If you just want to know the technical
details about using Outlook Flags for follow-up, you can skip
straight to the section on Using Outlook Flags.
The Importance of Follow Up
In business and sales, whether in web marketing or more traditional
(off-line) marketing, follow-up is one of those fundamentals
that everyone understands the importance of — but that
few do whole-heartedly — and that even fewer do systematically.
A study done by the Association of Sales Executives revealed
that 81% of all sales in a business-to-business environment
(i.e. not the consumer goods marketplace) happen on or after
the fifth contact. That is, most prospects simply don't buy
the first time they make contact with you. They have to encounter
a marketing message or engage with the company selling the
particular product multiple times before making a purchasing
decision. This makes follow-up an essential ingredient in
the selling process.
The tragedy is almost 80 % of salespeople give up after
the second contact, (usually) not because they don’t
want to or are not motivated to, but because they simply do
not have an organized mechanism to keep track of any ever
increasing number of contacts who need return calls at differing
times in the future.
Obviously the frequency and amount of follow up needed depends
on the complexity of what is being sold and its life span.
Generally the higher the value of the item for sale, the longer
the associated sales cycle, (and corresponding usage cycle),
and therefore the greater the need for consistent follow-up.
So following up is an important aspect in developing your
business. It helps you build trusting ongoing relationships
with your clients. And the most significant sales are usually
the result of these relationships.
There are at least four obvious advantages of the following
- Winning the business
As mentioned above, if over 80 % of sales are made
after the 5th contact, and these contacts may be made over
a long period of time (often several months or in some cases
years), it is imperative to be able to maintain contact
with an increasing number of prospects and get back to each
of them at the required point in time.
- Keeping your actual customers
Regularly following up with your customers will
convince them they’ve made a good choice doing business
with you. Gain their trust and the next time they will want
to purchase, they will look no further than you. Added to
this is the fact that it will usually only cost 10 to 15
percent of your marketing budget to secure additional business
from existing customers, as opposed to consuming 100 percent
of your marketing costs to get business from new customers.
Put another way, it’s 10 times harder to get business
from a new customer than to win repeat or additional business
from an existing customer.
- Generating referrals
A satisfied client will usually tell his or her
friends about you. Having already experienced the benefits
of your services, he will talk to them with first-hand knowledge
and you may get valuable referrals as a result of this.
- Sustaining a long-term campaign
Your business grows in the moments between sales. Follow-up
campaigns require a lot of your attention and effort, but
they are a step towards new deals.
There are at least four methods that you can use to make
your follow-up efficient:
- Post-Sale feedback
After completing a deal with a customer, call him or her
and ask if they were pleased with the service provided,
what they like most about working with you and what they
would like to be improved. Show them that you care about
them and not only about your business.
When you ask customers for feedback and take into account
their suggestions, they feel a sense of ownership in what
you're doing and you increase your chances of making them
loyal to your services.
- Respond to your Client’s Needs
Your customers' plans and needs change in time. They might
not be the same as the last time they dealt with you. Be
sensitive to each customer’s needs and offer them
the information that best suits their interests.
When you talk to your customers about their requirements,
don't be afraid to position yourself as an expert in your
business giving sound advice.
- Consistent quality communication campaign
Keep in touch with your clients through a consistent quality
communication campaign. You can use a variety of communication
tools ranging from thank-you notes, phone calls, e-newsletters,
sales letters, faxes and snail mails. (This will be covered
in more detail in a later article).
Send them useful information on general topics relating
to what they purchased from you. You can send them periodical
printed and electronic newsletters with personalized information
according to their interests.
Where applicable, use anniversaries and special occasions
to thank your customers for their support.
- Getting personal
Gather information about your clients and record it in your
Contacts folder. When you show customers that you really
care about them on a personal level, their trust runs higher
and it’s more likely to choose you again when they
The basis of following up with your customers is to show
them that you are not interested only in closing deals, but
in building relationships. Trust is the key-element which
motivates your customers to keep coming back.
The effectiveness of follow-up is dramatically increased
when it is done systematically and consistently.
