200: The Art of the Follow Up
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In today’s episode, Steli and Hiten talk about one of the dilemmas almost all entrepreneurs experience – the art of following up. All our business dealings are in need of that constant follow through; but surprisingly enough, people can lose hope and just stop asking for what they need. One reason for quitting is that fear of rejection. Listen as Steli shares the value of showing up, following up, and following through as well as his list of rules for mastering the art of the follow up.
Time Stamped Show Notes:
- 00:04 – Today’s episode is about The Art of Follow Up
- 00:39 – Hiten struggles with following up with people
- 01:16 – Steli wants to do sales calls with Hiten
- 01:28 – The follow up advice is the highest ROI advice Steli gives
- 01:37 – Ironically, it’s not the type of advice Steli is most interested in giving right now
- 01:56 – The core principles stay the same
- 02:25 – The amount that people accomplish from following Steli’s follow up advice is incredible
- 02:58 – To accomplish most things in life – show up, follow up, and follow through
- 03:36 – Most people interpret silence as rejection
- 04:14 – Steli’s hypothesis for people becoming silent is…they just got busy
- 04:31 – Depending on how important the topic, make sure to take full responsibility for it
- 04:45 – Steli will keep following up indefinitely until he gets a response
- 05:06 – Take full ownership of the relationship
- 05:37 – Steli will be putting out a book later this year consisting of customer stories
- 06:21 – If you start to follow up twice as much as you do, you already make the world a better place
- 06:58 – Hiten doesn’t follow up because he’s scared
- 07:41 – You need to realize that fear is normal and conquering that fear is what will help you succeed
- 08:07 – There is real value and power in overcoming fear
- 08:30 – A few rules for the follow up:
- 08:32 – Keep it as clean, simple, and as short as possible
- 09:08 – Don’t be needy and emotional
- 10:22 – Don’t make the person you’re following up with feel guilty
- 11:48 – Keep it simple, light, and on point
- 11:57 – Be more frequent at the start of the relationship and then less frequent
- 12:36 – Email is the greatest channel to follow up
- 13:19 – Second to email is SMS/texting them
- 13:25 – Call them for follow ups
- 13:39 – Follow up in person
- 14:39 – Hiten looks forward to Steli’s book
- 16:23 – Hiten is always intrigued by interesting people and emails
- 16:27 – He feels not enough people spend the time crafting good emails
- 16:44 – Hiten responds to emails where people took the time to think of him—the generic email vs. emails with a personal touch
- 17:16 – To learn more about follow ups, email Steli directly at email@example.com – put “Follow Up” on the subject line
- 17:49 – End of today’s episode
3 Key Points:
- Consistently following up with clients brings the best results for entrepreneurs.
- Silence does not mean rejection – it can mean that person just got busy.
- Learn to acknowledge your fear regarding following up—conquer it, and move forward.
Hey everyone. This is Steli Efti.
And this is Hiten Shah. And today, on The Startup Chat, we’re gonna talk about the art of the follow-up. And this is one of those episodes where I know Steli’s better than me at this. And the reason for that is that I’m very good at responding when someone comes at me and e-mails me. But, I know this about myself, I’m not as good as I’d like to be about following up with people. So I’m eager to learn. I’m a sponge here. I’m gonna probably ask you some crazy questions, but bring it on. What’s the deal? How do you follow up? Obviously, I know why you should follow-up. I get it. I’m just going to start with the sales angle, which is if you don’t follow up, you’re not actually doing your job. This is probably why I’ve never done sales formally, except as a founder, which is kind of different in my opinion, probably for another day. But bring it on, dude. What’s up? What do I need to know about follow-ups? What does everyone need to know? I know you are very good at this.
