While most professional networkers know the importance of follow-up, the fact is that few are masterful at the art of it. Sure, they may leave one or two voicemails for people or reply to emails, but those attempts only scratch the surface of what follow-up is all about.

In truth, following up with a prospect or customer is about attending to the details of business. It's doing what you say you will do and honoring your word. It is committing to what you know you can commit to and then following through.

Following up is calling your prospect or client, not to nag them or harass them, but to remind them of the wonderful, valuable product or service you know will enhance their business or life.

Here's another way to look at it: Follow-up is acknowledgment. Most people want to feel acknowledged for who they are and what they do. Smart business people know that acknowledging others softens their heart. When you say you're going to call back in one week and you do, your prospect feels respected and this might encourage him or her to form a relationship with you.

If you don't follow up with people, they think you don't care if you get the business or not, and they may lose trust or feel offended.

If you're ready to take your follow-up skills to the next level, practice these strategies:

Give a Reasonable Timeframe

Many people fall into the trap of being too specific with their follow-up promises. For example, they may say, "I'll call you back in thirty minutes," but rarely honor their thirty-minute promise.

Rather than give a specific time, a better approach is to say, "I'll get back to you in the next day or so," or use some other timeframe that is reasonable. That way you're not being held to a strict timeline.

If you intend to get back to people in an hour, tell them you will get back by the end of the day. Something might come up in that hour that derails your attention and your best intentions.

If you are supposed to get back to a person within an hour but realize that you can't, then call and let her know you are detained. You could say, "I know I was supposed to have an answer for you by 5 p.m. today and it's now 4:45, but it looks as though I'm going to need more time to resolve this situation. I will call you back with more information by tomorrow afternoon." It's better to make the call than miss the time and hope the other person won't notice. Acknowledging the problem shows people that you can be relied on.

Be F.U.L.L. of yourself—Follow Up Light and Lively

When you are talking with someone or leaving a voicemail, put a smile in your voice. If you aren't feeling happy at that particular time, then listen to some upbeat music, read a funny joke or story online, or pick up an inspiring book. You absolutely must be positive when doing follow-up.

One thing you must never do is get on the phone when you're angry or depressed. No one wants to take on negative energy, and no one will return a voicemail that has a negative tone in it. Your voicemail or message must have happy energy and be enthusiastic. And it must be awaiting the person's response with glee.

No one wants to speak to Mr. or Ms. Grumpy. If you've left a few voicemails and you still haven't heard back from your prospect or client, then you may have reason to be irritated; however, you must never let the other person know that. Leave a fourth and fifth voicemail with as much enthusiasm and excitement as you had when you left the first voicemail.

Realize, too, that leaving a "guilt" message—"This is my sixth voicemail and I still haven't heard back"—may release your own frustration but could cost you a possible future sale. If you are courteous and guilt-free on your sixth voicemail, you leave all doors open for the person to return the call. Your courtesy and enthusiasm may even prompt him to not only give you his business but could get all his referral business as well.

Follow Up for the Fun of It

When done right and with elegance, follow-up can be an artful way of reminding.

Realize that not every follow-up has to be about "Are you ready to buy from me now?" Sometimes you just do it to check in. As an added benefit, when you follow up without an immediate sales goal in mind, you may find it creates opportunities for future business.

Suppose a product you bought from a distributor has arrived in the mail. It is now in your home and functioning properly. Two or three days later you get a follow-up call from the distributor asking how the product is working for you. This kind of call will probably result in more purchases from that distributor.

The act of follow-up is to stay in touch with someone, not to say, "Please buy from me today." When you do a few follow-ups like this, calling to ask for the sale later is much easier—and the prospect is much more inclined to say yes and refer others to you.

Become a Master Follow-Upper

When you implement these suggestions into your follow-up efforts, you see how fun and rewarding follow-up can actually be. Your prospects and customers will appreciate your efforts to keep them informed, and your business will benefit from your persistence and diligence to one of the most basic business tasks. In the end, by mastering this fine art, you'll enjoy greater success in all areas of your life.


JUDY GARMAISE, CSW, is a corporate trainer
and professional speaker with a master's degree from
Columbia University. With more than 25 years of
experience in sales, management and customer service,
Judy provides training on follow-up—her proven
system of increasing profitability and success, while
maintaining integrity and trust. Judy is the author of
The Power of Follow-Up®.