I have found that some of the best analogies come from my past as a former athlete. I found it even more interesting that this simple shot reminded me of something we need to do in business dealings more often and more consistently.
I played for a then Division III school and one of the things our trainer stressed was shooting free throws while under duress. What he would do was make us run suicide drills (I'll leave it to you to google that) and while our adrenaline levels were spiking, he'd stop us randomly during these rigorous drills and we'd all gather around to attempt to shoot the most fundamental shot in the game. His argument was simple. If we could repeatedly and quickly go to a place of intensity and calm ourselves on call, we would become better at adding more uncontested points on the score board and raising our chances of winning more games decided by free throws.
Following up is no different than the free throw. It's uncontested and costs you nothing and when studied closely it can mean the difference between closing the deal and having potential clients bring their business elsewhere. I'm sure that most of us have watched some form of organized basketball whether at the college or professional level. I'm also positive that you were shocked that many athletes seem to fail at the what's seemingly the easiest way to score in the game. Following up is no different. Some of us are convinced that someone saying no is the end of the sale or deal, which is true to a point. The interaction is a different story altogether and shouldn't end with a resounding no or an ambiguous 'not now'.
There is hope, though. Following up is all about practice at the end of the day. Yes, "we're talkin' 'bout practice." Whether you're an introvert, shy or suffer from chronic laziness (an ailment we all suffer from), practicing this seemingly elusive art is quite simple. It really starts with a simple concept known as accountability. Holding ourselves accountable takes many forms, but when it comes to getting better at following up with clients, start with those closest to you. Did you invite your uncle to your cookout 6 months in advance? Write down a reminder date closer to the event where you reach out or 'follow up' to see if he's still interested in attending. Haven't heard back from you doctor after that non-invasive procedure? Take the initiative and give them a ring. Did your boss mention development training for a promotion in passing? Follow up with them for further discussion.
Following up in a respectable and non-stalkerish manner does two things. For starters it shows the person you're following up with that you actually care about whatever it is that partnered you up in the first place. Secondly, it's a great way to hold yourself accountable for your actions. In business and entrepreneurship, you won't always have a mentor or a best friend to push us and encourage us towards the championship of success. The path we've chosen is often a lonely path and can seem more like an individual sport than a team one. Practicing the art of following up is crucial and like the free-throw can be the difference between winning it all, or 'losing by a single point.' At the end of the day, it truly is more art than science. Follow up too much and you may be perceived as a pest or worse. Follow up too little and you might miss out on the 'front-of-mind' opportunity and lose out to more focused and patient individuals.
I remember being bitter on my Division III team, the Atlantic Union College Flames. We were playing in a very important conference game and I was riding the bench for most of the season because I wasn't living up to my potential. On this particular night the starting small forward rolled his ankle and had to be carried off the floor to the locker room. My heart pounded in my chest when the coach looked over and said, "Vilfranc! Get in there!" We were down two points with maybe 10-15 seconds left. On a broken play, the point guard recovered and hit me with a perfect pass as I slashed towards the basket off the right wing. I drove for the layup and was fouled in the act of shooting. I scored and tied the game with 0.8 seconds left in regulation. In a moment I realized that an entire season was dependent upon me hitting a single shot to give us a one point lead and potentially the game. As I stood there at the free-throw line scared out of my mind and almost ready to vomit, I recalled those training sessions and sank the shot.
Remember. Doing several little things right can mean the difference between landing the deal and missing out. Follow up right now with that client who's been waiting to hear from you, even though you know you won't be working with them. Follow up and follow through!