Text Message Follow-Up
The immediacy of texting makes it an outstanding follow-up tool. The annoyance of texting makes it dangerous. Use it wisely and you’re golden. Use it foolishly and it will cost you sales!
A NEW COMMUNICATIONS OPPORTUNITY
At the turn of the century we barely knew what texting was. And those who understood the technology at all had to become proficient at the good old multi-tap (tapping keys repeatedly until the desired letter came up). For most, sending a text message was laborious and inefficient.
Still, the technology had its advantages, particularly for those who just didn’t like making phone calls. Texting gained momentum throughout the early years of the century.
Two events occurred in 2007. First, Apple introduced the iPhone, complete with touch screen capability. That phone launched a tidal wave of change in the world of communication.
The second was directly connected to that launch: For the first time, people sent and received more text messages per month than phone calls.
The world of communications would never be the same.
SO WHERE ARE WE TODAY?
Check out the stats:1
• Americans send 26 billion text messages a day!
• Texting is the single most common usage for smartphones.
• 97 percent of smartphone users text regularly.
• According to a 2012 report, more people around the world text than have electricity in their homes.
• On average, Americans send and receive 94 text messages per day.
• Americans spend twice as much time texting as using email.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that texting is here to stay! At least until we all receive neural implants that allow us to send messages cybernetically with our thoughts.
THE UPSIDE OF TEXTING
Texting is universally popular for good reason:
Texting Offers Fast Communication
In a society that cherishes and rewards speed, texting is an awesome tool. We can send and receive information in the blink of an eye. We can stay visible with a single emoticon. We can confirm an appointment with a single tap. We can make someone smile with a well-picked GIF.
Small data can travel quickly and efficiently.
Texting Increases Touch Points
I love the people in my life, but I don’t want to have a conversation about every two-bit issue or task that comes along. Texting allows me a quick and painless way to stay continually connected.
Texts Get Read
According to Mobile Marketing Watch, 98 percent of all text messages are opened compared to just 22 percent of emails.2
AND THE DOWNSIDE?
Alas, the overdependency on texting as a primary form of communication might be doing significant damage to your relationship with your prospect. Watch out for these traps.
Texting Is One-Way Communication
Texting is not an effective dialogue; it is a series of very small monologues, often disconnected over time. We sometimes lose context and meaning when we rely too much on texting. The endless back-and-forth can become exceedingly annoying.
It’s Difficult to Share or Detect Emotion via Text
One of the key benefits of voice-to-voice communication is the expression of emotion. In a conversation it’s not just the words we use; it is the inflection that makes all the difference. How many times have we been burned because a text message did not convey the intended emotion?
Texts Get Lost in the Noise of Other Texts
Picture yourself receiving a text, taking a quick glance, and then saying to yourself, “I’ll respond to that later.” What happens next? That text gets buried under 15 other messages. The fact is that it is far too easy to ignore a text message. (At least it is for me!)
Texting Hinders Relational Depth
Texting is easy, but it can be seen as a lazy alternative to a phone call. Relationships take time and effort and emotion, but mostly they take an abundance of two-way communication. The ease of texting does nothing to deepen that human connection.
MEETING CUSTOMERS WHERE THEY ARE
The fact is that we are part of a world that places a very high premium on speed. We want fast food, fast cars, fast delivery (thanks, Amazon!), and fast information.
I was recently measured for a custom-made shirt from a large national men’s clothing retailer. No sooner had I walked out the door than I received a text message thanking me for the order and providing a website URL if I needed assistance. A week later I received a follow-up text with a different URL so I could track the shipping progress. Finally, I received a text message the day after delivery asking for confirmation that I had received the shirt and including a URL in case I had any issues or concerns.
That was all through an automated system, and it was all very much appreciated. Quick, easy, effective.
What does this have to do with your own text messaging practices? Plenty. The fact is that automated systems like the one I just described are actually training consumers to appreciate text messages that are concise, helpful, and timely. Customers don’t care whether they come from people or from bots; their only concern is whether the text adds value.
So that’s the million-dollar question. Do your text messages add value? Because if they do not, you are wasting your customers’ valuable attention on something that brings only annoyance.
THE CASE FOR FOLLOW-UP TEXTING
So, the question is asked: To text or not to text as a means of following up with a prospect?
And the answer is . . . it depends. Without question there is a place for texting in sales. Look at this recent data:
• 90 percent of people say they’d rather receive a text than a phone call from a business.3
• 95 percent of texts from businesses are read within three minutes of being sent.4
That is a pretty compelling argument based on customer preferences. Let’s go on the assumption that texting, when done right, enhances the buying experience.
Suppose you are selling pleasure boats, a truly discretionary purchase. You are working with a prospect who is torn between buying something new—at considerably more cost—or going with the cheaper but riskier route and buying used. His last comment to the sales rep: “I need to spend some time doing comparison shopping and seeing what I can find.”
What would a bad follow-up text look like? Something like this:
“I hope you buy from us. We would love your business.”
What a colossal waste of time and energy! Of course you would love this guy’s business. You get paid when you get his business. It’s your job to get his business.
