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Following up with prospects: how long you should wait and other tips

How many people do you know that got married at the end of their first date? Our guess is probably zero. Many may say they “knew” from the first time they met, but they probably still went out for, at least, a few dinners before getting hitched. And there’s a really pragmatic reason for that: it takes time to figure out if you want to commit to someone.  Though it’s a much lower-stakes game, in sales there’s a similar process when someone is deciding whether or not to become a customer. Just as with people who get married on the…

How many people do you know that got married at the end of their first date? Our guess is probably zero. Many may say they “knew” from the first time they met, but they probably still went out for, at least, a few dinners before getting hitched. And there’s a really pragmatic reason for that: it takes time to figure out if you want to commit to someone. 

Though it’s a much lower-stakes game, in sales there’s a similar process when someone is deciding whether or not to become a customer. Just as with people who get married on the first date, closing a sale on the first call is not very common. The reason is shockingly similar: they need time to figure out if you’re the right fit. 

With that being the case every salesperson will have to perform some sort of follow-up at some point. As with dating, it can be a little tense and anxiety-inducing. How long do you wait to call? Or, how many messages is too many? These and any number of other questions might plague your mind when gearing to send a follow-up message. 

To help reduce any stress you may feel, we’ve put together a list of best practices to follow when following-up with prospects. Though no two deals are identical, each of these suggestions should be useful no matter the scenario. 

How long should you wait? 

If you’ve seen any romantic comedy, or sitcom, in the last 10 years you may have been exposed to the idea of the “three day rule.” Basically, the idea is that after you meet someone you shouldn’t reach out to them until at least three days have passed. 

The idea is if you reach out too soon you might seem overeager and scare them off. However, if you wait too long then they may forget about you and no longer be excited by the prospect of talking with you. In business, the same principles actually seem to hold true. 

You do want to be sure to give any lead you’ve talked to a few days to process what you covered in your last meeting. However, you don’t want to wait so long that the lead forgets about you. So, whether you’re wondering when to reach out after a “meet cute” or demo call, it seems three days is a good amount of time to wait before for the initial follow-up. 

Be deliberate

In a romantic scenario it can be charming to send a message “just because.” It lets the other person know you’re thinking of them. It can be very charming. However, the same isn’t true when it comes to messaging your leads. 

The plain and simple fact is we all get a ton of messages. In fact, on average we get over 120 emails per day. That doesn’t include the calls, social media messages, and other channels. So, anytime you send a message, follow-up or otherwise, to a lead you need to have a specific reason for doing so. If not, you’ll just end up adding to the noise. 

For most of us, email is the most common way to send a follow-up message. So, be sure to start off your message by giving your reason for following-up. You should even consider alluding to the reason in your subject line to hopefully stay out of the trash folder. 

The same rule applies if you’re calling, or sending a message anywhere else. Remember their time is valuable and you need to treat it as such. 

Ask for preferences

We all have the friend who we call, they don’t answer, but then immediately after send a text asking, “what’s up?” Clearly, they have a preference for communicating. The same is probably true for your lead. 

Your lead’s age, industry they work in, or even the item you’re communicating about could all potentially affect which channel they prefer to communicate through. Though it’s common for older leads to prefer phone communication, and younger ones to prefer email, or text, the best thing you can do is ask. 

For example, at the end of a demo call you could say, “for future communication what tends to work best for you?” Not only does it help increase your chances of actually reaching them, it also shows you’re considerate. Make sure you note what their preferred channel is in your CRM so you have a record of it. 

Offer value 

Simply having a solid reason for sending a message to a lead is a great start. That said, it is just the start. After nailing that down, you should move on to figuring out how you can also provide some sort of value in your message. 

There are any number of ways to provide value to a lead. One great way is to send over a blog post, or other collateral, covering something you talked about in your call. For example, you could say, “I remember you mentioned wanting to know more about designing a great proposal, so thought this could be useful.” 

Also, if they asked any questions you weren’t able to answer on the spot during your call, a follow-up message is a great place to offer that information. Not only does it help make your message more relevant, it could also serve to move the conversation along with your lead. 

Persistence is key 

Closing a deal is tough to do. In fact, even the best performing organizations only close around 30% of sales qualified leads. So, when there is an interested lead, you need to make sure you’re making the most of the opportunity. 

Though it can be easy to feel discouraged if a lead isn’t immediately responsive, don’t let it get you down. If they don’t respond to your initial follow-up message, wait a few days (three to five is usually good) and then send another. Be sure to acknowledge the first you sent in the second. 

If you don’t get a response then, wait another week and try again. You should be changing the subject line each time to try and catch their attention. Each time you should also be sending a different message. Also, try asking questions. Research found emails with one to three questions tend to a higher response-rate than messages with no questions. 

Know when to hang it up

Just as in dating, some sales relationships aren’t meant to go the distance. It can be hard to let go, especially since research shows it takes around 18 calls to connect with a prospect in the first place.

However, if it’s been weeks and it’s been complete radio silence, it’s probably time to move on and put your energy to use elsewhere. Some salespeople like to send a last-ditch-effort type email to try and get the lead to respond. That works for some, but does run the risk of annoying the lead. 

In our humblest of opinions, we suggest simply sending one final message to let them know you’re going to stop communication. Be respectful and also be sure to leave the door open to them in case they want to talk again in the future. 

Don’t forget, what people remember most is how you made them feel. So, if with your send-off you can leave a positive impression, it could very well pay dividends in the future. 

One last note

Following-up with leads is a crucial part of the sales process. Though it can feel a bit stressful at times, in order to be successful, it’s something you have to be able to do and do well. As long as you’re being thoughtful in your approach, there’s nothing to worry about.

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