A successful initial meeting with a prospect is wasted if you fail in the next important step: following up. What are the best ways to follow up? That depends on who you ask. So we decided to ask many of you how you do it. What are your best ways to follow up with prospects? We’ve compiled the responses for you to peruse and use.

Timeframe and homework
When following-up with a prospect with whom I’ve had one appointment and didn’t close, I like to think there are two things I can control: the timeframe and what information he is considering in my absence.

To control the timeframe and avoid the perception of being sales driven instead of relationship driven, I ask when I can check back with him. Most times, prospects will request a few days; occasionally they will say a week or two.

Next, to keep prospects from forgetting, freezing or failing to come to a conclusion, I provide “homework” at the end of the first meeting. This homework assignment isn’t meant to be a challenge, but an opportunity to narrow down the decisions that will be made and provide a framework of the issues we can address.

With the timeframe set and the homework in hand, I have a reason to reconnect with my clients. I have found e-mail and snail mail are one-sided and therefore not as effective as a phone call. During my follow-up call, I can gauge their tone and eagerness, and I usually receive one of two responses:

1) We haven’t had a chance to review the information.
2) We’re pretty sure we want to move ahead, but there is still one or two issues we have not decided yet.

Neither of these responses is necessarily bad news. My value in both cases is to either help them get “unstuck” or to help them work through to a conclusion. In both cases, I always assure them, “This is a little complicated. That is why there are agents. I’d be happy to come by and help you work this through.”

By setting a timeframe, defining the key issues to consider and using this follow-up technique, I can create a win-win situation. Some clients recognize that they can come to a decision more easily with me present than on their own. Most importantly, I feel I am making a stronger bond with my clients.

Marc Strumpf is a long term care specialist with MassMutual in Bethesda, Md.

The lost art of handwritten notes
Want to make a strong, positive impression on your prospects? After every meeting, send them a handwritten note. In today’s world, we immediately think that the best and quickest way to follow-up is to send an e-mail. But with everyone’s e-mail inbox overflowing, a handwritten note will help you stand out. It shows that you took the time to get stationery, write a message, address an envelope and mail it. It sets you apart from everyone else, and, it’s far more personal than e-mail, a formal letter or a postcard. It’s easy to do, it doesn’t take long and it’s inexpensive. The note should be brief; thank the prospect for his time and mention one or two things you discussed. I have walked into prospects’ offices after sending them a note and seen my thank you note tacked up on their bulletin board. Start doing this on a regular basis, and you will find far more receptive prospects.

Mark Dembo is president of White Plains, N.Y.-based Lexien Management Consultants Inc., an affiliate of DEI Management Group.

Make contact
With the expensive cost of lead generation, I realize that I need to maximize each lead I get. I do that by categorizing them into warm and hot prospects. I spend hundreds of dollars to get in the door, but when I leave their homes I want something to make them say “wow” about me and the services I offer. Over the years, I have developed a detailed process to make sure that happens with prospects.

For my “A” prospects, I go forward and continue to invest in them with one of three types of premiums to obtain the wow effect. One is a tin of popcorn from the Popcorn Factory with a fun note that reads, “I am popping with excitement over the opportunity to work with you.” Another premium is a $50 to $60 gift package from Colorado Prime with a note: “I’m looking forward to developing a relationship we can sink our teeth into.” And finally, another premium I often utilize is candy or cookies from Mrs. Fields for the prospect who has a “sweet tooth” and offered me dessert and coffee during our meeting. In each of these follow-up situations, I gauge what each prospect would most enjoy and make him feel special.

For my “B” prospects, I still go above and beyond because I realize how important they are. My “A” prospects also get the items my “B” prospects receive. First, I send my “B” prospects my customized Certified Senior Advisor newsletter to “touch” them with information about me and my services. For as long as they remain a prospect, they will continue to receive this newsletter every 30 days. From there, I send them a news article – from my extensive library of newspaper clips – about a topic we discussed during their meeting.

I read numerous papers daily to see what trends and issues are covered in the media and add these articles to my library to keep it current. I send these educational, third-party, unbiased articles with a sticky note reminding them of our discussion. I also highlight the important points to make the article easier for the senior to read. And finally, from there, I follow-up with a phone call. I find that reminding people in a friendly voice that you enjoyed meeting them is a priceless way of following up and gaining the important level of trust.

Lee Hyder is president and founder of Akron, Ohio-based Lee Hyder & Associates.

Roll with the changes
Follow-up is the most important piece of working with any prospect; without it you won’t get business. But not all people respond to the same follow-up technique, so the techniques should vary from week to week or month to month. Phone calls and house calls are the most effective ways to follow up with prospects because they allow you to continue to build a relationship and participate in open dialogue. The more you can get them talking, the better off you’ll be when it comes time to close the sale. Although, if the prospect isn’t sold on doing business with you at that time, that is the time to begin a drip-marketing campaign. Send them postcards offering a free consultation, send newsletters on a monthly or quarterly basis with value-added articles, or send e-mails focusing on specific ideas.