Here are five examples of appropriate text messages:
1. “Great chatting with you, Richard. Let me do some research for you. I’ll call you at 5:00 with more information about . . .”
2. “I came across this really helpful article about deciding between a new and a used boat—a very balanced opinion (include link). I’ll call you tomorrow.”
3. “Here are three pictures of the Raptor model you’re looking at. Good-looking boat, my friend!” (include photos).
4. Send a video walk-around of the exact boat he is looking at. Narrate it according to what is important to this buyer.
5. “I found this article that talks about the dependability of our line of boats. Definitely something to consider if you’re also thinking about buying used.”
In each case your objective is to sustain that Emotional Altitude. Keep your customer emotionally engaged.
TWO WORDS OF WARNING
First, let me encourage you to think about this subject not from your own perspective but from the perspective of your customer. We all have our ideas and preferences when it comes to texting, but for our purposes the only thing that matters is the customer’s preference.
There is a significant difference between social texting and sales texting. Social texting carries an implied informality. Typos are easily forgiven. Emojis serve as a quick alternative to typing out a message. In the sales process, such informality is risky. It is best not to assume that level of casualness.
Second, you must not allow your own desire for comfort to dictate the method by which you follow up. Many salespeople follow up by text not because it is the most effective method but because it is the most comfortable method.
Texting must not become a crutch to be relied upon because of its ease of use. Voice-to-voice conversations are always more effective in continuing the relationship with a prospect. Do not fall into the assumption that your customer would prefer a text when, if you’re being honest, you are simply following your own preference.
It’s good to think about texting in the context of your overall follow-up communications strategy. A recent Velocify study found that customers who were sent text messages only after initial contact had been made in some other way converted at more than twice the rate of the average contacted lead.5
• Ask for permission.
• Keep your texts positive.
• Complete your words. (No LOLs or IMHOs.)
• Check your spelling, especially because of autocorrect.
• Be brief. One sentence is best. Two max.
• Be professional.
• Don’t get cute; it can be misinterpreted.
• Don’t text after hours without permission.
• Don’t use jargon and acronyms.
• Don’t let a text conversation go on too long. (Pick up the phone!)
• Don’t bombard the customer. Some people still pay per-text rates.
One other important don’t: If you are in a live, face-to-face conversation with a prospect, you should never have your cell phone out. The temptation of a quick glance when a new text message comes in is just too great. Even if your phone is on silent, the buzzing of a new text message will register in your brain and cause you to shift attention from the person in front of you. Don’t be a slave to your text messages!
BEST PRACTICES FROM THE FIELD
I recently did an informal poll of sales professionals via LinkedIn, asking the following question: How do you use text messaging in your sales follow-up efforts (after an initial conversation but before you have a commitment)?
Here are some of the (rather interesting) responses:
• “I always ask their preference for follow-up: phone, email, or text. More people are opting for text messaging, and I find that the response time is quicker.”
• “I offer to text a piece of helpful information to them before hanging up. Later, I reference the info sent and ask them another question. Works like a charm to keep the conversation going.”
• “According to a friend in the text marketing business, people read text on average in four minutes. Virtually anything you send them will be read quickly . . . but it needs to add value to get a response.”
• “On the initial interaction, I follow up merely to get in their phone. The platform I utilize has a drip campaign I will launch in the future, but only after I figure out a safe strategy. It is also noteworthy that this platform utilizes my actual mobile number, not a ‘short code’ as I feel these start the experience as being disingenuous.”
• (From a homebuilder sales rep) “We utilize video follow-up texting so much! Short video of the kitchen the customer loved, community event with a homeowner testimonial, telling the customer about new pricing . . . We have had great response with this!”
• “I use texting to say thank-you, answer a question, provide additional information, confirm an appointment, and send a video update. It’s rare that I won’t get a response.”
THE BOTTOM LINE ON TEXTING
Is there a place for texting? You bet. Is there an abuse of texting? Most definitely. The reality is that texting is here to stay; it is part of the fabric of the business world. Your task is to maximize effectiveness and minimize annoyance. Find the sweet spot and advance the sale!
1. What was the worst texting fail you’ve ever committed? Offending the receiver? Giving confusing information? Sending to the wrong person? Jot it down . . . and don’t do it again!
2. It’s possible to use as many as 918 characters for single texts. (It may be sent as separate sections stitched together.) Why is that much info in a text a bad idea for customer follow-up?
3. What are some potential problems with sending a text to customers without first talking to them on the phone?
4. When “asking permission,” you’ll probably find out individual customers have very different preferences for the timing of text messages. How will you manage all that information to avoid annoying them?
5. What will you do if you get a text response that sounds like the customer is upset?
Now Do This:
Go back and look at the last 5 to 10 texts that you sent to prospects. Analyze the content of the text and determine if you violated any of the texting rules from this chapter. Then ask yourself the all-important question: Did this text add value to the prospect?
It’s show time again! Pick five customers who would be appropriate to text given where they are in the sales process. Follow the dos and don’ts and fire off those texts . . . now!