Not long ago, I was speaking with a group of sales managers. They were struggling with the performance of their people.
We were talking about their account planning process. They showed me some current account plans. They weren’t great, but they were better than most I see. One thing that struck me, is that rather than giving a status report on the account, their people had identified opportunities to grow the relationship. They established action plans to pursue the growth opportunities.
I asked them, “What’s happened on those action plans? What progress are your people making, where do they need help?”
They stared at me blankly, it turns out they had never followed up on the action plans established in the account plans. As a result, people did some, failed to do some, and in general lost their way in executing their account growth strategies.
They aren’t unusual. Most of the time, I sit in reviews, whether account, pipeline, deal, call, or other business reviews. We have great discussions, establish creative ideas for next steps, then go our separate ways. No one follows up to see, “What happened?” or “Based on what happened, what do we need to do next?”
The easiest way for us to make progress on anything we intend to do is to commit to next steps (What are we doing, with who, for what outcome, by what date?) then to follow up on them.
I have a habit, hopefully my clients see it as pleasantly annoying. In every meeting, rather than having nice conversations, I insist on agreeing on action plans and next steps. Those are documented in the manner I outlined above. If for instance, someone commits to something by the end of the week, at the end of the week, I’ll send a note, “How did it go? What was the outcome, what do we do based on that outcome?” I’ve trained my clients (and my team) on this. They always know that I will follow up. As a result, almost unconsciously, they get more of what the intended to do done.
Each of us, our people, our customers have so much going on. While well intended, we commit to action plans or next steps, yet get distracted and never do them. The simple act of following up changes that equation. We simply get more done, we make progress, we achieve our goals.
We, also, have actions and commitments we make to ourselves. Following up, making sure we complete these is critical. As part of my journalling, I keep track of my actions and commitments and check myself on meeting them (technology provides great tools to do this easily). On some things, I ask for help. I ask one of our partners in the company to hold me accountable for certain things, following up to see if I meet my commitments. On some things, I ask a friend (an accountability partner) to hold me accountable for things–just as I hold her accountable for the things she has asked for help.
In working with our customers, we make commitments on next steps and actions. Make sure you follow up with each other to make sure you are making progress. Then take the time to look at what’s next, following up on those.
As managers, we coach and develop our people, we agree to actions and next steps, follow up, “How did it go, what did you learn, what do we need to do next, what might we change?”
In working with peers or others on projects, we make project plans. We need to monitor ourselves on the progress we are making.
Action Item: When meeting with your people, customers or peers, when you agree on a next step or action, create a “to-do” in your calendar. That “to-do” should be scheduled on the date the action was committed to be completed. Then simply send a note, or make a call, “How did it go?” You will be amazed at how this one step changes everything.
Afterword: I get endless “follow ups” to prospecting emails, phone calls, LinkedIn outreaches. “Dave, did you get my email? Dave can I pitch you my solutions….” These follow ups are meaningless because I have never committed to do anything in the outreach. I have ignored or spammed them. Instead, of constant “follow ups,” try engaging in a different way of engaging the prospect. Then, once they have made some commitment to do something, you have the ability to follow up in a meaningful way.