I have always been amazed at how poorly many, if not most, firms handle requests for quotes (RFQs). Over the years I have done a lot of competitive shopping over the phone. Typically if I called 10 companies and asked for a quick, simple quote, only about two would even ask for my name and phone number. The ones that did get my name and number would rarely attempt to follow up. Today with more RFQs coming online, following up on these opportunities is equally, if not more, important than phone inquiries. Still, the same principle of follow-up applies.
In my own firm, I found that I had to frequently remind our staff of the importance of handling quotes professionally and following up. I once wrote what I called a “Phone Quote Attack Plan” on 3X5 cards and placed them by each phone. It included the basics:
Phone Quote Attack Plan
- Always ask for the prospects name, company and phone number.
- First thing out of your mouth.
- I am currently busy with a customer now but will call you back promptly.
- I can take a minute to get some details on your request.
- Ask for job specs.
- Write down details.
- That’s enough for now it will help me prepare before I call you back.
- Call back or e-mail quote within five minutes or ASAP
- Ask for feedback, “how does this sound”?
- Ask when they will need the job and/or make a decision.
- Better yet, hand deliver the quote if possible/practical.
- Follow up within half-day or before their decision time.
- Polite follow-up. Do they need more information?
- Ask for order.
- What can I do to earn the business?
- If price is the issue make decision if you want to meet competitor’s price.
- Sell your quality/service etc. “I can meet this quote this one time to prove the value of our product/service”.
- If you lose the order ask why?
- Deliver early. Exceed expectations.
- Red flag every first time customer order so your staff pays special attention.
- Follow up within five days of delivery. Everything OK?
- Send thank you note.
It helped because it made it clear that going after business was a top priority of management. Moreover, it created a consistent method of handling RFQs and we kept detailed records of quotes won/lost.
Training, Repetition and Follow-Up is Critical
We also put in place a weekly sales meeting for customer service managers/account managers. At this meeting we would review all RFQ wins/losses, keep score and hold everyone accountable for this critical issue. It seems to be human nature to drift away from following procedures and especially follow up. Fulfilling orders and daily activities take a higher priority than following up on potential business. We did not do this to punish or reprimand staff members but rather to gather the intelligence on why we were winning/losing and make corrections accordingly. Employees worth keeping will comply and do a great job…..if you inspect what you expect.
I would readily admit that if a full time salesperson was taking the request, follow up would normally take top priority. I am talking primarily about those calls that are picked up by whomever answers the phone and Web inquiries.
Let’s remember that we are an instant gratification society and expect immediate response to everything. The person requesting the RFQ is no different. The firms that respond quickly and then follow up diligently and quickly (within an hour or two) will find that their odds of getting the business will go up exponentially.
Let’s Not Waste Marketing Dollars
We often spend big money on sophisticated marketing plans to attract new customers. If we fall down on quick, professional response to quotes, we end up making this the weakest link in the marketing chain. We leave the low hanging fruit on the tree for a more aggressive competitor to pick.
It should be simple business sensibility to attack quotes. Following up with folks wanting to buy from us should be at the top of everyone’s priority list. Savvy business managers do not take it for granted.
Carl Gerhardt is a 30 year veteran of entrepreneurship and is retired Chairman of Alliance Franchise Brands. He is currently a consultant with FranNet a company that matches individuals wanting to own their own business with franchise opportunities. firstname.lastname@example.org. Carl is also a volunteer with SCORE offering free counseling for small business entrepreneurs. www.score-reno.org