7 Sales Follow-Up Strategies that Actually Work

I love reading people’s posts on LinkedIn. It’s a great source of inspiration for every person working in sales. For example, a couple of weeks ago, I read about a guy who followed up his prospect 125 times in nine years until they finally signed a deal. Talk about persistence paying off!

That made me think: what does this guy know about follow-ups that others don’t? Why didn’t he give up after a month, a year, or even five years? Maybe it’s some innate drive, or maybe it’s because he trusts his process. The main thing is the main thing: he got the client.

I’m not saying you have to do the same to start sales conversations and close deals, but never neglect the power of a follow-up. Seriously, that’s where real salespeople skills kick in! Don’t believe me? Look at these facts.

Stats Behind the Follow-Up

How many emails should I send to get the first reply? Statistics: Replies mostly happen after 5th email.
  • There is only a 30% chance that you’ll get an answer to your first email; 
  • If you send the second email, your chances to get an answer are 21%;
  • If you send the third email, you still have 18% chances of receiving an answer;
  • The optimal number of emails to be sent to increase the conversion of your sales is five.

Therefore, with every cold email follow-up you send, you create an extra opportunity for the prospect to answer. The more attempts you make, the more answers you’ll eventually get.

Still not convinced? Here are even more data points around follow ups:

Unanswered sales email chains - follow-up statistics
  • 7 out of 10 sales representatives don’t follow up their prospect after the first unanswered email;
  • Another 2 out of 10 salespeople give up on sending follow-ups after the second unanswered email;
  • Only 1 out of 10 sales reps actually get around to writing the third or more email to the prospect.

Importantly, as the actual reply usually happens only after the 5th email, 11% of salespeople are those who are the likely high performers. Meanwhile the others 89% are losing opportunities simply by ignoring the importance of follow-ups in sales! 

Now, here’s the choice: you can either convince yourself that, with the second follow-up, you’ve done everything you could, or you can step out from your comfort zone and fire off a third, fourth, and fifth e-mail. 

How to write a good follow-up

Given the importance of persistent follow-up cadences, how do you create enough good emails to make it worthwhile for your prospects to want to read and respond to? 

Over five years as experts in lead generation, we’ve gathered a large number of effective follow-up strategies. On behalf of CIENCE, we are happy to share them with you for the sake of good sales craft. Use them, hit your marks, get your quota! 

1. Be consistent, but not predictable

Can we agree – the reason why salespeople don’t follow up is because they don’t want to sound too clingy, too desperate. Maybe it’s a fear thing…. No one likes to feel rejected. And I get it. You probably think that if the prospect didn’t reply to the first email, they are simply not interested in what you reached out to them about.

Spoiler alert: it’s not always true. 

Maybe they just need to do some research on you. 60% of buyers want sales assistance during the consideration stage when they have already googled your product and your competitors. But if they’re at the awareness stage, they’re still gathering info and getting familiar with you and your company.

At what point during your buying process do you want to talk to a salesperson? Statistics: Awareness stage - 19%; Consideration stage - 60%; Decision stage - 20%

Most follow-up emails are sent to the buyers when they are still in the awareness stage (unless they’ve already heard about your company). When the 1st follow-up comes in, 81% of prospects aren’t even ready to talk to a salesperson. 

Only by sending repeated follow-ups can you ensure that your potential customers are thinking of you when they are ready to purchase. After all, top of mind is tip of tongue. Note, that this doesn’t mean spamming them three times a day with a reminder, but instead following up with timely messages that ask killer questions and provide value to them.

At CIENCE, we’ve learned that a 2-3 day gap between sales follow-ups works the best. This doesn’t apply to canceled invitations and missed calls (that’s a topic for another day). CIENCE’s general follow-up structure looks like this:

Sales follow-up timeline in business days

Try this timetable or adjust to what makes sense for your prospects.

2. Use your "secret weapon" tactics

Sales follow-ups can be done in lots of different ways. In an ideal world, one-to-one in-person meetings are the most personal follow-up strategy. But given the recent COVID-19 crisis and everyone working remotely, this situation isn’t really feasible. 

So, what’s left for us? Boring emails and annoying phone calls? Not exactly. Use some imagination, and you’ll find a unique way to approach your prospects.