First, I have this vision that I want to go with you to some startup and do some sales calls with you. At some point, we need to do that. That’d probably be a lot of fun. When it comes to the follow-up itself, the advice I give about the follow-up is the highest advice I give. I know that just purely measured-
Yeah, by far. Funny enough, it’s not the type of advice I’m most interested in giving right now. I was very passionate many years ago, but I’ve been giving the same technical advice, adding some more and more case studies and testimonials and stories to this, but the core basic advice is always the same. And obviously after years of giving this, it’s not the most interesting topic for me to share with people, but I constantly still do it almost daily. The reason for that is just the sheer amount of feedback that I’m receiving from people, with real numbers attached to that feedback, on how much value they received by following my follow-up advice. It’s just not even funny. We’re talking, I dunno if tens or hundreds of millions. But the amount of deals closed, the amount of money raised, the amount of press received, the amount of people hired, the amount of things people accomplished and told me about afterwards, just purely by doing what I told them to do on follow-up is just insane. So I feel this responsibility to keep sharing that advice, because I know that people get a lot out of it. I’ll summarize it, and I’m sure we’re gonna dig deep, and this is gonna be interesting to talk about with you specifically. But the basic philosophy that I have, is that I think that most things in life, you have to first show up, and then you have to follow up and follow through. And I feel like showing up is tough, but it’s still fairly crowded. But the follow-up and follow-through, dude, there’s just nobody competing with you, because nobody does it. And the reason that most people are not following up and following through, is that they take silence as rejection. The story in most people’s minds is, if I had a conversation with Hiten, if I send him an e-mail, and he replied and said, “Yeah, that sounds interesting, let’s talk.” And then I suggest some times to talk, and I don’t hear back from Hiten, and I follow up maybe once or twice, and I still don’t hear back. Most people will interpret that silence as rejection. And they feel bad about it. And because it hurts to be rejected, and people don’t wanna continuously keep experiencing that emotional rejection, and because people don’t wanna be annoying, or be received as socially awkward, or a stalker, or whatever, they just stop there. They’re like, “Well Hiten says he wants to talk to me, but I e-mailed him twice, and he didn’t reply to me, so I’m gonna stop pursuing that idea, that interactional relationship.” And, to me, that is a fundamentally flawed way of thinking. My hypothesis when somebody goes silent, is that they just got busy. They have a life. And something popped up. Maybe they’re sick, maybe something’s going on in their personal life. Maybe something changed in their business priorities. Maybe they’re just having a tough time. Maybe I’m just not as important to them. I’m just not the center of their universe. And depending on how important this topic is to me, how important this relationship, this meeting, whatever I try to accomplish, is, I’m gonna take full responsibility for making sure that happens. And I’m gonna try to be a resource to you, to make that happen. So I’m gonna keep following up with you, indefinitely, forever sometimes, until I get a result. “Yes” is good. “No” is good. No response, or what I call the “Maybe” land, that’s where companies, ideas, and value is going to die. That’s where startups go to die. And that’s something I don’t … I don’t accept that. So, my follow-up philosophy is very simple: Take full ownership of the relationship. When somebody doesn’t reply, just assume they’re busy. Keep giving them a chance to respond. And you don’t have to get too fancy. There’s a million different tactics and things you can do to make the follow-up more interesting, more curious, cooler, funnier, more tactical, more valuable. There’s a lot of that stuff, and if you want we can get into it. But at the most basic level, just keep following up with people, with the caveat that you had some kind of an interaction before, until you get a response, and magic will happen. I promise you. I’m putting together a book later this year, that’s gonna be all … There’s gonna be a ton of customer stories and testimonials of people that have closed the million-dollar deal, raced the round, got an article in the press, just by keep following up persistently and consistently, and not taking themselves too serious, or not getting all emotional and emo about it. And then boom, after the 8th follow-up, the 10th, the 12th, the 20th, the person responded and said, “You know what, thank you so much for following up. Sorry for the late response, I got busy, this happened, that happened. But we wanna move forward, let’s go.” So, that’s in a nutshell, A: why I keep talking about it, and B: why I think that it’s valuable, why most people don’t do it. And if you do it, “you” being the audience that’s listening to us, your listeners. If you just start following up twice as much as you used to, if that’s the only thing we accomplish in this conversation, we’ve made the world a better place, and every single person that’s gonna follow that advice, I guarantee you is gonna see more success and more results.
All right. I love, love, love it. So: How do I do this? I’m scared.
I respect that. And I appreciate you sharing it, even if you’re role-playing for somebody. Well, first-
I mean, it’s true. Why do people not do it? They’re scared.
They’re scared, yeah.
I am. I’m not kidding. I don’t follow up with people on sales because I’m scared. I’m scared of what I’m gonna hear. I’m scared of bothering them. You said it, a lot, right? So to me, the root cause of this is, I’m scared. So how do I get over that? I know it’s an emotion, and it’s true, but I find founders all the time. They’re scared of a lot of things, but this thing? This is scary, dude. I e-mailed them, they didn’t respond. It’s kind of like dating in a way. Right? You’re always thinking of, “Do you respond? Do you wait? What do you do?” And this is worse, because, “They didn’t respond! Shit, they didn’t respond!” What do you do?
Do I call?
Yeah, I’m scared! I’m scared! What’s up, Steli? Help me out!
All right. First, I think that I would tell you that you need to realize that that fear is normal and everybody has it. Conquering that fear is what will help you succeed and accomplish things that other people don’t because they don’t wanna conquer that fear. I wouldn’t even say … Don’t feel bad about being afraid. That’s totally normal. Everybody does it. I don’t feel particularly awesome when somebody doesn’t reply to my e-mails, or doesn’t reply to my communication. That’s not something I love. But I’ve learned to get over myself, and get over that fear. And I know that there is real value and power and growth associated to overcoming that. So that’s what I would focus on. See that fear as what it is, which is an opportunity for you to stand out and accomplish the things that your competitors and other startups that compete with you will not, because they are as afraid as you, and they’re not gonna take any action. In terms of the tactical “How do I do it?” here’s what I would recommend to people. There’s just a few simple rules when it comes to the follow-up. Rule number one is that you wanna keep it as clean, as simple, as short and to the point as possible. Don’t refer to all the follow-up that has happened before. Like, “Hey, Hiten, this is the fifth time I e-mailed you, I’ve copied all the previous e-mails below, it happened over a time span of four weeks, I’m wondering what has happened.” This is all wasting time. Hiten knows he’s gotten a bunch of e-mails from you he didn’t respond to. Just ignore that. There’s no reason to talk about the prior e-mails you’ve sent. Don’t be needy. Don’t get all emotional on me. “Well, Hiten, I know that people say you’re the most generous founder in the Valley, but I don’t find it that generous when you never reply, maybe you are a little arrogant. I dunno what’s going on, maybe you can give me the courtesy of just a quick reply right now.” Whoa! Don’t do that. All joking aside, Hiten, I had … At least five or six times, somebody sent me a message on Facebook. And I hate messaging on Facebook, I’m not really great at keeping up with them. Sent me a message on Facebook, “Oh my God, I’m so inspired Steli, I love your blah-blah-blah,” all this good stuff. And then two hours later, send another message saying, “Hey dude, what’s up? Blah-blah-blah, hahaha, smiley, why are you not responding?” And then an hour later, sending me a hate message. “I knew it! You’re an arrogant asshole! You said we could always get in touch with you and ask for help, and here I am, asking for help, and no response from you!” Whoa, motherfucker! It’s been seven hours, give me a break! This is Facebook messages! Just relax! The fundamental truth is that we’ve all had this. We’ve all had somebody that has been e-mailing us, and we know we should’ve responded, but we quite haven’t yet. And we feel a little guilty about this. Don’t make me feel even more guilty. If you make me feel worse, I’m never gonna respond to you. If you make me feel weirded out or scared about you, I’m never gonna respond to you. So keep it clean, simple, and nice! This is a famous story I share over and over again, but I once follow up with a billionaire investor in San Francisco 48 times before I got the meeting. I got an intro to him. He said “Yes, I wanna meet.” I e-mailed him some times to meet. I didn’t hear anything. I e-mailed again, and didn’t hear anything. 48 e-mails later, I got a response, “Steli, thank you so much, we had a crisis overseas. Thanks for the follow-up and follow-through. Can you meet tomorrow 1 p.m. At my office?” And all my 48 follow-up e-mails, all of them, total lack of creativity. All of them sounded something like this: “Hey dude! Another beautiful day in paradise! Can we meet this Tuesday or Thursday, 1 p.m. Or 3 p.m.?” The next message would be, “Hey dude! Some good news! We just hired this amazing person, look at this press release! Can you do any time in the morning this week? I’m totally flexible.” The next e-mail was like, “Hey, how about this Friday? Do you have time to meet?” 48 times! My follow-ups were all one sentence, very upbeat, very positive, smiley-smiley, and very to the point! “This day or this day?” “That time or that time?” “Let’s meet!” If there was some good news about our company or our product, I would quickly add it. “Hey, just launched a big new feature! When can we meet this Friday?” And that was it! I just kept it so light, so simple. And when the time was right for him to respond, he responded. So, when you follow up, keep it simple, keep it light, keep it to the point. In terms of frequence, you might wanna start more frequent at the beginning of the relationship, and get less frequent over time. So if the relationship is hot, you wanna maybe follow up a day later, then two days later, then three days later. Then a week later. Then two weeks later, then three, and then once a month. Generally my advice would be to be very frequent at the beginning of the relationship, when it’s very hot, very top of mind, and over time to get less frequent, to not over-burn that channel. And then when it comes to channels, and I’ll the technical stuff up there. When it comes to channels, there is a pyramid of what kind of tool or channel you can use to follow up, and both of them have benefits, pros and cons. E-mail is the greatest channel to follow up, in the sense that you can do it 48 times or even more. It’s very undisturbing. It’s in the inbox. People can look at it or ignore it, archive, or do whatever they want with it. You can do a lot of follow-up in the e-mail, and it’s very convenient for the receiver to ignore and do whatever they want with it, whenever they want with it. So e-mail is the channel I would use if it’s not urgent. If it’s absolutely urgent, you have a deadline, it needs to happen at a given time or right now, you move up the urgency ladder in your follow-up. But with moving up in the urgency ladder, you move down in the amount of frequency you can add to it. You can e-mail them 48 times. One level above in urgency might be to SMS them or text them. But you shouldn’t do that 48 times, you can do that a lot less. One level above that is to call them. And again, you can’t call them 48 times. You might get into trouble. You might just be able to call them two or three times, and that’s pretty much as much as you can do there. But it’s much more disruptive, it’s much more in their face, it’s much more real-time. And the highest level is in person. And that you obviously should never do 48 times, you might get into jail. But you know how many deals have been won by somebody saying “Hey, I was just in the area, and I thought I would just drop by your office and see if you have 10 minute time to grab a coffee”? I can tell you stories over stories of salespeople closing massive deals or saving massive deals by “just being in the area” and dropping by in person to make sure that something happens. So, that’s kind of the “how to do it.” If you’re like, “I’m lost. I wanna do more follow-up, but I’m not quite sure what are the conventions, what are the rules?” this is the simple framework that I would offer you. I feel like I killed you with information, Hiten. You’re like “I don’t know what to ask.” Are you still there?
Yeah, yeah, yeah! No, that was a lot of info. I’m just thinking through what you were saying. Dude, I have no depth here, in terms of how to get myself to follow up. What I do know, and I think we should end it probably with something like this, you might have something else to share. This is so important, and I suck at it. And you’ve given a ton of tips about how to get better at it. So I’m actually really looking forward to what you’re writing later this year, just because for me, I see a lot of … It’s easier for me to tell someone how to get over it, than get over it myself. But at the same time, it seems like one of those things where you just have to force yourself to do it and practice. It’s much easier for me to just reach out to someone and ask for help, than to actually go do the next step, which is if they don’t respond, follow up with them. That’s the part that I always get hung up at. And I think the way you’re thinking about it and the way you do it is pretty awesome, so thanks for the tips so far.
Thank you so much. And let’s wrap the episode up with a question I have for you. Because I think this is gonna be very valuable to people that are still internally conflicted about doing the follow-up or not. I’m this big advocate for the follow-up, so I’m not a good person to serve you on this. But you are very high in demand, you have a big brand and rightfully so. A lot of people know you, a lot of people admire you, a lot of people want your attention, your time, your feedback, something from you. So you get a ton of people reaching out to you. I’m just curious, if you honestly wanna share this with the audience: Whenever you work with someone, it doesn’t matter if it’s a founder or a service provider, anybody that you’ve interacted with where maybe you have dropped the ball, or you’re not as responsive, or whatever happened. How do you perceive the follow-up when it’s done with you? When somebody is persistent and consistent in checking in with you when you’ve gone silent on them. How do you perceive that? Is that something that you find annoying? Do you think, “Well, my God, this person must be very unsuccessful because they’re getting in touch with me so much”? What is your response when somebody else is good at the follow-up with you?
Yeah. What’s the best way to put it? I’m always intrigued by interesting people and interesting e-mails. And I feel like not enough people spend enough time writing good e-mail when they respond. So one thing is like, “Okay, you should respond.” That’s really great feedback, obviously. But I think the bigger piece for me is, how do you get someone to actually respond to that follow-up? And for me, I get a ton of these, I respond to very few of them. But the ones I respond to, honestly it’s very simple. They took the time to think of me. They actually took the time to think of me, and didn’t write me an e-mail that feels generic. Even if it’s not generic, it shouldn’t feel generic. I mean, I’m sorry, even if it is generic and they’re sending it to everyone, it should definitely be a little more custom than what I would normally get. Because so many people send such bad e-mail. E-mails that I don’t have any, any reason to respond to.
I love it. All right, we’ll wrap up with that. For anybody that’s listening, if you wanna hear some more tips and advice on the follow-up, and how to even use humor, and GIFs that convert really well, and all that good tactical stuff, just shoot me an e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. Just put in the subject line, “Follow-up,” and then I will ignore you, and then two, three days later you’ll have to ping me again about it. And then I might give you early access to the book, but also just share some articles or some advice with anybody that feels like they need more advice on the topic of follow-up. It’s always my honor and pleasure. And this is it from us for this episode!
That’s that! See you!