering only one cost centre (typically PBCLs have multiple cost centres). He said that it doesn’t matter if we charged him fully, but I insisted. I told him that when they expand to food, we will go back to standard pricing. It was also a double effort for his team, they need to export data from his software, import to EagleOwl to generate the variance reports. The entire team was over the moon when I updated that Toit was going to be our client. One of our finest moments. I must add that this was one of the fastest on-boardings, the GM’s were directly involved and everything was handled over Zoom. As it was a big account, I was directly involved in onboarding.

What I have learned is that salespersons need to keep their spirits and hopes high, we have too many bad days and very few good days. Each day is different, there is always this surprise awaiting you if you keep trying. Being persistent will help, at the same time, you shouldn’t be annoying. Plan and schedule your follow-ups, depending on how your first meet went. Not everyone is in a hurry, but there will be days when their priorities change, the current product may not serve their needs, and they are in the market looking out for you. Just hang in there, persistence pays.

Do I need to say, “Andy Dufresne wrote hundreds of letters to the State before they funded The Shawshank prison library!

Let us know what you think in the comments section, also share some of your sales follow up stories and strategies.

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