For inspiration, here is what we do. Instead of sending a simple follow-up template, we pepper in personalized videos depending on account prioritization. Everyone can do this even without any special tools or drawing skills. Believe us, time spent on such sales follow-ups will pay for itself several times over.

Another CIENCE secret weapon is that we actively use social media. We should all accept the advantages of living in a digitalized world, and LinkedIn is the best way to do so. LinkedIn engagement is a double-edged sword, though, as being to “sales-y” is a turnoff, but being too opaque means a denied connection. Strike the right balance and, again, try to be helpful and personable. 

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a message with another template. Even a good comment can grab a prospect’s attention if it’s done right. 

Here is another sample follow-up message to a prospective client by CIENCE SDR Tori Harda.

Sample follow-up message to prospective client on LinkedIn

This approach is quite casual but very effective.

3. Bon Appétit Approach

Talking about creativity, one of my favorite sales follow-up emails is the so-called Bon Appétit strategy. Behind the délicieuse name is a simple concept – reaching out to the recipient during their lunchtime to wish them a good meal! 

This strategy works best on those prospects who weren’t initially on the main lead lists. This includes contacts from auto-replies, new people from direct referrals, etc.

Basically, you send a follow-up to a prospect at 12 pm -1 pm their time zone when most people have lunchtime. The subject line should be something casual and simple, like this, for example: ‘What’s for lunch, Ben?’, or ‘Bon Appétit John!’, or ‘Are you around for lunch?’ etc. 

The email body should be written in the same casual style:

Hey! Can we schedule a consultation this week? I know I’m probably catching you during lunchtime so let me know when works best for you. Bon Appétit!

Here is how using this method turned out for us:

Casual follow-up email example

4. Give the prospect as much time as needed

Every product has its own sales cycle, and every buyer is on their own buyer’s timeline. Some leads are ready to purchase straight away; others need weeks or even months for research. However, it doesn’t mean they are not worth waiting for. One persistent prospector stayed in touch for 4 months recently (with LinkedIn likes, casual follow ups, and weeks between contact) before landing a 15 minute call that turned into a 1 hour demo a few days later. 

If the prospect tells you to contact him in a week, month, year, you should simply do that. Your goal as a salesperson is to be there as long as needed and add value to the dialog rather than annoy. Those in sales who master the skills of mindful invisibility yet helpful in their follow-ups are typically rewarded in the long run.  

The situation ‘Follow up me in X months’ happens to our SDRs quite often. But you know what? We didn’t once neglect a lead just because they didn’t buy from us straight away. Instead, we were patient and persistent. 

If this happens to you too, you can use this CIENCE follow-up sample: 

Email follow-up sample - follow up in a few month

5. Focus on the prospect’s needs

This might sound quite simple, but we see too many follow up emails that are devoid of value and personalization. While writing a follow-up, remember that there should be a balance between discussing your prospect’s needs and promoting your product. Understand and clearly express how you could benefit your prospect’s company. Do a little research (okay, a lot!), find some interesting articles, some data, decide if the prospect responds better to logic or emotion, and use it to connect and convert! 

This follow-up example from CIENCE SDR Alina P. nails it:

Sales Email Follow-Up Example - Focus on Prospect's Needs

6. Measure, evaluate, and analyze

Unfortunately, there is no perfect formula for a sales follow-up template that will be equally effective with all clients. There are so many factors that influence it, like the length of your subject line, or the number of questions you’ve posed, or which emojis you used (if any). In fact, did you know that almost half of the email recipients open their emails based on the subject line alone? 

Therefore, to hit the best numbers, you have to find out what works best for you! 

How? For instance, if we talk about cold email follow up, A/B testing does its job perfectly. The idea is to send, let’s say, a 1000 emails, half of which with one subject line, and a half with another. Afterward, you can analyze which formulation was more successful and use that one going forward.

Here’s how we did it:

Cold email follow-up example7. No hard feelings after breaking up

The last sales follow-up email you send to a prospect is just as important as the first one. There is always a slight chance that sometime in the future (maybe in nine years’ and 125 follow ups later!), this person will be looking for the services you provide. And the first thing they’ll do is skim through their contact and vendor list.

So, don’t shut the door after leaving the room. Leave it open a crack and give your prospect a chance for a future conversation, just like this follow-up email does:  

A last follow-up email to prospect - example

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