The follow-up: it’s been a mainstay of the business world for decades. But this gesture of courtesy seems to be going by the wayside more and more. Could be a generational thing, or it could be because we’re increasingly being pulled in all kinds of work, digital and social directions. But more on that later. For now…why is communication follow up so critical in the business world, not just among executive leaders but at all levels of an organization?
As Chron puts it so well, it’s not so much that communication isn’t occurring (it is), but the deficiency lies more in the follow up. A critical communication skill is honing the ability to learn to identify the deliverables or follow up tasks that all parties may have previously agreed to, affirm commitment to those tasks and then follow through to ensure the tasks and commitments have indeed been carried out. Without the second half of that equation, there is no accountability. Without accountability, what is the purpose of having a plan in the first place?
Follow up is vital because it:
- Keeps everyone accountable.
- Ensures stated tasks get done in a timely manner.
- Expresses renewed interest in the matter at hand, as well as the people involved.
- Shows you care enough to check up on the status.
- Displays integrity and strength of character — two big qualities in business.
- Reiterates the plan so everyone can review each task or deliverable.
- Ensures everyone is on the same page.
- Reduces the chance of mistakes and misleading statements.
- Keeps you front of mind for your clients.
People are being reduced to commodities, says Entrepreneur so eloquently. In today’s marketplace, you have to be different. You have to stand out. How can you do this? Get great at follow-up. It’s becoming a lost art but you don’t have to be resigned to that fate. The heart and soul of the follow up in communication is “connection.” You want to maintain a business connection, of course, but you also want to maintain that personal connection, that special something that ties you to another person. Pay attention, gather information and then use it for the follow up. If you’re following up with a client, for instance, state the reason for your follow up, but also touch on something personal. Ask how their daughter is feeling if the last time you spoke your client mentioned her child was home with the flu. Ask about that vacation they took to that resort you recommended.
These are all connections, and they matter.
The Art of the Follow Up
Picking up where we left off about WHY communication follow up seems to be less and less of a priority…A big reason is that we’re all just so darned overwhelmed. We have too much on our plates, we don’t know how to manage our time well, and we get distracted when we multi-task. From social to digital to email and everything in between, it can be easy to let things fall through the cracks. It’s not for lack of caring or vision; it’s not because we want to waste our time. It’s not because plans aren’t important. It’s because those plans lose significance with every idle moment we let them go by without following up with someone about it.
How many times have you been in this scenario: You’re in a meeting, you took great notes, you made good headway, you seemed to be clicking with the rest of the team/client/fill in the blank, and you all came up with some great suggestions for change. Then you broke the meeting and all went your separate ways. A month later, nothing’s been done about the plan, no action items have been ticked off, and you just wasted 30 days of precious time where progress could have been made. Sound familiar? It happens all the time. People are dropping the ball and it’s becoming epidemic. It doesn’t have to be this way. The most successful projects and, looking at the bigger picture, the best businesses, are the ones that have incredible engagement with their audience.
One way you can do this better is to get organized. The most important part of business, whether that’s sales or some other division, is knowing whom to follow up with and when. Keep track of everything, either within your CRM software, in an Excel or Word doc, or even on a pad of paper. Note what was said in every conversation, what you’re supposed to do to follow up, when tasks are supposed to get done, and what the end goal is. When things are written in black and white, no member of the team can forget or claim they misunderstood.
Following up is how you supply the missing puzzle piece for any new relationship that’s formed, and it has the potential to upgrade a good relationship to a great one. Listen, you already did the hard part of reaching out and creating an initial connection with a client. Why not spend a few more minutes taking the relationship further? Neglecting the follow up as part of your communication strategy could spell the difference between stagnation and success.