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Vacation Follow Up 101

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Life’s a beach, and then your customer goes to one. Your customer’s vacation destination is great to know, but what’s more important is "When are they coming back?!"

When your customer returns from vacation, they’re refreshed, renewed, and maybe even rethinking their priorities - which may or may not include you. Your job is to make sure you remain at the top of their list. How?

Not by pouncing on them, like everyone else. The magic to vacation follow up is to communicate in a way that retains your project and relationship momentum without adding to the chaos or getting lost in the mess your customer faces when they return.

All it takes is a little know-how and a little work.

Here’s the know-how in 5 simple steps (the little bit of work is all you):

1. Start before the customer leaves. If you don’t know when they leave, how will you prepare for their return? Stay in touch with your customers throughout the spring and ask if they have vacation plans. Mark it on your calendar and set reminders for yourself to say goodbye.

Most importantly: Set an appointment to meet in person or on the phone (in person is best by 10 fold) a week after they return. Why a week? Because appointments too close to their return often get cancelled or postponed because they need time to catch up on their work.

2. Give a one-way goodbye. Two business days before your customer departs, send a goodbye email. Add a fun or funny graphic (send an Ace of Sales Email Greeting) that incorporates a reference to where they’re going or what they’ll be doing. (If they’re going wind sailing - use a wind sailing graphic. If they’re hiking the Grand Canyon... you get the point.)

Don’t talk about yourself. Don’t give advice about what they should do or see. Don’t bring up a past experience you had at the same destination. Don’t say anything about work or projects. Just say something them-focused like, “Have a blast with your family. Looking forward to seeing some great photos when you get back."

Then - at the close - state the date of your next appointment like this, “See you on July 24." It’s a subtle reminder that lowers your chance of a cancellation or postponement. Don’t say anything that prompts them to reply - they don’t have time. That’s why it’s called a one way goodbye.

3. Send a mid-vacation agenda. Business people check email on vacation - but don’t read email on vacation. Towards the end of your customer’s vacation, they’re starting to anticipate returning to work. They’re checking email for important items. Subject line is critical. Don’t say, “Agenda for our meeting." Title it, “3 Quick Big-Impact Items" or “4 ways I’m going to make your job easier this fall." They may not read the email itself, but your name, diligence, and intent to serve will ring clear and command respect.

4. Touch base at 3 days back. Remember, you’re already on their calendar for a meeting a week after their return. You don’t want to be the person that pounces on them in the first two days while they’re frantically catching up.

Call them on the 3rd day back. Don’t ask them if they read your agenda. They didn’t. Ask if they would like you to resend it. They will say yes, but still won’t read it. At least you reminded them they have a meeting with you in a couple days.

Really want to win their heart? Keep your call under 3 minutes.

5. Greet them back in style. On the same day you call - 3 days back -  whether you got them or their voicemail, send an Email Greeting from Ace of Sales using one of our “Vacation" designs simply to say, “Welcome back. Can’t wait to see your photos. Please tell me you had a relaxing, rocking time. Talk to you soon." Mention nothing about work - your 3 day back phone call did that.

Congratulations! You set the follow up bar impossibly high for any competitors and maybe even made their best friend look bad. They’ll no doubt meet you at the appointed time a week after their return and eagerly pick up exactly where you left off.

What It Takes to “Get It"

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“You get it." Ever heard a customer utter those words? Whether your customer says it or thinks it, those three words are the precursor to any customer relationship.

So how do you get your customers to get that you get it? There’s no trick, script, or system. You have to prove to the customer that you see what they see - that you fully grasp their perspective.

Eight years ago, I met a customer who had fired 4 providers before me. He found me via Google and asked me to give a pitch. He was willing to spend big money but said he fired his previous providers because they didn’t “get" what he was trying to do...

The man was a brilliant engineer whose company sold sonar imaging software. During our meeting he explained the details about his business and the goals that eluded him. But not being an engineer myself, I was lost in the techno-speak.

I wanted to help him, so I asked him to show me his software. “That was a first," he said.

