How To Follow Up With Prospects Without Being Annoying

Sales follow-up can be a daunting task for a business owner. Here are some of the hard truths behind getting your prospects’ attention and why you are your own worst enemy.

Chances are you didn’t start your own company because you love making cold calls – you probably find them kind of a drag. And it’s natural to assume they’re even more annoying to the people you’re trying to reach, especially after the fifth or sixth try with no response. 

So how many times can you follow up on business-to-business sales attempts without irritating prospective clients?

The truth is, persistence does pay off – you should make 8-10 attempts before abandoning a sales lead. The easiest way to overcome your discomfort over this is to take your anxious brain out of the equation. Standardize your cold sales process and turn it over to an employee or an automated program.

Create a sequence of boilerplate voicemail scripts or email templates that slowly and subtly builds urgency. Then make sure it’s followed rigorously with each prospect. Remember, the most common reason your cold calls or emails are going unanswered is that the person on the other end is simply busy.

How Many Times Can You Follow Up?

It’s best to send eight to ten cold emails before you write a prospect off as a dead lead.

Are you making a disgusted face at the thought of sending an email to someone who’s already ignored the first nine?

If so, I have some bad news. That eight to ten number didn’t get plucked out of thin air. It’s based on sales industry research that has shown that most deals that start with cold approaches simply don’t get closed until the eighth, ninth, or tenth try.

It sounds hard to believe, and it goes against all the social instincts that tell us not to be pushy. 

That same research tells us that most people throw in the towel after 3 follow-up attempts. Each time we pick up the phone to call someone who’s been ignoring us, our brain yells a little louder: 

“They’ll think you’re a loser if you don’t play it cool!”

But when your brain is telling you one thing, and the statistics are telling you another, it’s usually your brain that’s wrong.

Why Aren’t They Calling Back?

It’s easy to assume that if you’re not getting a response to your cold attempts, it’s because your prospect has already decided they aren’t interested.

Here’s the thing, though: if you’re selling to another business, your lead is probably a high-level stakeholder, someone with the power to make decisions about which vendor or contractor to use. 

And people like that usually have a lot on their plate.

Maybe the first time you called, they were out of town at a conference. The second time, they were in a meeting. 

Maybe the third time, they were dealing with a problem caused by the contractor you’re hoping to replace. If you don’t call them back that fourth time, you might never know.

Even if they do get annoyed, the worst they can tell you is “Stop calling us”. And if you can’t handle a few rejections, then running your own business is going to be a pretty devastating experience.

Get Out Of Your Own Way

So how can you get your brain to line up with the math, so you can start closing sales?

Actually, you’re probably better off bypassing your brain entirely. Your biggest opponent when you’re doing sales follow-up is that little internal cringe when you go to hit the “Send” button.

So why not let somebody else hit the button for you?

Hire someone to handle the rote work of sending out cold emails or placing cold calls, and tell them to do it eight to ten times before they give up on any lead.

As the owner of your own company, you have the luxury of deciding to do nothing after the third try. Someone who reports to you doesn’t have that option. They’ll follow the protocol as written, because their job depends on it.

For email sales, there are also plenty of tools that can automate the process. Just write up the template for each message in the sequence, and programs like GMass or Woodpecker can personalize and send them for you.

How Often Is Too Often?

Once you’ve decided to trust the data and follow up an appropriate number of times, the next obvious question is how much time to leave between attempts. The best approach is usually to start with a high frequency and slow down as you go. 

Chances are good that if you get a response to your cold email campaign, it’s going to be either right at the beginning or right at the end.

If it’s at the beginning, it means they hadn’t heard of you before, but now they’re excited. Give that lighting a few chances to strike, just in case they accidentally delete your first email. Space the first three messages 2-3 days apart. 

This will help reinforce the sense that you’re offering an urgent opportunity, and they should act now.

After that, start to gradually increase the time between attempts. By the time you reach the end of your standard sequence, the downtime between attempts can be closer to two weeks.

 This creates a different, more subtle kind of urgency. Each time your prospect sees you pop up in their inbox, some part of their brain will note that your messages are arriving less frequently. 

That helps plant the seed that there might come a day when they stop for good. And no one likes the thought of letting a good thing pass them by. 

Nurture that seed with the final few emails. Make your messages a bit apologetic about the repeated contacts, and start winding up to the breakup. 

Your final message should make it clear that it’s your last try. Express regret that your company wasn’t a good fit for theirs, and leave them a couple of ways to reach out to you if they change their mind.

There’s a delicate line to walk here. Don’t give the impression that you’re trying to guilt-trip your prospect about not reaching you back, or you really will annoy them.

The Bottom Line

If someone is ignoring your cold attempts, it’s almost never because they’re thinking about how obnoxious you are. If they’re really that irritated by your emails, they’ll unsubscribe.

When reaching out to a sales prospect, don’t stop until you’ve gotten a response or you’ve run through your entire sequence of eight to ten attempts. And if you can’t trust yourself to do that, then delegate it to an employee or a robot.

Don’t be obnoxious, but definitely don’t let your insecurities cheat you out of a sale.