4 Ways to Follow Up with Inbound Leads Without Being Creepy

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Sam Belt
Sam Belt



You're sitting at your desk writing a follow-up email for the sales call you just finished, when an email tracking notification catches your eye: Paul Allen is viewing your Product Page.

You freeze.

Paul Allen is the decision maker at the white-whale account you've been chasing since you started on the team months ago, but to no avail.

Now, you're faced with a dilemma common to a tech-savvy sales rep: Do you call him right now? If you don't follow up right away, you might miss a fleeting window of opportunity to speak with a very busy man.

But if Paul figures out you've tracked his activity and reacts negatively, that effectively closes the same window of opportunity forever.

What should you do?

Many sales teams are using technology to gain a deeper understanding of the buyers viewing their websites and emails -- often unbeknownst to the prospect. While this information helps salespeople understand buyer behavior and tailor their outreach accordingly, it also raises a number of questions about how it's best utilized.

Sales professionals know fast follow-up can make or break a sales opportunity. Research from James Oldroyd of Northwestern University showed that reps are 100 times more likely to connect with a lead if they call in the first five minutes (as opposed to calling in the first 30 minutes), but this seems in conflict with what we'd expect human beings to be receptive to.

The reps I speak with every day voice valid concerns about appearing creepy in this situation. Almost all have had at least one negative experience where following this best practice has resulted in a pissed-off prospect who felt intruded upon. But I've used the four strategies below to avoid unpleasant interactions while still maximizing that fleeting moment where a sales follow-up could convert to a real opportunity.

4 Non-Creepy Strategies to Follow Up with Inbound Leads

1) Tailor Your Approach

The best way to follow up with an inbound lead depends on context.

If the decision maker just requested a trial through your website, calling them back and asking if they'd like a demonstration of your product would be an appropriate response. But the same approach would be pushy if you were reaching out to someone in an entry-level role who just downloaded an ebook.

In the latter example, it would probably be best to approach that person more like a “reserved customer service representative" than an “overly friendly salesperson," asking if there's anything you can do to help with what they're looking for. The focus on helping will quickly disarm the situation. Ask if they have any questions about the topic they signaled interest in based on your tracking, or need help finding anything on the website. If they're unaware they were being tracked, proceed normally and pretend it was serendipity!

2) Add Value Before Asking For It

The key to this approach is tailoring your comunication to your lead's place in the buyer's journey and centering your outreach around their needs, not your sales goals.

Sometimes reps tell me they struggle with this strategy, and the reason is almost always the same: the sales team is not knowledgeable about the buyer’s pain points and the nuances of the solutions available to them to truly add value to their experience.

In turn, the root of the issue is often in the initial training, hiring, and onboarding of the team. At HubSpot, we have our sales team complete a website project -- designed to help them understand the day-to-day of a marketer -- before they are even allowed to pick up the phone.

"By the first time new hires made their first prospecting calls, they could genuinely understand these markerters," Mark Roberge, HubSpot chief revenue officer and Harvard Business School professor, explains in The Sales Acceleration Formula. "They could genuinely advise them. They could genuinely help them."

Being able to add this sort of value makes it easy for reps to act as trusted advisors, not as intrusive salespeople. 

3) Don't Make Assumptions

Sure, your marketing and sales intelligence might be so good that you know exactly what site pages a prospect is viewing, or what links they clicked in an email. But as a sales rep you have to be careful not to jump to conclusions.

Jason Richman, a HubSpot sales manager, tells his team to "never make assumptions based on what [prospects] are viewing."

Instead, he advises his reps to "start broad with an area of interest prospects may have, rather than assuming you know exactly what they need help with."

This is helpful for two reasons. First, the interaction comes across as a lot less "creepy" if prospects don't feel like you're watching their every step. Second, it ensures you don't lead the prospect to give you the answer you want to hear, which may not be a true reflection of their motivations.

4) Admit You're Tracking Them

Do you admit you're tracking the prospect? It depends largely on whether or not they broach the subject themselves.

If your prospects don't bring it up, I wouldn't either. They either know and don't care, or they don't know, in which case you may as well just proceed with your conversation.

In the case they do ask, it's best to come clean. Frame tracking as activity conducted with the buyer's best interest in mind. In many ways this works like Amazon's "related" product suggestions. Have you ever felt violated by Amazon recommending a highly rated oven mitt that compliments the baking tray you just bought? Probably not. We know Amazon is tracking us as buyers, but we don't mind because they use that information to improve our customer experience.

If confronted, explain that the purpose of tracking is to understand your audience better and identify when help from an expert -- as opposed to a static website -- is relevant.

Interestingly enough, people tend to not mind being tracked. I asked a number of people on our sales team how often their prospects negatively react to being tracked, and everyone I asked said it was maybe once or twice over the course of a year, tops.  

That being said, there will always be those who are against tracking on principle. In those cases apologize, flag them in your CRM so others don't make the same mistake, and move on.

Act Quickly, But Be Helpful

There's far too much money on the table to drag your feet when following up with inbound leads based on their activity. That being said, you make or break yourself in the way you approach them. Arm yourself with the knowledge necessary to add value to your prospects' decision making process based on their position in the buyer's journey, and you'll never feel like a stalker again.

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