One of the leading indicators for sales success is to look at the number of appointments that a salesperson has each week. (This is not the only leading indicator that you should be tracking, but it is one of them.) The idea is that if a salesperson has a significant amount of appointments each week which involve finding needs, getting assignments, presenting solutions, or delivering a proposal, that this quality sales activity will lead to good solid revenue performance.
I think it’s fair to say that everyone in sales or in sales management would agree with this, so I’m not really going out on a limb having made that statement. But here is where I think there might be a flaw. I think many salespeople are confusing "I'll follow up with you next week" with "I have an appointment." To be clear, "I’ll follow up with you next week," does not mean you have an appointment.
You Don't Have an Appointment Until the Prospect Has Agreed to a Specific Date and Time.
Recently, I was with a client and I had the opportunity to meet with every salesperson on the sales team individually. There were a total of 15 salespeople, and the agenda for each meeting was exactly the same. We were focusing on just a few of their prospects and coming up with ideas on how they could keep those prospects moving forward in the sales process. After all, there is no reason to move slow when you have a great prospect that you know you can really help.
In almost every meeting, the salesperson had at least one account with an "appointment" that had no date or time attached to it. When I asked about the next appointment, I would hear some form of “Well, I told them I would call them Monday,” or “I need to follow up with them next Thursday,” or “I’m supposed to stop by Tuesday or Wednesday next week."
So, while the next step was to “follow up,” these were not actually scheduled appointments. Salespeople need to schedule the follow up appointment! I also think that “follow up” should not be an acceptable next step because it's too vague. An effective follow up defines exactly what is being followed up on. So the two take-aways here are: "Follow up next week" is not an actual scheduled appointment, and "follow up" is not a very good next step.
A Busy Calendar Requires a Set Appointment.
Imagine that your calendar for next week is jam packed. You could not squeeze in one more meeting or appointment on Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday, even if you desperately wanted to. Your Wednesday only has only 2 one-hour slots open, and your Friday morning is currently open but after lunch completely full. With a schedule like that, if you had a great meeting with a prospect and the next step was to meet again to present the proposal, you would never say, "I’ll follow up with you next week and come by." You couldn’t! Instead, you would say “I want to come back next week and present you with the final proposal. Let’s get out our calendars and lock in a time that works, as I know my week is really tight, and I'm sure yours is too.” BOOM, you just set an appointment!
Conversely, if your schedule is wide open and you have virtually no appointments scheduled for next week, you might say, “Let’s set a time to meet next week, before our calendars fill up.” If the prospect tells you that he or she can't schedule right then for some reason (he or she may have a valid reason), and asks you to follow up next week, you gladly say "Ok, that’s fine, I’ll call you Monday and we will set something up." Do you see the difference?
Don’t settle. Your time is valuable. You must set appointments. "Follow up next week" leads to slow sales because "follow up next week" often leads to a prospect saying something like "Oh, you know what, this week is not going to work after all, can you call me next week and we will meet." Set a goal for the number of weekly scheduled quality appointments, and stick to it.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on August 9, 2016, and has been updated.