In this time-sliced society, people are interested in action. People start muttering under their breath if their web browser doesn't load in three seconds. They’ll move to Firefox or Chrome if Safari doesn't work. Similarly, if someone contacts a company and it takes 14 days for them to reply, they’ll be miffed. Chances are they’ll move on to someone else who is more responsive.
In this industry, follow-up is important. Let’s say you do a lighting audit of a building. Your turnaround should be fairly quick. All it takes is a quick email: "Hello, Bruce. We just finished your audit and we should be sending you our proposal by or before Friday." Simple as that. If you think you’re going to miss a deadline, contact them again before the deadline. When you do that kind of thing, you're exhibiting a level of professionalism that’s rare in the energy business.
That said, regardless of how speedily you forwarded your proposal, you can’t expect someone to respond immediately with, "Oh, thanks. Here's my check." They need to decide whether this will be a good thing for their company. Will it make their organization more valuable? Will it make their day-to-day operations easier to manage? It may take a while for them to figure that out... or to convince others within their organization who need to be on-board before funding is approved.
The most common question I’m asked concerning follow-up is how long one should wait. Some people wait weeks or months, thinking some miracle will occur. Guess what? If a customer doesn't get back to you in a week, chances are your project has been lost in the shuffle and you need to refresh their memory.
If you find yourself in this situation, the first thing you should do is verify that you sent the proposal to the right address! And even if the email address was correctly entered, an overzealous spam folder may have captured your masterpiece, so you need to verify that your magnum opus was actually received and opened. The best approach is often the simplest. Either email or call to verify they received your proposal. Perhaps it never arrived. Or perhaps it did arrive and they didn’t realize it was your proposal. Or perhaps they did realize it was your proposal and were about to read it when a fire drill happened and they never actually read it!
Here’s a tip. When I send a proposal, I also send my prospect a text or give them a call... some other mode of communication to let them know it’s in their inbox. That way I know that they’re aware of the proposal’s existence and there’s a better chance that they’ll feel obligated to respond.
Still, they might not call you back. Don’t be discouraged. It’s been said that it takes seven “touches” before you make the typical sale. Don’t assume your work is done because you sent a proposal. The job may only be 30% finished at that point. Now it’s about maintaining contact without becoming a pest.
For example, the following week you might send an article, a case study or a success story that made you think of them. Just send it without mentioning the proposal. Believe me, when they see your name in the inbox, you’re building psychic debt. They’ll probably think, “She’s looking out for our best interest... The least I could do is read that proposal she sent me a couple weeks ago.” Who knows, they may have had a note on their calendar to call you, and receiving the article reminds them that they still need to do so.
Bottom line, I don't think that you should wait to follow up. You should be pinging that person every few days... certainly not less than once a week to make sure. Unless of course they tell you that the person they need to approve the project is out of town for “x” weeks, in which case you can cool your jets for a bit and perhaps just keep in touch socially. And remember, if the dance goes on for too long there’s no shame in bringing it to a graceful conclusion. Or, you might use the “Are You OK?” method if you notice that a prospect that had been quite communicative all of a sudden goes dark. Bottom line, stay responsive and aware, creative and diligent. Despite all of those efforts, at some point you might realize that it’s time to move on to something else.