In Business Development, “Just Following Up” Is a Terrible Way to Follow Up

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You’ve initiated a relationship with a prospective client, fostered a genuine interest in you and your services, and identified a problem you can help solve. But then the dialogue stalls, and re-engaging with your contact turns into a pursuit.

How do you get the conversation back on track and seal the deal without screwing it up?

Courting new clients is a balancing act with a series of tightropes, ledges, and tipping points to carefully navigate. You have to be assertive, but not aggressive; hungry, but not desperate; confident, but not arrogant. Any sense of urgency you may have takes a back seat to your prospective client’s timeline. And it can be maddening.

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

We’ve all heard crickets chirp as we wait for a prospective client to respond to a request to meet, decide on a proposal, get buy-in from colleagues, or sign an engagement letter. As we watch tumbleweeds roll by, we think to ourselves, “What is making him or her take so long?”

If you were trying to get someone to go on a date with you, you wouldn’t keep asking, “would you go out with me?” over and over again. After all, badgering a love interest to the point of constant annoyance isn’t the best way to spark a romance. Yet in business, we do it all the time.

We all know what the pursuit looks like – an array of emails, voicemails, and text messages that begin with:

  • “Just following up….”
  • “Thought I would check in….”
  • “Circling back with you on….”
  • “Wonder if you have….”
  • “Reaching out again about….”

 

You may see these as gentle reminders in case your prospective client forgot about you. To the other person, however, you become more of a pest with every friendly nudge.

If I’m the prospect client and the ball is in my court, chances are that I am, in fact, completely aware that the ball is in my court. The first prompt may be helpful, but subsequent reminders – worded with the introductory language above – can come off as pushy. You’re driving home the point that I haven’t done what I’m supposed to.

Maybe there are political factors I need to navigate, colleagues or family members I need to consult, or an emotional burden associated with taking action. Every “just following up” you send may even cause me to reconsider retaining you – the exact opposite reaction you intended. Inertia is a powerful force, and in tough situations, taking no action and sticking with the status quo is often perceived as easier than facing a problem.

99 Percent of Marketing (and Business Development) Involves Being Different

The fact is, we can all do better than “just following up.” Forego the urge to nudge and try other approaches that separate you from the competition, show your soon-to-be-new-client your value, and encourage action and response.

As a lawyer, part of your brand includes problem-solving, empathy, and an understanding of your clients’ needs and circumstances. A meaningful gesture or offer to help conveys those traits, reminds people of their favorable impressions of you, and encourages them to resume the conversation. Wouldn’t you rather be a stimulant than an irritant?

In lieu of asking for something of value, give something of value. Some illustrations:

“When we last spoke, you mentioned your interest in saltwater fly fishing. I discovered a new podcast called “Rod Only Knows,” and in the “Being Reel” episode, the host talks about bonefishing in the Florida Keys. Here’s the link, and I’ll be curious to get your impression next time we connect.”

“Getting to know you has inspired me to rethink how I should build my practice. I just finished David Burkus’ book – Friend of a Friend – in which he talks about ditching networking events in favor of tapping the contacts we already know. I know you’re trying to build your business, too, so I’m sending you a copy. Enjoy!

“I recently ran into a college buddy who now owns a manufacturing business. He has a couple of key employees that could use some help with leadership and management skills. Based on what you told me about your wife and the success she’s had coaching executives, I’d love to introduce her to my friend. What’s the best way to contact her?”

“I could really use your help. I remember you telling me about the awesome electrician who helped wire your home office. I’m setting up a new workshop in my basement and need to add some outlets. Could I trouble you to share your electrician’s contact info? I will gladly repay you with the next birdhouse I build!”

Nowhere in these examples is any mention of that lingering action the other person is supposed to take. Instead of nudging and pestering, they each:

  • Demonstrate your listening skills
  • Express how you care about your clients (and friends)
  • Sincerely offer help or respectfully ask for help
  • Show how you can be a trusted advisor
  • Show honor and respect

 

These are genuine, relationship-building, trust-instilling, no-sell gestures, a far cry from “checking in” or “touching base.”

No Quid Pro Quo

Most of all, the gestures above exert no pressure.

Have someone you don’t know well ever tried to sell you something by offering tickets to a game, concert, charity event, etc.? It’s a transparent attempt to get you to buy, and it’s icky. (It’s even ickier if the salesperson asks you to be his or her guest and goes with you.)

If you accept, human decency compels you to reciprocate by agreeing to the sale, after which you’ll likely feel manipulated. If you decline, you may avoid feeling obligated, but the sales pitch will doubtlessly continue. Would you want to be pursued that way?

In the examples above, there’s no obligation, no quid pro quo, no ickiness. You make it easy for the prospective client to acknowledge your gesture, say thank you, and accept or decline with no heaviness.

Slow Your Roll, Call Off the Hot Pursuit, and Be Different

Business development is a courtship that often requires you to do a whole lot of wooing and to put the needs and mindset of the other person before your own. How and what you communicate to prospective clients is as important as the legal counsel you give once they become actual clients.

To build long and mutually fulfilling relationships, a combination of patience, restraint, and creativity is the way to go. Resist the urge to nag, and your prospects will likely act faster than if you keep stalking them.