Being Persistent Without Being a Pest: 5 Rules for Effective Follow Up
So you had a great conversation with a potential client at that networking event, but now they will not respond to your follow up emails or voicemails.
But here’s the rub. The average person can get a few hundred emails a day. That makes it pretty tough to respond to all of them, and things naturally fall to the bottom of the list. If you don’t get a response, it doesn’t mean that someone’s ignoring you—it just may mean that he or she is too busy.
So, to the question: Should you follow up? Absolutely. In fact, it’s your job. And how often should you do so? My philosophy is: Only the best professionals follow up after the 3rd or 4th time. The important thing is to do it the right way. Or, as I call it, to be “persistently polite.”
Here are a few tips on how to politely follow up from that initial conversation—and get the answer you’re looking for.
Rule 1: Be Overly Polite and Humble
That seems obvious enough, but a lot of people take it personally when they don’t hear back from someone right away. Resist the urge to allow your feelings to be hurt and saying something like, “You haven’t responded yet,” or “You ignored my first email.” These simply are not the words of a professional. Showing that you are humble and friendly and that you understand how busy your contact is is a good way to keep him or her interested.
Rule 2: Persistent Does NOT Mean Every Day
Sending a follow-up email every day does not show you have gumption or passion, it shows you do not respect a person’s time. The general rule of thumb is to give at least a week before following up. Any sooner, and it could come off as pushy; let too much time pass, and you risk the other person not having any clue who you are.
Rule 3: Directly Ask if You Should Stop Reaching Out
If you have followed up a minimum of 5 times and still haven’t heard back, it’s worth directly asking if you should stop following up. After all, you don’t want to waste your time, either. I’ll sometimes say, “Pardon my persistence as I know both of us are busy, so if my communications are not welcome or warranted at this time, please let me know.” Most people respect honesty and don’t want to waste someone’s time, and they’ll many times let you know one way or another.
Rule 4: Stand Out in a Good Way
I once had someone trying to sell me something that I was somewhat interested in but was nowhere near the top of my priority list. Every week, I would receive a new email quickly re-explaining what he sold. Then one email asked what I thought about the Tarheels prospects this basketball season. He had done his research and knew I was a UNC fan.
The lesson: If done well, a little creativity in your follow up can go a long way.
Rule 5: Change it Up
If you’re not connecting with someone, try changing it up. In other words, don’t send the exact same email at the same time of day on the same day of week. Getting people to respond can sometimes just come down to catching them at the right time. If you always follow up in the morning, maybe try later in the day a few times.
Remember: If someone does ask you to stop following up, stop following up. But until you hear that, it’s your responsibility to keep trying.