Julie Cochrane is the head business development trainer for Investors Capital Corp. in Lynnfield, Mass.

Correspond effectively
Effective correspondence with prospects demands three things: credibility, personalization and consistency. You are looking to develop a relationship … even if it is only a business relationship. Relationships are not built by acting like product marketers who brag or try to scare a customer into a purchase. Professionals are information marketers.

Send a news article. News articles carry credibility. Older people are readers and frequently forward articles to others. Sending a helpful article has the feeling of personalization. Get reprints of an article you wrote or that identifies a trend supportive of your product or service but don’t make it a solicitation. Fill your heart and your head with this thought: “I’m here to educate and help this person.”

Add a note. You want to personalize as much as possible. Get a yellow legal pad with the words “Thought you’d be interested in this article” on the top line. You can do this whether you’re pursuing 10 prospects or a 1,000.

Call prospects. You will have warmed up the prospect by thoughtfully giving him something for free (helpful, selfless information). Now he is ready to hear your offering.

Bill Getch is president of Atlanta-based Professional Services PR.

Newsletters
We send our newsletter to everyone in our database, which includes people who have attended our seminars within the past three years. It also includes anyone who has called in to our syndicated Boston-area radio show, “Senior Financial Focus,” and has expressed interest in our business. We write our newsletter ourselves, which we feel is very different than most off-the-shelf newsletters because it’s very personable. We include a “What’s happening with Rich and Sam” column where we mention new happenings and anecdotes about our families. It also includes fun trivia questions and easy-to-read updates about our business. Many prospects have told us that because of our newsletter, they feel we are regular folks, too. They find it easy to relate to us. Although our newsletter is borderline goofy, it works. After receiving our newsletter for several months, hesitant prospects often pick up the phone and make an appointment because they begin to feel comfortable with us as people. Our newsletter has turned many prospects into clients because it has laid the important groundwork of trust.

A second way we follow up with prospects is we mail our seminar invitations only to those people receiving our newsletter rather than to a list of strangers. Our last seminar resulted in 55 attendees with only 1,000 invites sent. This return is much higher that the 2 percent average industry response. We feel it is because these people feel like they know us and are familiar with us before coming for the seminar.

Richard Rubino and Sam Liang are partners of Newton, Mass.-based Rubino & Liang LLC.

Eliminate e-mail
I’m a lover of e-mail but have come to believe that we are overusing it and cutting ourselves short. The closer you can get to face-to-face the better. A phone call beats an e-mail and a personal visit beats a phone call when it comes to building relationships. Bottom line: Since relationships are critical to sales and you need to prospect actively, the telephone is your best option. It gives you the opportunity to hear the prospect’s reaction to your questions and the chance for you to respond instantly. Use e-mail to cover large numbers of prospects where calls would not be practical, but when you want to turn a prospect into a customer, pick up the phone and dial.

Steve Waterhouse is president of Waterhouse Group, Orange Park, Fla.

Database reminders
In our practice, we employ a proactive system of following up with all our prospects, as well as with our existing clients. It begins with entering them (as well as their family and business information) into our database with the vital information, including dates of birth. We automatically send personalized birthday cards to these individuals, add them to our communications and newsletter list, and begin a relationship with them until they tell us otherwise (or they fail to become a client within 12 months). We create electronic reminders for us to follow up with these people on a periodic basis, typically within 10 days of the initial meeting, and monthly thereafter. In addition, following our initial meeting, we send them a follow-up note summarizing our meeting and how we feel this can be a beneficial relationship for them. Our conversion ratio for our prospects (to become clients) is around 80 percent.

Fred Cypress is the managing partner of Cypress Financial Consultants, part of AXA Advisors, in Rochester, N.Y.

Make the call
Get on the phone and then get the prospect or client on the phone. It drives me crazy when my salespeople say, “I sent him an e-mail” or “I left him a message and he has not called me back.” People are busy, and in these times it’s so easy to send a quick follow up e-mail and your busy prospects or customers are too busy to get back to you. There’s no doubt about it. Letters, e-mails and gifts all are good ways to contact people. But if you want to know what’s really happening, call them until they answer the phone. That’s how business is really transacted. If you’re too busy to make the calls, it’s time to hire somebody to do this for you – all day long.

Chris Consorte is the owner and operator of Integrated Direct LLC and Integrated Interactive LLC in Mineola, N.Y.

Try, try again
I like the strategy of phone-mail-phone. The first contact determines if there’s interest, tells the prospect to look for a particular written communication (if the prospect is, in fact, interested) and sets the tone to have that piece of mail noticed and opened. The follow-up phone call confirms receipt and provides the opportunity for the prospect to ask any questions. However, I don’t believe in using phone scripts; the prospect should feel like he is controlling the conversation.