Many years ago, when I was only starting out my sales career, a lot of the daily work of a true sales professional was yet a bit unclear to me. I started out by figuring a lot of things on my own while working part-time in a smaller company together with the CEO. This was my first role where I had to find a way in a relatively complex B-to-B sales environment. In fact, we sold to the construction industry and it was a tough cookie. Thank god we had a flashy product.
I've since developed some approaches and principles that I use every day to be effective with handling my sales work. A big part of it is about championing the direction and maintaining the velocity of a sales deal. An effective follow up to a sales meeting is one of the critical tools that took me a while to master.
Actually, you don't have to work in sales to reap the benefits of a well written follow up. This can be useful for anyone working in any sphere of business or project management.
I've teamed up to write this article with one of my colleagues and friends Maximilian Schneidewind, who has worked in sales for a better part of his career. He was friendly enough to provide his follow up checklist and one of the examples for a good follow up email (below).
- How NOT to write a follow up email
- Understand this before writing
- Characteristics of a good follow up
- The follow up checklist
- Real life examples of good follow ups
- What to do if things are not going as expected?
How NOT to write a follow up email
A bad follow up email follows a weak sales meeting. You might have forgot to set up an upfront contract, or you had an ill-prepared discovery. Maybe the overall qualification was weak... Anyhow, you did not agree on the next steps, and this is a bad basis to build a good follow up email on.
These are the fundamentals that you have to grasp before writing effective follow ups. I will include relevant topics in future articles for this website, so stay tuned. Easiest way is to leave your email below so I can send you new articles directly into your inbox as they become available.
When you let your guard down a bad follow up can happen. Having once had a sales meeting with multiple stakeholders and a partner at my previous company, I can remember writing a wall of text that was essentially a huge summary of the entire discussion. I addressed it to one of the participants and added seven other people into the cc field. Not only did it not provide anyone with clear action points, it was confusing and I'm sure half the participants never read it. Admittedly, we had an unclear agenda to start with and I felt never quite in control of that conversation.
Eventually, after sending the follow up it was painfully difficult to get in touch with the stakeholders as nobody felt like they had any idea of where the conversation was going. Needless to say the case ground to a halt and was eventually set as a "Closed Lost".
Understand this before writing
During your sales meetings if you don't do this already, make sure to take notes. For me it wasn't until my most recent inside sales role until I truly mastered this skill. It's not about writing down everything, but from a follow up perspective, please do at least the following:
- Who is responsible for what
- What has been agreed upon
- What participants have requested or might need in order to act
Send the follow up as soon as possible after the meeting and don't leave it for the next day. Remember to send a calendar invitation for the next appointment while the topics are still fresh in everyone's minds.
Characteristics of a good follow up
The key characteristics of a good follow up:
- Keep it short and simple (e.g. bullet points, single lines)
- Highlight the business value or the business driver
- Thank your counterparts for the time and have a positive overall tone
- Give information that is required for further decisions (e.g. price, or at least the price structure, if possible). Do this in a clear and transparent way
- Define the action points, and who is responsible for what by when (dates, commitment)
- Have a clear call to action (next meeting, or an expected reply)
The follow up checklist
- Subject: "Customer" <> "You": Our meeting and next steps
- Paragraph 1: Friendly address and recap of the value
- Price: If fitting. Based on the value
- Next steps: Preferably a mutually agreed plan or an MCP
- Call to action: If no detailed plan has been agreed
- Confirmation: Emphasis and looking forward to the next step
Real life examples of good follow ups
You can use these email templates to shorten the time you spend on your follow ups!
Example 1. Single Recipient
Subj: Xyz <> YourCompany: Our meeting and next steps
Thank you for a nice and constructive meeting. As discussed, the business case for the lowering of support tickets and the resulting reduction in cost at 4.000 users is clear and significant. As you've mentioned earlier: "this could be a solid justification for us to have a decision made on this soon".
- Licence costs
- Implementation costs
Our next steps are:
Did I miss or forget something from your perspective? I'm looking forward to our feedback meeting on DD.MM.YYYY, at HH:MM!
Example 2. Multiple Recipients
Subj: Our call today, a follow up | Xyz & YourCompany
Hi Jordan, Maria,
Thank you for the call today. I've sent you a separate invitation for a catch-up call on Thursday at HH.MM. It seems to me like we can support you with "Xyz" and "Xyz", as well as ensure for you a stable operation thereafter.
