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Why categories matter

I have to warn you: if I keep getting responses to these emails, subsequent emails will be more and more useful to you and everyone else. You’ve been forewarned.

List member, reader, and client Ryan H. wrote in this response to yesterday’s email about IRL follow up:

Most of the time no (I don’t follow up enough). Two things: self censorship, and organization. (Self censorship is) just a mindset thing. By organization I mean: I tend to be pretty scattered in my approach. Once someone becomes a lead I’m pretty good because I put them in Pipedrive and that helps manage my follow-ups. But for everyone else, I haven’t developed a consistent system or toolset for following up – my approach is pretty scattered. I’d be curious to hear what you have to say about that.

I do have quite a bit to say about that, and it comes down to how our brains work, starting with stereotypes. After decades of education, centuries of progress, and millennia of evolution, we can’t seem to shake the formation of stereotypes. We have them about all sorts of things and people. Sometimes they’re partially true, sometimes they’re completely off base and ridiculous to their core.

So why do we continue to form stereotypes, even in the face of documented unconscious bias leading to unfair hiring practices and even violence?

Because the world’s infinitely complicated, and stereotypes help us create simplistic models of an otherwise chaotic and complex world. More specifically, stereotypes are a type of category that our brains use to create meaning from the flood of data in the world.

Here’s an excerpt from “Category Learning in the Brain” from the journal Annual Review of Neuroscience (emphasis added by me):

Although our brains can store specific experiences, it is not always advantageous for us to be too literal. A brain limited to storing an independent record of each experience would require a prodigious amount of storage and bog us down with details. We have instead evolved the ability to detect the higher-level structure of experiences, the commonalities across them that allow us to group experiences into meaningful categories and concepts.

In other words, we don’t have the processing power to operate in such a complex world without the use of categories.

When it comes to follow up, there are two challenges: categorical and organizational. We need categories to help us sort through our follow up opportunities, triaging those that are highest priority, and spending relatively less time on those that are lower priority. In addition to the cognitive load of the follow up, there’s also the time constraint. Enter categories.

Secondarily, once categories are created, deciding what to do and how is the organizational challenge. This is where you decide how high touch or automated you decide to make your follow up, which technology tools you’ll be using, and how often (and over what duration) your follow up occurs.

In terms of categories, I gave the example of follow up after having a booth at a conference. At a minimum, the following categories of people at the conference would be created:

  • Visited booth, didn’t speak to them
  • Visited booth, spoke to them
  • Conference speakers
  • Conference organizers
  • VIPs / live sales opportunities

It doesn’t take a business development maven to recognize that the final category deserves the highest touch follow up, with relatively less automation than any other category. The first category demands the most automation, since the opportunity is relatively unknown compared to other categories.

So I ask you: what categories of follow up do you have to perform? For an average consulting business – yes, I’m placing you into a category! – the following categories apply:

  • Current clients
  • Past clients
  • Live sales opportunities
  • New leads
  • Lost / abandoned / cold sales opportunities
  • Partners / referrals

Surely you have more than this, but if you could diligently follow up with these categories, you’d be 10x more sophisticated than most of your competition.

As you might guess, I’m a huge fan of email marketing because it allows you to regularly follow up with all categories simultaneously. But when it comes to segmenting, first understanding the categories you’re addressing will go a long way to overcome the organizational challenges. Perhaps your organizational challenges are simply cognitive overload, since you may not be using categories to follow up properly.

And don’t fret! I couldn’t write this long-winded neuroscience diatribe without leaving you something actionable.

I have three primary follow up mechanisms: inbox automation using MixMax, CRM, and email automation using ConvertKit.

MixMax handles manually-triggered automations so I don’t forget to follow up with people who email me, or who I email directly. I can also launch sequences to them that go out and stop when I get a reply, or continue regardless.

CRM is the place where I keep all of my current, won, and lost deals. A good weekly exercise is to comb through your current deals and make sure you’ve properly followed up with everyone in your pipeline.

And ConvertKit allows me to trigger email messages and email sequences to people who express interest in my products and services.

I know it sounds like a lot, so if you’re starting from scratch, start here: create your categories, and diligently follow up with the people who could most use your help in the near future, including your clients. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is an award-winning follow up program.