When someone introduces me to an “idea person,” I automatically jump to the down-side conclusion that this person doesn’t do follow-up. Of course, there are people who are great at getting things done but haven’t had an original idea in their life. Great entrepreneurs, like Bill Gates, are great at both.
I was with IBM in the early PC days when Bill worked with us to provide PC DOS and other software. He was relentless in his focus on getting a project done, and he always assigned himself the toughest tasks. At the same time, he was always pushing the limits of our business relationship with new ideas.
That’s the bar you should aspire to. I can think of several related aspects of starting and running a business where follow-up, or lack of it, can make or break your startup. Here are a few:
- Business networking. For entrepreneurs, effective networking is required to find investors, partners, and customers. It doesn’t work if you don’t follow up on networking opportunities, networking referrals, and ongoing networking relationships.
- Investor negotiations. Serious investors expect founders to have their homework done before the first interaction – documented executive summary, business plan, and financial model. They expect prompt formal follow-up to questions. Too many entrepreneurs try to talk their way through all of these.
- Product development. For a great idea person, the product details keep changing for the better, but nothing ever gets finished. Lists of project milestones and technical issues are created, but nothing happens on time, because follow-up on issues is missing.
- Time management. Some struggling entrepreneurs are totally event-driven. They are too busy with the “crisis of the moment” to focus on follow-ups that may save a major customer, close a partner deal, or solidify a process that isn’t working well.
- Effective marketing. Guerrilla marketing preaches the importance of prospect follow-up if you even hope to succeed in business. If you collect business cards at a trade show, make sure all have follow-up within 72 hours, and at least three more times after that.
- Customer retention. More customers are lost to apathy after the sale than poor service or quality. Many experts suggest it costs six times more to sell something to a new customer than to an existing customer. A numbing 68% of all business lost in America is lost due to lack of follow-up after the sale.
- Professional relationships. How many people do you know who have a thousand emails in their inbox, or just a few awaiting follow-up for over a week from people who matter? These procrastinations jeopardize your integrity and your relationships.
Everyone likes to be pursued, rather than the pursuer. There’s a reason that many people say that the fortune is in the follow-up. When you follow up properly with people, your reputation will benefit, your business will benefit, and eventually, your pocketbook will benefit as well.
As an aside, I would suggest that you should never aspire to be a manager or an executive if you don’t do follow-up. You won’t be happy, and you won’t do a good job, because that’s what they do most of the time. The idea time for most executives is in the shower, or during other non-work activities.
So which is the most important, the idea or the follow-up? If you intend to be a great entrepreneur, you need both. But I know some very good ones built on great follow-up with incremental improvements to existing products. On the other hand, a great idea without a business plan is a non-starter.