Many people think that they are capable of handling all
their follow-ups without an organized system, but usually
they are just not aware of how much business they’re
losing because they actually cannot cope with the amount of
Using a computerized Contact Management System to track your
connections with people and to systematize the process will
generally cause your business opportunities to explode.
Outlook already has the basic mechanisms required to manage
your contacts and keep track of when they should be called
back. The Contacts, Calendar and Tasks facilities are generally
used for this. (For a system that enhances Outlook’s
capabilities in this area, see the description of MX-Contact
at the end of this article, which adds to Outlook’s
However Outlook has another mechanism that is very useful
for basic follow-ups, namely Flags.
Using Outlook Flags
Flags are used as follow-ups and reminders on e-mail messages
and contacts. You use Outlook flags to remind yourself to
follow up on an issue or to indicate a request for someone
else. A reminder date and time can also be added and displays
in the reminder window.
There are 6 different coloured flags available for e-mails.
You use the colored message flags to manage your incoming
e-mail items by flagging the items for different kinds of
follow-up. For example, use the red flag to mark messages
that require immediate attention, and the blue flag for messages
to read later. When you add a message flag, the background
color of the Flag Status column changes color to make it easy
for you to quickly find items in the message list while scrolling.
Items you add a message flag to will automatically display
in the For Follow Up Search Folder. However,
an e-mail item sent to you with a message flag will not appear
in this Search Folder, unless you add a flag to the item.
Adding a Flag
To flag an e-mail or contact for follow-up, do the following:
- In the message or contact, click the Follow Up
- In the Flag to list, select the text
you want, or type your own:
- In the Flag color list, select the color
flag you want. Note: The Flag color option
is not available for contacts.
- Enter a date and time in the Due by boxes.
- On clicking OK, note that the e-mail
message is now marked to be followed up (in this case Read
by Monday, 8 May at 10:00 a.m):
- On Monday a reminder will automatically appear at 10:00
a.m., prompting you to read the e-mail or call the contact,
as the case may be.
Creating Views to Organize your Follow-Ups
Once you marked various items to be follow-up, you need to
create a series of views to focus on items to be followed
- Create a View called Flagged Messages
with the Filter set to Only items which have a colored
- You can group the View by Follow Up Flag if necessary:
- Apply the View:
Creating a selection of Views sorted and Grouped by Flag
Status/Color/Follow up Flag
will help you organise yourself in terms of which items need
action and what the priority of these follow-ups is.
Note: For more details on creating views, see the following
Contacts / Creating Views
Marking an Item Complete
Once you have done the follow-up, you can mark the item complete.
Do the following:
- If it’s an e-mail message, clicking on the Flag
Status column will mark the e-mail complete:
- Alternatively you may right-click on the e-mail and select
the options from the Follow Up menu:
Creating a Flag Toolbar
You might find it useful to add a text label to the colored
Quick Flags you use to help you keep track of what each color-coded
flag means. To name your Quick Flags, just add them to an
existing or custom toolbar, and then label each flag. You
can name each flag anything you want. Adding a name to a Quick
Flag does not apply a category or add functionality to a flag.
Instead, it is a just a way for you to remember
what each flag color means to you.
- In Outlook, right-click any toolbar, and then click Customize.
- On the Toolbars tab, click New, and
then, after you name the toolbar, drag that toolbar to where
you want it to be.
- In the Customize dialog box, on the
Commands tab, under Categories,
click Actions, and then drag a flag, such
as the red flag, to the new toolbar.
- Right-click the flag in the new toolbar, and then on
the shortcut menu, click Image and Text.
- Right-click the flag again, and in the Name
box, type the name for the flag, for example, Urgent. If
you want to use a keyboard shortcut for the quick flag,
type &Urgent, which allows you to activate
the flag by pressing ALT+U.
- Note Make sure you put the ampersand (&) before a
letter that is not being used as a keyboard shortcut by
another button on any toolbar in Outlook. For example, Call
Bac&k allows you to activate the flag by pressing ALT+K
as long as no other buttons use ALT+K as a keyboard shortcut.
- After you have added all of the flags you want on the
toolbar, click Close in the Customize