The Biggest Failure in Small Business Sales

Sales Follow Up

Today I’m going to talk about a failure I see time and time again across multiple industries in their small business sales funnel, and it begins with a scratching sound.

I heard it back in August, this minor annoyance. It came from above. Then the pitter patter of feet followed. I groaned: I have a pest in the attic.

Over the following three months, I attempted to work with the HOA to no avail. I needed the HOA, who manages the exterior pest control in my neighborhood of townhouses, to step up and have the building treated. In the attic itself, the area where the squirrel is spending its time is practically inaccessible. The standard, anyway, is to catch the critter at the entry/exit point and then seal it from the outside.

Calls to a dozen pest control businesses yielded no results. No one wanted to treat just one townhouse unit. On my thirteenth call, I finally got someone to come take a peek and promise me a quote the following day. But the day after their visit passed, then a week, then a month.


Failing to Follow Up
Photo by Gilles De Muynck.

I ended up buying a cage, some bait, and putting it as close to that area as I could crawl. Believe it or not, I’m still trying to capture the little guy.

Follow Up: Where Sales Fail

I have seen thing several times over the past few years, a breakdown in the sales process at the very beginning.

Where the pest control company failed was in their ability to follow up on their promise. Here I was, an active and willing potential customer, and they blew it. Even after expressing interest in their quarterly treatment plans! They would have provided me ongoing subscription-based services at $99 a pop.

I saw it with my orthopedic specialist after I called to reschedule an appointment, left a message, then submitted an online form the next day. My phone didn’t ring once. Ended up calling to cancel last minute after an additional three attempts.

And it happened regularly at the Harley shop, dropping engaged customers from the sales funnel.

I see it a lot in other fields as well. When I purchased my truck in 2018, I test drove a few different models from dealerships. I didn’t receive a follow up from any of them. When I went to a few open houses on trips to Texas before moving here, the main agents I spoke with never reached out. They often asked if I was working with an agent during the open house, too.

All of these people failed in their follow up and because of that, they missed having me as a customer.

Developing A Process

I tend to be a very process oriented person. I like having a system, and I like developing systems. Not always one to hop on the phone, I absolutely will if the lead is hot…or even warm.

In the brief time I assisted the Sales team at the Harley shop, I often heard it from customers: they were amazed I followed up with them, and they were pleased that I was persistent yet not pushy. Sales, to me, was all about building that relationship, even if they didn’t buy today or tomorrow or a month from now.

These days we have a lot of options at our fingertips. CRMs allow us to build funnels that move leads from awareness to super fans. On the more granular or tactical level, technology has provided us more options to reach our customers: phone, email, text message, and even social media.

So why did all of the companies above fail?

They lacked a process, or lacked people committed to following the process.

I don’t know where exactly the pest control company dropped the ball, but my guess is it had something to do with consistent documentation. If you are out and taking ten customer appointments, pausing a moment before leaving one for the next to input, document, or even schedule next steps is critical.

We are human and humans are not infallible. Without consistency and process, the possibility of making a mistake increases exponentially.

What’s Your Sales Funnel?

At the Harley shop, we had a traditional sales staff, some of whom had been in the industry for thirty years. The business was about relationships, and they didn’t want to come across as pushy. Sometimes the problem is the people. The desire to not come across as pushy led to just not coming across at all or, in other words, just not following up.

Having the nuance to check in while not being pushy is a skill that can be honed. It can be automated or it can be prompted by something external. Say, for example, a customer was checking out a new Harley Street Glide, but they were hesitant to pull the trigger. A prime opportunity to follow up might be shooting them a quick photo from your phone when the Wednesday bike delivery yields that bike in a color you didn’t have on the floor before.

Hey Andy, I just wanted to send you a quick photo of this bike we just got in. Hadn’t seen this color before, and thought you might enjoy being the first to know when a new one hits the floor.

It’s as simple as that. Nothing fancy, nothing pushy, just a reminder that you exist and a tickler for them to reach out if they’re interested.

Once you have a warm or hot lead, your customer is engaged. Most of the time, they want you to reach out. The harder part is developing the lead in the first place, which is where the lead magnets come in.

The magnet could truly be anything that leads the customer to provide you their information or respond positively to a product or service.

At Harley, we would pull people in with a free service check at the end of riding season, host monthly events with food and music, and use a test ride app to gather information and push it into our CRM. We built a system that prompted the sales team to reach out at certain times.

Part of this included other drip-style items, like service reminder postcards, anniversary check-ins, and outreach from other departments (like motorclothes, service, and parts). The italicized message above could be considered an example of drip marketing if blasted to everyone in your database interested in that particular model of motorcycle.

Dean Jackson has a great “9 Word Email” strategy where you can blast a segment of your list with a simple message that encourages responses. It’s all about sparking that engagement.

I saw this work successfully with my real estate agent in Washington. After selling me a house in 2009, she would occasionally follow up. We connected on social media. My wife and I even went to her on occasion to check out houses we saw hit the market over the years.

When it came time to list my house, you better believe I used her!

Photo by Hal Gatewood.

Building A System, Process & Sales Funnel That Works

Understanding your complete sales process and your sales funnel is imperative.

Who are your customers? How do they enter the funnel through prospecting and lead generation efforts? How do you guide them through discovery, evaluation, and intent? What motivates them to finally make the purchase? And, you can’t forget the final component: what do you do to move the one-time-buyer to a loyal super fan?

The more you can get granular at each of these stages, the better you will understand not only how your business operates, but where you need to improve.

In all of the cases above, the lead generation was there. I would give my information to the company, but that’s where I would get lost…giving them my information was as far as it went!

Thinking back to all of these experiences, everything I was seeing in other companies, the problem wasn’t in lead generation. The problem was in nurturing and cultivating those leads. The system and funnel these companies and individuals used didn’t work. There was no follow up.

What Next?

So how do you build a system that does work? What’s the best way to build a sales funnel?

In my next post, I’ll cover one of those ways, which focuses on five important steps in setting up a CRM, or customer relationships management system.

  • Do you have a small business that struggles to follow up with leads?
  • Are you having trouble getting buy-in on sales processes?
  • Need help defining your sales funnel?
  • Are you struggling to choose a CRM that works for you?
  • Not sure where to start?

I’m curious to know what the biggest pain points you experience as a business owner or manager. Share your experience below or send me an email at

Top photo by NoWah Bartscher.

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