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Are referral leads waiting in your inbox?

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The fortune is in your follow-up

Salespeople and comedians have something in common: More often than not, success comes down to timing. Sometimes we get lucky. We’re in the right place at the right time and meet the perfect prospect. Other times prospects read content we’ve posted, and our phones ring off the hook. You never know when people are ready to buy, or how something you say will resonate at just the right time. But luck is not a sustainable advantage.

To keep your pipeline full of hot prospects and referral leads, make your own luck. How do you increase your chance of being in the right place at the right time? By following up on business opportunities and staying in touch with your referral networks.

The early bird gets the deal

Clients value speed, which means we must always be prepared to move quickly when opportunities arise. According to, for inquiries submitted on the Web, 78 percent of deals go to the first companies that respond. Yet, 35 to 63 percent of companies fail to respond at all.

Mark Hunter and Andy Paul shared similar data at Dreamforce 2013, suggesting that 40 to 80 percent of sales leads are never followed up on. Unbelievable! How could salespeople pass up opportunities to sell?

Your job is to follow up quickly…in fact, immediately. Most buyers research us before they ever contact us. They have fewer questions and are more pressed for time. Simply put: leads now have a shorter shelf life. As Andy says, “Later lives on the same street as never.”

The only thing dumber than dropping the ball on inbound sales leads is failing to follow up on referrals. I’m always baffled when salespeople tell me they have referral leads on their desks or in their inboxes, waiting for a response. Are they understaffed, overwhelmed, or just unaware that referred prospects convert into clients more than 50 percent of the time?

When people refer you, follow up immediately. That means in the next hour, not the next day, week, or month. Failure to do so is an affront to your Referral Sources. You appear arrogant, self-centered, and careless. Why would they ever refer you again?

Obviously, you don’t value the relationships you have with them, and you certainly don’t value the connections they offered. Your lack of responsiveness and enthusiasm sends a clear message that you don’t care. And if you don’t care about them, they won’t care about helping you … at least not for long.

Nurture your referral networks

Once you make connections — with prospects or Referral Sources — don’t waste all that effort by neglecting to stay in touch. Otherwise, they’ll forget about you long before you forget about them.

While you certainly can’t meet all of these people for coffee each week, you can find ways to stay on their referral radars. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Mine your database. There’s no excuse for failing to follow up. Use your database to record relevant contact information and provide ticklers for future conversations.

  • Use social media to share your expertise. Social media is not the place to sell, but it is a great platform to pose questions, answer questions, and communicate valuable information — either your own ideas or content from other thought leaders.

  • Write a blog. Keep them short, and post at least weekly. You have valuable industry insights, experience, and information that would be relevant to your clients. Link your blog directly to LinkedIn so your contacts see when you post.

  • Solicit feedback. Communication is key to keeping current customers happy, not just during the sales process but also during and after implementation. Check in regularly to find out what they’re delighted about, apprehensive about, or don’t understand. This builds trust and customer loyalty, and turns clients into prime Referral Sources.

  • Show appreciation. Take any opportunity to thank those who have helped you in some way. It’s not only good manners; it’s a great excuse to reach out and nurture valuable sales relationships. Say it in person or via email. Or better yet, stand out by sending an old-fashioned thank-you note.

In sales, timing is everything. Referrals are everything. And the fortune is in your follow-up!

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