Editor’s note: Paul Kirch is CEO of Actus Sales Intelligence, a Fort Worth, Texas, business and sales consulting agency. He can be reached at 214-295-6111 or at pkirch@actussales.com.

In my career, I’ve received some interesting follow-up and introductory messages. Thanks to professional networking sites like LinkedIn, where I have approximately 4,000 connections, I’ve found my way onto many marketing lists, which means I receive a large number of unsolicited requests. And as someone who has done a significant amount of networking over the last 23 years, I’ve handed out and received thousands of business cards, which generates additional correspondence from individuals looking to earn my business. Sadly, the way most people follow up appears lazy and not at all thought-out.

Just recently I received an e-mail from an individual who works with smaller firms to provide HR and benefit services. It was an introductory e-mail that was well-written and compelling. The only negative is that it’s the same e-mail he sent me two months ago. I responded to his original message and learned that he doesn’t work with firms with fewer than 50 employees – ruling Actus out. When I received the message again, I responded, reminding him that we had talked before and he had told me I wasn’t a match. I don’t have a problem with his reaching out again but the fact that it was the same canned message as before left a bad taste.

Multiple times per week I receive messages with a subject like “A request for a proposal,” which makes me think it’s someone interested in my services. Instead it’s a message, usually from another country, wanting to sell me research services. Considering my firm does not conduct research, it’s obvious no thought or consideration went into it. In addition, the messages are often poorly written. While I appreciate the efforts of these individuals to open doors and drive business, I imagine their success rate is dismal.

Doing it right

One of the biggest complaints I hear when discussing sales follow-up procedures is that there is little effort put into doing it right. "Right" may be relative but there are ways to do a better job of following up or making an introduction when there is little or no relationship. In fact, I’m currently writing a book and developing a community around the idea, called Ninja Follow Up. In the meantime I want to share 10 ways to help with your follow-up process:

1. Be concise.

Take the phrase “less is more” to heart. Most of us are inundated with correspondence so although detail is important, keep your messages short and sweet. If you need to provide detailed information, use attachments or links.

2. Include bullet points, numbered lists and other formatting.

If you send a letter or e-mail that has multiple paragraphs of information, you’re inviting people to ignore it, put it off until later (which often never comes) or skip over and miss important points you want to make. Instead, break things up with lists that are brief and to the point. Call attention to key areas with highlighting or bolding. In short, focus on readability.

3. Recap.

If you previously interacted with someone, mention it! Did you promise them information? If you’re providing it, reference that it’s your follow-up and not your first contact.

4. Do research.

You believe they are a fit for your services or you wouldn’t be contacting them, right? Tell them why. Hopefully you did your homework and can support your position with evidence. Your “why” may be wrong but if it’s genuinely backed by research, it’s hard to hold it against you.

5. Stop playing the numbers game.

It’s not hard to stand out. However, very few do. Apparently the phrase “Sales is a numbers game” has taken on an alternate, unintended meaning. Sending thousands of e-mails or letters to a list of prospects without doing any homework might yield some positive results but it is a guaranteed way to damage your brand and call your credibility into question. A lazy or impersonal approach can be worse than not following up at all. Personalize messages and focus on building relationships.

6. Use direct mail.

Today, direct mail has a better chance of standing out, if done properly. Postcards still get viewed. Personalized letters get read. I’m not telling you to move away from your regular means of communicating but try supplementing with other follow-up methods.

7. Be different.

Handwritten messages and letters can go a long way toward helping you stand out. If I receive a letter with a handwritten envelope, I am almost always going to open it. Or if I receive a FedEx, UPS, Priority Mail or some other express-mail packet, I’m definitely going to take interest. Consider sending inexpensive gifts or marketing items to key prospects. I’ve used gift cards, USB drives and other such items to pique interest. Always try new ways to engage.

8. Ask for feedback.

I love to try new engagement techniques and then ask for feedback. During a recent test where I followed up with 70 individuals I met at a conference, I received responses from over 40 percent without any additional effort. Of the remainder, during my follow-up, I engaged with another 46 percent who were receptive to my call and who thanked me for my message. I also interacted at another event with a couple of individuals who claimed they didn’t receive the message. Whenever I had the opportunity, I asked, “What did you think of my approach?” It helps me determine if what I’m doing is working. I want to know how I’m being perceived - and you should too.

9. Don’t stop short.

Most salespeople stop far too short when it comes to following up. For example, take our lead-generation team. When I look at status reports, it’s shocking how many times it takes eight or nine contacts before we convert someone to a qualified lead. The average salesperson will make two or three attempts to reach a prospect before moving on. No matter your follow-up method, if you really want to engage, you need to focus on working your leads to turn them into clients.

10. Be a resource.

I learned a great lesson during my early days in sales. I had a manager who drove the idea into my head to always be a resource. To me, that means making introductions to people who can benefit them. It means helping individuals find jobs. It means offering creative ideas they can use in their business. In reality, its meaning can be limitless if you’re providing selfless value.

Go a long way

Make networking and sales efforts fruitful by improving the way you follow up. It’s an area where few people invest and in my opinion, it’s exactly where you want to focus. Selling is a numbers game but you want to put the numbers in your favor. By following the list above, you can go a long way toward improving your approach and your conversion rates. With a little thought and planning, the process can still be easy but instead of being seen as lazy, you’ll be seen as a trusted resource.