Is Follow-Through a Lost Art?

What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say

Consistent. Intentional. Deliberate follow-through.  Has it improved in some industries and slipped in others?  Have you noticed a shift?  Is it impacting you or your company?

One of our Aspire clients is convinced they could succeed in just about any business by consistently executing one simple action:  Follow-through.  It’s not meant to be a boastful assertion, but they are frequently astounded by the number of vendors and suppliers they work with that fail to follow-through on important issues in a timely manner.    

They realize their theory of succeeding in “any business” has limitations due to industries where specialized training is involved, but they’ll quickly rattle off a number of different segments they could expand into with little friction and feel confident in their ability to establish and gain market share.  One of their key ingredients for success would simply be: Follow-through.

Last week I heard a short presentation on effective marketing strategies.   The latest data suggests that you need to touch someone 9 to 12 times before they are going to do any business with you.  That may be over a period of weeks or months, but 9 – 12 touches!  A touch could include phone calls, email, social media, or any other intentional way of reaching out.   Knowing that statistic, if you’re follow-through stops after 4 or 5 attempts, your competition who shows up for all 12 touches is probably saying “Thank you very much!”

What is harder to reconcile is the not the breakdown in follow-up but the break down in follow-through.  They are really two different actions.   Follow-up activities would typically be more about gaining a new account, customer, and job interviews…. more sales/marketing.  Several of the 9-12 touches in the previous example would more accurately be follow-up.   

Follow-through activities are actions after the person or business has made some level of commitment where a deliverable is a next step.   The customer has already said “Yes” on engaging with the business.   It’s when the business fails to follow-through with the client to keep them informed, answer questions, provide updates on deliver, etc.; that’s when follow-through falls short.

With all the means we have to schedule reminders, calendar events, share documents, collaboration tools, etc. you would think follow-through would be a no-brainer today.  But it appears to be on life support in a lot of industries.   One of the contributing factors could actually be that all the e-methods of communicating are creating so much noise and interference that the specific message isn’t getting fed through the required channels?   

What can you do?

Put a date on it.  – “I’ll get back with you.” is not follow-though.    Be clear when you’ll get back and put in on calendar.    Depending on the situation, calendar invites can work great for this, the person you’re committing to gets a reminder on their calendar of when you’re getting back to them.

Under Promise and Over Deliver – Be careful not to overextend yourself.  Before you set a date or agree to a delivery, connect all the dots behind the scene that are going to have to happen to make it work, then add a small buffer.  Do this on purpose and do it consistently.

Don’t delay bad news – This is probably the one the causes the most frustration.  Things happen outside our control causing a ripple effect.   No one ever wants to give a client or customer bad news, so they often elect to not say anything.   However, if your customer is making decisions based on a delivery that is going to be delayed it can be very costly.  Follow-through may not always be good news, but it’s the right news.

Be realistic – If you’re establishing timelines, be realistic about what you’re committing to.  It may be reasonable to have something completed by a specific date, but realistically you know it’s not very likely because of “x” or “y”.   Being realistic may not always be what your client wants to hear, but it will increase the odds of keeping your future follow-through actions on track and build credibility with your customer.

What about you?  Have you experienced a decline or increase in follow-through with your vendors, suppliers?  How well do you think you follow through with your commitments?  What about your team?   Have you ever asked your customers?   If you haven’t, it’s a great conversation and your customers will truly appreciate that you cared enough to ask.   As always, we value any comments on this topic in the space below.

Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach