09 How To Follow Up

An extremely well-written and timely letter will get response automatically. People will call you. But, you'll improve your odds dramatically if you follow your letters with a phone call. (Even a great letter can sit unanswered on the reader's desk for weeks.)

In more than 25 years as a marketer, I've followed dozens of letters with phone calls. It's not at all uncommon to hear something like this: "I've got your letter right here. I've been meaning to call you."

Yes, they've been meaning to call me, but there's a 98 percent chance they never would have called, had I not called them first. Why? Because they're too busy.
How to follow a letter with a phone call
It took me years, and lots of calls during which my hands were shaking, to decide what to say after I'd sent a letter. (I always use first names when I phone, but you may prefer Mr. or Ms. for those one or more steps above you in a business setting.) The script I settled on after a decade of agony goes something like this:

"Hi Tom, this is Bill Frank calling you from Denver. I sent you a letter last week and wanted to find out if you've received it."

Simple, isn't it?

I've found that once I ask this question, two things happen. Number one, they say they've received the letter, and they launch into a fifteen-minute response to it. They tell me everything I need to know, and then they let me ask questions.

Number two, they haven't seen the letter or the mailing. If they haven't seen the letter, I tell them I'll send another one immediately and that I'll follow up after they've received it.

If they want to know what the letter is about, I don't tell them, unless I feel absolutely confident I can sell myself over the phone. Usually, I don't try it. That's why I wrote the letter in the first place. I needed an icebreaker. I want them to have some background information—exactly the right information—before we talk.

I loaded the document with crucial information. It has exactly the right appeal. It's concise and well written. It's polished. It creates a highly favorable impression. It makes me something of a known quantity instead of a complete stranger, so it's usually to my advantage to wait until the reader sees the letter before trying to sell myself.

To repeat: if they ask what the letter is about, I say, "If it's okay with you, I'd rather let you see the letter. It's complicated. There's a lot in it. I'll give you a call in a few days after you've received it. Is that okay?"

Usually it is. Callers seldom press me to tell them immediately "what this is about." They're too busy. Life is too short.

By the way, most people are friendly on the telephone. I've made hundreds of calls, and all my worst fears about being attacked, sworn at, or hung up on have never materialized. Most people are supportive. They like to help, if given the opportunity. On the other hand, I'm not pushy on the telephone. I'm friendly and helpful myself. For instance, I treat secretaries like "helpers," not like "barriers" or "obstacles to progress." I don't try to "get through them." I ask for their help and advice, and they usually cooperate.
Measure your results

How can you tell if you've truly communicated? You get a positive response. Therefore, if you don't get the results you want, you don't have the letter right yet. Work on it some more. 
Avoid mass mailings
I'm not a fan of mass mailings. By "mass mailings" I mean mailing letters by the thousands. I believe in targeted mailing, writing to clearly identified groups for a specific purpose. I can see sending 100 letters to selected search firms. Or 250 letters to targeted companies. Or 300 letters to the members of your personal contact network. I can't see mailing to one thousand companies. To me that means you haven't done your homework and you're really shooting in the dark. Yes, maybe there's a chance one of those letters will hit, but at what cost? Fifteen hundred dollars?

Job-hunters are typically budget-conscious, making every dollar count. I think you're better off writing an excellent letter and mailing it to fewer people than writing a mediocre letter and mailing it to thousands.
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