I replied, “What do you mean?" He said I was the first marketer or creative consultant who wanted to observe his product before developing campaigns, promotions, and website content.

He took me to a control room and sat me at a computer hooked to nine monitors stacked three levels high, all flickering with waves of data. The system curved around me like the controls of a spacecraft. Enthusiastically, he began showing me how it all worked.

2 hours later, I had a cursory understanding of sonar imaging and how his system improved sonar data for nautical use.

But then a funny thing happened...

The man’s speaking pattern transformed from technical jargon to heartfelt conversation. He began sharing his ultimate goals for the business, his passion for his unique team, and how he began the company on a shoestring budget.

At this point, I didn’t have to “engage the customer." He was engaging me. I didn’t need to “sell" him. He wanted to buy. See the difference?

I began to understand who this man was and what was meaningful to him. Making money wasn’t his primary driver. He wanted to create something important - to use his imagination and intellect to contribute something to the world.

We spent the last hour of the day with a whiteboard. He shared ideas with me. I shared ideas with him. I knew his product and goals well enough by then to contribute real value to the brainstorming discussion. I offered a specialty he didn’t have - marketing and branding expertise. In less than a day, I had become a member of his planning team.

The appointment was over, but just before I cleared the security checkpoint exit, he said, “Thank you for getting it."

Notice: There were no sales barriers. No qualifying questions. No slick presentation. No need to close the prospect. I simply took the time to do what no one else had done - care, listen, see, understand, and contribute.

I went beyond simply selling a customer. I saw from his eyes, walked in his shoes, and shared his perspective of the world. When you do, your customer will award you with a slice of trust. And that slice is all you need, because people naturally equate a willingness to listen and understand to wisdom and selfless friendliness - two of the most scarce traits in the business world today.

Do you get it?

I’m sure you do! Perhaps you have an example similar to mine or a story that sheds new light on the topic. Add your contribution (or question) to the comments below!

You Had to Be There!

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Inside Jokes — one of the most powerful sales tools!

I was once with a client at an outdoor cafe canopied in green umbrellas. I munched on my pesto chicken wrap and sweet potato chips while my client detailed his next project, which would be a home run for me if I landed the job.

One-at-a-time, small grey birds (not pigeons) flew down from the roofs nearby and landed on the extra chairs at our table. I shooed a few away, but more came. Concentrating on my customer's words with the growing number of winged intruders was becoming difficult. Finally one landed on my shoulder! I brushed it off and yelled, "Get your own!" Thinking I was clever, I smiled back at my client and said, "I think they got the point. Where were we?" Just then, one of the birds swooped down and plucked a chip right out of my hand. We both burst into laughter.

The next day, I emailed a proposal to the customer and included a photo of a bird with a potato chip photoshopped in its mouth. I ended the email with this, "Let's get started! How about a kick-off lunch next week. I suggest somewhere inside." I got the job, but more importantly kicked-off a long lasting client friendship.

Take a second to see if you can recall an inside joke you have with your customers. Maybe it was a belly laugh you had about kids or a quirky waiter. Perhaps you wore the same shirt or coined a new nickname of the golf course. Inside jokes are one of the most powerful ways to connect with a customer or prospect. They're ice-breakers at the moment they happen. They're follow up opportunities later.

Here are some tips to create a lasting inside joke:

• Latch on to moments or jokes your customer thought were funny, not just those you laughed at.

• Catalyze an inside joke. Bring a gift with you! I had a vendor who brought me a toy bowling set! We had a blast playing a few games before the meeting. I hired him and still bring it up when I see him.

• Keep the joke going. Follow up quick by taking the joke to the next level.

• Self-depricating jokes are fine, but if the joke is at your customer's expense, you're probably the only one really laughing.

• Don't try to bring the conversation back to your presentation, pitch, or price too quickly - if the customer is laughing, go with the flow. It's probably the one thing they'll remember!

Have a great inside joke with one of your customers? Send it to me!

Andy Horner — andyhorner@aceofsales.com