Close.io CEO Steli Efti on why your competitors’ follow-ups aren’t working and how you can stand out

Collin Stewart, CEO

15 March 2018

Crafting the perfect follow up message (or, more accurately, messages) is often considered one of, if not the, most challenging aspects of a career sales.

There’s the functional challenge: actually crafting interesting informative, and effective emails, social touches or voicemails. What do I say? And, how do I say it? If only every lead you reached out to realized immediately how perfect your product was and responded immediately, ready to buy (if only!).

If that weren’t enough of a hurdle – and, as most of us will attest, it is quite the roadblock – there’s the emotional challenge presented by the follow up. This is, admittedly, an issue we don’t talk enough about when analyzing the sales process. Concerns over craft, as mentioned above, tend to dominate the narrative.

But, the emotional side of follow ups is a significant issue, says Steli Efti, CEO of Silicon Valley-based CRM company Close.io, on a recent edition of The Predictable Revenue Podcast. In fact, says Efti, the emotional effects of follow ups are so strong, it’s why most sales professionals don’t execute on them well, if at all.

“The number one reason people don’t like to follow up is the silence they are confronted with they take as personal rejection. We all don’t like to be rejected, no matter how much or an alpha sales person you think you are. So, any time i try and reach out to connect and you respond with silence, I take this personally as a strong rejection. You are telling me that I’m not worth you responding. That feels terrible,” says Efti.

“The other side of the coin is that we don’t like to think of ourselves as needy or annoying. So, I’m emailing you and I’m making up this story that you are so important that you don’t care about me, and no one wants to be interrupted with annoying emails. So, eventually, people stop following up because they don’t want to feel the rejection and create a brand for themselves as being annoying.”

Clearing Emotional Blockages

If left unchecked, this negative mindset can prove detrimental to one’s stress levels, happiness, and, of course, pipeline.

To combat this problem, Efti suggests a radical remedy: simply think positively about your follow ups, and expect positive results.

It’s that simple.

“You just decide to think differently about something, and that will change the outcomes. Your company doesn’t have to change. Your product doesn’t have to change. Your attitude has to change. If you have the right mindset, you will follow up with right intent and right energy to get the right responses,” says Efti.

“One of my rules for follow ups – never apologize about it. Never refer to all of the follow ups you’ve done. Never make someone feel guilty. I emailed an investor 48 times. I got a warm introduction to him. Then, he went silent. So, I sent 48 emails. I had no strategy. I just sent a one sentence email, every other day. Zero creativity. Then, 48 times later, he responded. He had a crises overseas, and then we met the next day in his SF office.”

Aside from Efti’s dedication to following up with contacts (48 emails!), his story of emailing a potential investor highlights an important lesson for thinking about the contacts you are reaching out to: you are not the center of their universe.

As much as we want to think that our product or service is perfect for everyone we prospect to, the truth is we are not always (if ever) the priority of our prospects.

And that’s okay.

“In my mind, when I follow up with you and you don’t respond to me, I’m not making up a story that you are annoyed by me, or laughing at me with your colleagues. I have a simple, base hypothesis and that is that you are busy. That’s it. Your universe is not centred around me and my emails,” says Efti.

“Maybe your sick, maybe your busy, maybe your company is going through a tough time. Or, maybe my email, and what I’m asking, is something that you are on the fence about. As such, your are postponing your answer. It is my job to champion this relationship until you do reply.”

Putting Yourself in Their Inbox

If you can wrap your head around the fact that your prospects have lots on their plate, then it’s a quick trip to Efti’s next fundamental piece of effective follow ups: putting yourself in your prospect’s inbox.

This is a fascinating concept that revolves around one key concept – empathy. You have to have empathy for your prospects, says Efti. You have to understand their jobs, their motivations, and their needs. Such understanding, without a doubt, informs on why you are reaching out to them in the first place. Surely, you believe that what you have to offer can help them, and their organization.

But, the empathy that Efti is describing goes one step further than that. It requires you to truly understand not only that you can help them, but how to speak their language and communicate in the way they prefer to be communicated with.

“Whatever way you can do to implicitly or explicitly communicate that you understand who I am, what my problems are and what my inbox looks like, I’m going to respond much stronger to you than anyone else,” says Efti.

So, what does that mean? What does an empathetic follow up look like?

Well, it could include humour – Efti has received follow ups with funny GIFs or jokes, that have caught his attention. Empathy could be reviews or questions about your prospect’s organization, or some distilled thoughts on industry trends. It really helps to show you are an expert in their field.

Empathy can even be the frequency by which you follow up. Efti recommends a high frequency of follow ups at first, which trail off as time passes. If a customer is worth millions of dollars, then your follow ups may never tend, he adds.

But, again, the frequency you choose should reflect how your prospects want to be followed up with. Everyone, and every industry, is different. But that’s where empathy comes into play, and that’s why it’s so important.

“Understand the market, the person you are trying to approach and what they want, acknowledge that. And give them a simple ask – that is a fair deal. And you will earn my time that you showed that level of understanding,” says Efti.

“When you email someone, think about what their inbox looks like. Think about what their pattern recognition is like. I want to talk to people that I think get me, and understand me.”

For more of Efti’s detailed thoughts on effective, empathetic follow ups, check out his recent edition of The Predictable Revenue Podcast.