- Link to our meeting recording can be found here.
- Maria, please take a look at the "OurCompany" documentation here.
- Thursday: A commercial discussion with Jordan
- DD.MM: Presenting the findings to the "business group"
- DD.MM: Planned date for a terms and details review
- DD.MM: A goal date for the decision to be made by "Xyz"
- Q3 YYYY: The initially proposed go-live
The login details to the trial environment have been sent in a separate system generated email to Maria.
We agreed on the following success criteria for the trial:
We will have a separate review to assemble the conclusions gained from our testing together with Maria in the next 2 weeks time.
As discussed, feel free to send any technical questions or ideas in my direction so I can address those with you in a written form.
If you run into any trouble during the trial, please let me know. Have fun exploring the "Xyz" technology and I'm already looking forward to our call on Thursday!
Example 3. Many Recipients
Subj: A follow up and next steps | XyzCompany & YourCompany
Thank you for the great conversation today.
I wanted to quickly summarize what we talked about and write down our next action points.
YourCompany: I'll take your findings and put them into a spreadsheet to have it commented on by our product team. -> This will get us a better overall picture and statements to your findings and concerns. I'll be probably done with this and send you an update before CoB next Thursday.
YourCompany: I will assemble some information and feedback that we've gotten so far from across your organization:
- "XyzCompany" United States (Matthew and William, testing completed)
- "XyzCompany" France (Monica and Peter, testing starting)
XyzCompany: In order for me to to provide you a rough pricing indication for a single system, I would need the following information:
- Application name (e.g. Xyz)
- Is it an internal or external Xyz?
- Amount of Xyz?
- Number of Xyz?
- Number of Xyz?
After I've received this information, I should be able to give you a more detailed pricing indication.
XyzCompany: Mark, so far it has become clear that "YourCompany" can provide value for the entire organization of "XyzCompany", and thus, I would like to understand your perspective on the following:
- Is there a separate decision possible on a European level without involving the executive team?
- Is this also the driving reason why you are asking for a separate pricing indication right now?
- Which "XyzCompany" budget would the investment into "YourProduct" come from, assuming that we find a responsible person on your side to carry the project?
Our vision is that we should be able to bring all of this knowledge together from across "XyzCompany", and eventually, within the next 2 months time have a solid discussion about this with the "XyzCompany" management. Currently we are driving this process together with Robert Smith at "XyzDepartment".
The testing that you've already done so far is an incredible step in the right direction. Due to the Easter holidays and a packed schedule, I will try to provide you with an initial update already next week. As agreed, I'll send you a separate calendar invitation to clarify some of the outstanding questions for next week Friday.
Let me know if I have missed anything. Happy holidays and stay safe!
What to do if things are not going as expected?
If things are not happening as agreed upon, reflect and make sure whether the client was committed to proceed in the first place. When working in sales, certainty is always much more valuable than uncertainty, and by now you've found yourself in an unclear position. What now?
First of all, after the initial agreed upon dates have passed, it is absolutely fine to give a call to your contact person or reach out to them by asking for a short update on the status. We are all super busy and often the low priority topics get easily overrun. It's not easy to stay on top of the minds of your always busy customers. Usually your counterpart has just forgotten something and you are welcome to give them a nudge.
If the customer has yet to come back thereafter, an effective way is to simply state in a separate message that you are confused. According to my experience, this works surprisingly well. You have agreed on something with someone and you've tried to reach them by giving a reminder, but nothing has happened. Stating that you are confused makes the person on the other end feel like he or she owes to give you a statement, and in the end this is all you need.
If nothing seems to work, a good practice is to disengage by asking if the project is still relevant to the client and tell that you are about to "close the case in the system". It's surprising how often the recipient will reply to this as they don't expect you to leave them be. They may ask you curiously what does it mean when you close a case. This is already a positive signal, and it is usually accompanied with a statement.
Either way, you've now gracefully closed the case and possibly have a green light from the client to re-engage next year or in a couple of months. Don't forget to do that as it's rare to get any significant deals closed very fast...
I hope this was useful article for you. If you want to leave a comment or an impression, you can do that below. Remember to sign up for an occasional LBS newsletter for more articles like this. We are happy to have you on board!