Life is all about the follow-up. Especially when it comes to the startup hustle.
It’s easy to focus on the initial contact. The first meeting. The email you’ve sent to someone important. You reach out to someone and then feel good about yourself. You’ve done your job, you’ve pitched and reached out. You’ve asked for a meeting/call/etc. Now all you have to do is sit around and wait for them to respond.
And that’s the problem—you have no follow-up hustle.
I get it. You don’t want to be a pain in the ass. We all want to avoid being annoying at the risk of getting rejected. The trick is to make your follow-ups so creative that they don't feel like follow-ups. [Tweet this!]
Most people will contact someone once, and then wait around for that person to get back to them. That’s the completely wrong approach.
My follow-up philosophy
I have a simple philosophy: I follow up as many times as necessary until I get a response. I don’t care what the response is as long as I get one. If someone tells me they need another 14 days to get back to me, I will put that in my calendar and ping them again in 14 days.
If they tell me they are busy and they don’t have time right now, I will respond and ask them when they feel like a good time would be for me ping them. The key here is to actually keep following up. If someone tells me they are not interested—I leave them alone.
But here is the kicker—if they don’t respond at all, I will keep pinging them until they do. And trust me, they always do. :)
Once I followed up with an investor 48 times until I got a meeting. Now mind you, this investor was introduced to me and had responded positively to my initial email, but then disappeared in limbo and I couldn’t get hold of him anymore.
He finally responded, we met, and he ended up investing.
And I'm not the only one that has seen results with my follow-up strategy. Here's just one example of someone who applied this strategy and the results he saw:
Another story of someone who followed up relentlessly? James Altucher wanted to work for a billionaire investor. He got his foot in the door by cold emailing the guy for a whole year.
How to follow up like a pro
Following up is more art than science. The more you do it, the better you get at it. Nothing can replace building strong follow-up habits. To give you a starting point, here’s how I think about following up.
How often should you follow up?
If you reach out completely cold and never had any interaction with the other person, follow up once or twice. You really don’t have the type of relationship that gives you permission to do much more than that.
If you already had some kind of interaction and that interaction was not a clear, definite NO, then follow up as long as it takes to get a response. Never stop till you get a response.
The right follow-up frequency
Here’s a general schema for timing your follow-ups:
Day 1: First follow-up (+2)
Day 3: Follow-up (+4)
Day 7: Follow-up (+7)
Day 14: Follow-up (+14)
Day 28: Follow-up (+30)
Day 58: Follow-up (+30)
… (from there on once a month).
I use our sales CRM to create simple follow up reminders.
(You can sign up for a free trial here, no credit card required.)
I also set up tasks with due dates, and create lists using smart filter functions.
For example, I can create a list of prospects whom I haven't emailed in 14 days, and with whom I've had a phone conversation that lasted longer than 4 minutes in the past 3 months.
You can stack all kinds of filters on top of each other to match it to your requirements, but if you're not a Close.io customer, you can use Google calendar or tasks, but I find those suboptimal—too much friction.
These are not hard rules, they are guidelines
It all depends on the context, the situation, the relationship and interactions you had with the other person.
For example, if you follow up with an incredibly busy and important CEO of a large enterprise, don’t send another email tomorrow and two days later and four days later. Give them more time, maybe 4–7 days until your first follow-up. Maybe follow up once a week. If you know this person gets 5,000 emails a day, be respectful of that fact.
Which medium is best for following up—email or phone?
This depends on what you’re after. Do you want to optimize for a) quick response or b) positive outcome?
If you optimize for a quick response (because an issue is time-sensitive) then a phone call is the best medium. However, it’s also a lot easier to come across as annoying, so the risk of turning a "maybe" into a "no" is much higher.
If you call me ten times in two days, I’m probably going to turn you down even if I was actually interested. Because I’ll think, "Geez, working with this person is too much pain, I’ll pass."
If you optimize for a positive outcome, then email is the best medium for follow-ups. But sending me a monthly email might take years.
Following up by email
Keep it short, upbeat and professional.
“Hey [first name], how is it going? Can we schedule a time to talk this week?”
“Hey [first name], we got some new press coverage [link]. I’d love to pick up on our conversation. When’s a good time to chat?”
“Hey [first name], can we hop on a quick call Wednesday 4 p.m. or Thursday 11 a.m.?
PS: thought you might find this article interesting [link]”
You get the idea.
Following up by phone
When you call, there’s a higher risk that your follow-up will annoy the other person.
If you tried to call three times and the other person didn’t pick up the phone, call again and leave a voice mail.
That’s it. More than three missed calls and one voicemail can be perceived as too invasive, annoying and desperate.
Following up in person
If it’s a do-or-die situation, you can show up at their office. It’s the best way to make sure you get attention, but it’s also really intrusive. So make sure you play this trump card only when it’s warranted.
Following up on social media
I don’t do this, but some people like to tap into social media as another way to stay on the other person’s radar. Doing things like retweeting or favoriting a tweet, sending a LinkedIn invite, liking or commenting on their status updates or posts.
The main piece of advice I can give here is to not overdo this and don’t come across as a creepy borderline-stalker.
Following up with handwritten notes
Use your judgement if you want to do this or not. It’s just another weapon in your arsenal.
Depending upon the interactions you had and the relationship you share with them, a handwritten note can still make an impression.
Gary Vaynerchuck wrote about how one of his clients uses handwritten notes as an opportunity to connect with customers.
If you can make it work and it’s authentic and it makes a difference—do it. If it’s awkward, forced and cheesy, don’t.
Following up by fax
“It’s 2014. We’re a startup. Fax? Are you serious?”
If they didn’t respond to your emails, and they didn’t pick up the phone, why not send them a fax?
Because nobody uses fax anymore!
Exactly. It’s the least cluttered medium you can use.
Again, view it as another tool as your disposal. 99% of cases you won’t need it, but every once in a while, it might make a difference.
Do’s & don’ts
Stay persistently friendly and nice. Have an attitude of indifference if they don’t respond. Impress them by staying on top of your game.
Keep it short. Avoid long-winded formalities. If they’re a good customer, they’ll probably be busy individuals who value their time. It’s annoying to read through three paragraphs of meaningless pleasantries, and smart people will know they’re meaningless copy+paste phrases you use on every lead. Be nice, but get to the point.
Provide value. (optional) Know and understand their wants and needs well enough to be able to offer them something relevant. It can be an article or something else that they’ll appreciate getting. (In general, clear, simple and concise works best). But keep your objective in mind—giving things away is not selling. It’s a jab, not a right hook.
Never ever make them feel or do anything guilt-inducing. Avoid saying things like “Why haven’t you responded to me so far? I've sent you 10 emails already!!!”
The fortune is in the follow-up
Most people will assume that there is no interest if they don't get a response to their email and will stop following up.
I don’t. I simply assume that the person is busy and that I need to follow up until they have a moment to respond. If I keep reaching out, my chances of getting to that perfect moment are massively higher. I’m a salesperson—it’s my responsibility to maintain the relationship and move the conversation forward.
That’s how you get things done that others don’t. That’s how you get meetings that others don’t. You follow up. And you never ever stop ... until you get the job done!
The follow-up is the most underrated part of the startup hustle.
Put some funny in your follow up
Looking for creative and outrageous ways to get a prospect's attention? Here's a case study of how to use humor in your sales and marketing to increase your response rates. Read more ...
Introducing email follow-ups
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