There’s one exclamation that I’m sure to say at least once a week (often with my hands on my head for emphasis). “I spend WAY too much time following-up with people!” How many of you share my grief?
I can’t stand the blazing bold font of an email message that’s not yet been answered. If I’m anywhere near my phone or computer during normal business hours (and who isn’t these days?), you can expect a response within the hour. Even if I don’t have the full answer, I’ll at least send an acknowledgement so you know the task is on my list. This makes it even more frustrating for me to spend so much of my time chasing down answers from other people.
Following-up has become one of the finest arts of communication. It’s a delicate balance of friendliness and force. You can’t be so abrupt that you get tuned out completely, but if you aren’t direct you’ll never get a response. So what is the secret to crafting an effective follow-up message? Here are six rules of engagement that will help get your questions answered!
Always, always, always be polite. It doesn’t matter if this is your fifth follow-up message, you have to maintain your composure and professionalism if you ever want a shot at receiving a response. Time is valuable for everyone, so while it’s taking some (more) or your time to follow-up, you’re also asking for someone else’s time to provide you with an answer. Don’t act annoyed or be passive aggressive with your message. Reference your original conversation, reiterate your request and genuinely thank them for their time.
Allow a reasonable amount of time to pass
You or I may hold ourselves to the standard of answering an email within one business day, but realize that not everyone shares that same practice. For some people, a week might be a reasonable amount of time to get you a response – especially if it’s not urgent. My rule of thumb is to wait at least one week before sending the first follow-up message. I’m often pleasantly surprised by the number of responses that come in on their own right about this time. And I’m always glad I didn’t annoy them with a reminder when they were, in fact, on top of things.
Once you send the first follow-up message one week later, continue to wait a week in between each email. You can use alternative methods of communication in between that time (such as phone, text or Linkedin message). Some people are just terrible at checking email, but will respond promptly when you contact them through an alternative source. It will also increase your chances of getting your message heard. If there’s a significant deadline approaching, you can use this as a reason to follow-up more frequently than the one-week rule. Play this card selectively or risk becoming one of the 11 most annoying email personalities.
Give the benefit of the doubt
Don’t be so quick to assume that the only reason some has not responded to you is because they’re rude or incompetent. In between work, life happens and sometimes takes precedence over your requests. Have patience when waiting a reasonable amount of time before following-up with someone. They might have just had a death or illness in the family. Or maybe they have just returned from some time off and are still catching up on emails. I remember when I first had my son; I was a little slow at responding to messages but greatly appreciated those who afforded me patience and understanding during this time.
Don’t be repetitive
If your follow-up strategy requires several messages, avoid the temptation to simply copy and paste your request from week to week. This repetition is annoying and can seem condescending to your contact, like you’re assuming they won’t know the difference. For each follow-up message, include a new message at the beginning that updates your contact with where things currently stand (don’t make them read down through your whole conversation to figure this out). And for bonus points, add in something timely or relevant that will show you put thought into this follow-up. For example, maybe you saw that they published a new blog this week. Reference something you like about that blog and they’ll know you’re really paying attention and are invested in this relationship.
Make answering easy
Especially if you have multiple questions awaiting answers, the best way to increase your chances of getting a response is to make it as easy as possible. Once tactic I use is to break down each question into its own bullet point so that my contact can simply respond in-line. Other times I will bold or underline the question so that within the context of my message people know exacting what needs a response.
If I have a laundry list of questions or items that warrant more of a discussion, a phone call is the way to go. Emails should be short, sweet and to the point. The question should appear in the very beginning and again at the end. Repetition is a courtesy because it allows your contact to easily skim the message, identify what you’re asking for and quickly respond.
Give an easy “opt-out”
This is most applicable to a message in which you’re asking for someone to meet with you or buy your services. For reasons unknown, some people just hate saying no. Instead, they’ll avoid answering altogether so that they don’t feel like they’re letting you down. In the long run this is a disservice to you both. If you’ve followed-up multiple times, it may be time to offer your final message where you directly ask if you should stop contacting them. Be polite and friendly. Even if they take you up on the offer, this professional courtesy will end things on a positive note and reflect well on you and your business.
What tips or tricks do you have for crafting an effective follow-up message? Share your advice by commenting below!