I recently asked an advertiser how he decided whether to take a call with an unknown, untested vendor. "First," he said matter-of-factly, "I ignore the first couple of calls and then see if they'll call a third time. That way I weed out those who don't care enough to persist."
I hope this simple idea becomes a talking point in the weekly sales meeting of everyone who's reading this post. Because sales people in our business, by and large, do not persist. As a breed, we're a lot of things - smart, well-spoken, charming, polite; but persistent we are not. In pursuing a reluctant or reclusive customer we push right up to the point we might be thought of as pushy; we risk everything but the inherent comfort of the situation. "But I've sent them three emails and called them twice," a seller might lament. "I don't just want to be annoying." And there it is, in a nutshell.
In his well-known sales and leadership volume, "212: The Extra Degree," Sam Parker rightly points out that absolutely nothing happens at 211 degrees. But add just one more degree of heat and water boils. It's a handy metaphor for persistence. How many of us stop pursuing customers or answers just before we would have been successful? I'm sure this is a universal sales issue but I think it's a particular problem in our industry because we start with a base of general ambivalence about the sales process. (Ask ten digital media or technology sellers what they do for a living and eight will come up with answers that studiously avoid the words 'sales' or 'selling.') But I digress. If you're a manager and want to help your sellers toward greater persistence, here's a cheat-sheet:
- Track the calls. Most sellers don't actually even know how many times they've called or emailed a customer because they don't keep a count. Because they've worried about it, they think they've done it. Awareness of actual numbers helps.
- Set a benchmark. There's no science to this, but the median number of calls to successful contact seems to be seven. Setting that expectation up front establishes a process in the mind of seller.
- Plan a campaign. Look at the channels and content of the pursuit. Is your seller saying the same thing through the same channel every time? Probably. What's the appropriate mix of email, planned voice mails, LinkedIn in-mail messages and non-traditional approaches? It's worth some discussion.
- Start at Respect. If your seller has done, or is prepared to do, good work for this customer, then persistence is the ultimate sign of respect. And if you're respecting the customer by persisting, then you can rightly expect the respect of a reply and engagement in return.
Try being persistent. And then try it again.