Famously, Woody Allen once said that "80 percent of success is showing up." If only it was that easy.
Showing up--or just getting to where you need to be--is nothing compared to the importance of follow up, which is to say, staying on top of a project, prospect or connection. In most cases, I have found that follow-up is really a key driver of success.
Follow-up is essential to your workplace success--no matter what type of role you're in. Certainly,it's critical for sales, but it's also important if you are a project manager, if you are managing people, if you are pursuing a partnership, if you are fundraising or even if you are just part of a team.
For many of us, especially women, it's easy to be concerned that following up can be irritating or too pushy. Without follow-up, opportunities, work steps, and essential preparation can get lost. The focus you place on follow-up will almost certainly make you better at your job.
Based on my experiences, here are some follow-up tips I'd recommend:
1. Build a solid system (and it's not your inbox)
Good follow up requires a good tracking system. Whenever I complete a sales call, for example, the first thing I do is make a note in my calendar about when or what the next follow up should be.
If you are doing large amounts of cold outreach, you may consider building a spreadsheet where you can track when and how many times you've followed up with an individual prospect.
Whenever I have a conversation with anyone about a possible project or partnership, I make a note or add it to my follow up list. That way, I can be sure it doesn't fall through the cracks.
2. Keep thorough notes, and make use of them in your follow up
In any kind of work, I'm a huge advocate of keeping thorough notes. We are all so busy that it's hard to keep track of all the things that we're doing. However, when you follow up, it's important to be acutely aware of your past exchanges with the person -- and to bring them to light.
For example: "When we last spoke, you mentioned that you were going to look into xyz. Do you have any findings to share?"
For note-taking, I'm a massive fan of Evernote...it's searchable and it even includes a reminder feature that is perfect for...well, following up.
3. Walk the line between assertiveness and rudeness
In sales, it's often difficult to get any kind of response until the second follow-up email. Somehow, the very fact that you're following up on something makes it seem more important. And, I'm always amazed by the number of people that I follow up with who actually thank me when I follow up with them.
But it can go too far: I received a follow up from a salesperson pitching me something that wrote, "Immediate Action Required!" in the subject line. These types of messages are very prevalent right now because they most certainly attract attention.
However, I found it to be extremely off-putting. While I appreciated her persistence, in follow up (as in all communication), it's critical to be humble and respectful.
Consider a message more like this: "I'm writing to see if you've had a chance to review the materials I sent last week."
4. Use some humor
Sometimes when you send follow up, the recipient can feel defensive. After all, the implication is "you didn't get back to me!"
However, if you can inject some humor or personality into your follow up, you can make the recipient a little more glad to receive your message...and a little more excited to be working with you.