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How do I follow up without being a pest?

I’ve recently been asked some interesting questions regarding follow up with buyers by some of the approximately 75 new and innovative suppliers with us in Appleton, WI to meet their buyers from Fleet Farm. The initial feedback from both buyers and suppliers was very positive. A large number have taken the first step to becoming a valuable vendor to Fleet Farm by taking advantage of our Buying Day program to get face-to-face time with their responsible buyer. Now the suppliers and the buyers are heading back to daily routines and the urgent emails and phone calls begin to take your focus away from these new opportunities. Diligent follow up is critical to turn these interesting new meetings into important new customers and these suppliers need to find a way to stay top-of-mind with the buyer while keeping things moving in a positive direction.

This is an issue that most of us face after events where new opportunities present themselves. With that in mind, here are a few tips for navigating that line between persistence and being a pest in follow-up communications.

Give the buyer a couple days before the first email. The buyer is meeting a number of potential new suppliers during this day and the emails and voice mails are still coming in from his current suppliers. It might seem like a good idea to send off a quick email right away but you’ll have a better chance that he/she will give it due attention in a day or two once they have had a chance to catch up a bit.

Don’t be shy. Buyers are busy with their current suppliers and assortments. While every buyer is different, for the most part, it’s perfectly ok to follow up a couple times a week if done correctly. The vast majority of buyers appreciate follow-up and are not irritated by this… just don’t demand and don’t follow up every day.

Lead with what is important to the buyer. Know what motivates the buyer and communicate how you are providing a tool/solution to this rather than just asking for what you want. You should leave your initial meeting knowing what about your product or offer is intriguing to the buyer. Give some thought to why this is important to buyer the buyer and how you can help with his/her job. In addition to finding new and innovative products to offer their customers, most buyers are evaluated on the margin, turns and sales per sq. ft. of their assortment. Put yourself in the buyer’s place and speak to what you can do for him/her.

Be polite. Ask if they have everything they need and offer to help rather than just pushing for an answer. This seems like a given but it’s easy to get frustrated if/when communications go silent or another sort of log jam arises. Tone in email can be in the ear of the reader and therefore tricky to convey. Just make sure you re-read every email a couple times before sending and make sure you are communicating a tone that will encourage a thoughtful and positive response.

Recap the current status of the project without pointing fingers when inquiring about next steps. This gives the buyer a chance to own the process and request anything they might need to progress to the next step. This reminder will help the buyer remember the status without having to sift back through all your communications and is a gentle reminder of what you have already provided and your interest in continuing to move forward.

Keep the message part of your emails short and to 1 max 2 points. People tend to feel the need to respond or ignore email messages quickly and many skim if the message is wordy. Use attachments to communicate more involved information, they tend to lend themselves to more time intensive tasks.

• If you are not getting a reply to emails, use that telephone thing on your phone. Buyers get loads of emails every day. You have their direct line from their business card for a reason. While email is more appropriate for the initial follow-ups, you shouldn’t be shy about contacting him/her the way our ancestors did with an actual human voice.

Steve Powell, President & CEO, Presidents Council