The Art of the Follow-up

How being sweet but persistent can be your secret weapon.

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Our oldest daughter just turned 16. And this week she passed her behind the wheel test to obtain her driver’s license.

Next on her list: getting a job.

Like probably every other high schooler eager for employment, she requested and filled out applications from various establishments. She even went so far as to turn in the completed applications.

That was a week ago.

When I asked if she had followed up, she simply told me: “They’ve got my information. They’ll call me when they’re ready.”

Hmmm….this job is something you want, right?

While my daughter’s statement may turn out to be true, I advised her to stack the odds in her favor by following up. Demonstrate initiative. Showing that she wants the job.

The same holds true in the business world. Taking a passive view seldom leads to success. And believing that you’re so amazing that “they’ll call me” and you need not follow up is probably not the attitude to adopt when trying to win someone over, whether you’re hoping to score an interview, land a new client, or simply schedule a meeting.

But there is a fine line between being proactive and being a pest. I like to call it being “sweet but persistent,” or SBP for short.

Being SBP means that you’re tenacious but in a kind way.

To successfully be SBP, there are a few things you must understand:

It’s Not About You.

Yes, knowing if you’ve made the cut with your proposal is urgent and top-of-mind — to you. Maybe not so much to your potential client.

Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. Imagine that several people are hitting you up with requests simultaneously. What would resonate most with you: the person who bombards you with the same ask or someone who finds a way to break through with kindness and considers your needs?

When you approach follow up with your client’s needs in mind, the focus shifts from transaction to consultative — you’re trying to help them find a solution rather than sell them on your product. That’s a huge difference.

Even if you’re waiting for an answer, you can follow up in a softer, more meaningful way. Offer up a link to an article that addresses a pain point of theirs. Congratulate them/their company on a recent accomplishment. Even pass along something completely unrelated to business — the best place to score a coveted toy for their child, or a recommendation for a new restaurant featuring their favorite cuisine.

Doing this demonstrates two things: 1) that you were listening (and taking notes!) during your previous exchanges, and 2) that you want to help and provide value, even if it has nothing to do with your original reason for following up. Bonus: it gives them a preview of what it’s like to work with you. And if you’re following this advice, that may be a welcome change from the sea of other competitors.

It Really Is About You.

Can you think of someone whose phone call you automatically send to voicemail? Have you ever connected with someone on LinkedIn only to be hit up 5 minutes later with a sales pitch that has nothing to do with your needs or business?

Ugh, please don’t be that person.

If you’re never getting through to your intended audience, there may be a reason why. Perhaps you’re forgetting the “sweet” along with your “persistence” and coming across as overly aggressive and pushy.

Or maybe you’re erring on the side of ease (read: lazy) and not customizing your request, sending the same, canned pitch to every prospect in hopes that someone will bite.

Take a beat, and reevaluate your approach. Sure, it takes a bit more work but isn’t it worth it to be someone who cares about the person they’re making a deal with more than the deal itself?

Relationships are Key.

The bottom line is this: people will always choose to work with (and buy from) people they trust and with whom they feel comfortable. Think of your follow up (and indeed, any client interaction) as a way to build and maintain very special relationships.

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And what became of my daughter’s job quest? After getting some coaching and help writing a sample script, she did make a follow-up phone call (not-so-secretly hoping she’d just be able to leave a voicemail). Imagine her surprise when a live human answered the phone, thanked her, and asked her to call back in a few days so they could schedule an interview. She was giddy with excitement and sweetly thanked the manager.

Fingers crossed that being SBP will help my kiddo land a gig — and hopefully help you win your next client.

© Amy Blaschka, 2016

A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn.

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Amy is the president of rbp consulting, a consultancy specializing in helping transform organizations in transition. When she’s not involved in some sort of makeover, you’ll find her…unhappy. She enjoys being a badass writer, playing co-ed volleyball, and pretending she has her own HGTV show. She loves traveling and spending time with her friends and family, which includes a yellow lab named Rigby. She considers Peet’s almond milk lattes a food group and is a huge fan of whiteboards and Post-It® Notes.

Need some help finding the balance between sweet but persistent? Contact Amy at rbpconsulting.org or say hi on Twitter @amyblaschka.