A few years ago, sales expert Colleen Francis and I were talking about how persistence is a double edged sword that can help but also hinder sales results. Now a recent experience reminds me that the line is not always so fine at all – sometimes the line is very clear.
There is a Fine Line Between Persistence and Stalking! – Colleen Francis
Persistence is an important contributor to sales success. Research shows that 40-50% of sales people give up pursuing a prospect after one rejection. Yet another 20-25% of sales people give up after hearing “no” twice and by the time a prospect has provided 4 rejections of a proposal, a full 90% of sales people will have stopped pursuing the sale.
Some people might be annoyed by the notion of follow-up calls from a sales person after an offer is rejected, but research indicates that 80% of non-routine sales occur after a prospect has rejected a proposal four times! Furthermore, more than 60% of sales occur more than three months after a prospect asks for information and 20% of sales will take 12 months to occur, so it follows that sales people who achieve superior results are often the ones that simply keep pursuing opportunities long after their competition have given up trying. Simply put, it can pay huge dividends to be persistent in sales.
When you consider that 80% of prospects say “no” four times before they say “yes”, the inference is that 8% of sales people are getting 80% of the sales. Robert Clay, founder of Marketing Wizdom – Why 8% of sales people get 80% of the sales
My own selling experience over the years supports the theory that persistence pays. I have won many sales after an initial rejection and in fact had many prospects tell me that appreciated that I got back to them multiple times after an initial dismissal of my proposals. In some cases, I have even developed strong personal relationships with people who claim they got to know me as a result of my tenacity.
Double Edged Sword
Staying in touch with a prospect that initially rejects an offer can be very useful, but if the “don’t give up” research is taken literally, a sales person will end up doing more damage than good.
As an example, I recently had an ongoing interaction with a services vendor who was following up after a meeting with me. The vendor sent several emails and left phone messages asking me when I would meet with them again to entertain their proposal. I responded by indicating that I was too busy at the moment, but would follow up when it was a priority. Afterwards I received several more calls and emails to which I did not respond.
Some people might have been put off by this point, but I let it go on because I think his heart is in the right place (trying to serve me) and because a part of me appreciates the effort. Then, after about 10 unanswered messages over the course of a few weeks, some of them literally hours apart and some of them quite blunt in challenging my decision not to buy his services, I decided to inform him that I felt he was either not listening to me when I communicated my priorities and/or he didn’t care. His response was to send me a long email justifying his selling tactics by explaining that experience has taught him that he knows better about his customer’s best interests than they do. He also said that he would refrain from contacting me in the future until I contacted him. I didn’t reply, but he broke his commitment within one week by sending me another unsolicited email.
Obviously this is an extreme case of over-persistence, but it serves to illustrate that there is a point at which there are diminishing returns in pursuing a potential buyer. Instead of winning a sale, repeatedly asking me to buy has only served to ensure that I call one of this sales person’s competitors when I need the services he offers. And I am likely to use him as an example of how not to sell.
No Means No
In my own selling activities, I have always been careful to listen to what my prospects are telling me and to be respectful of their wishes. There is a big difference between “not interested right now, but maybe later” and “not interested now and not ever.” The latter response to an offer is an absolute NO which requires that pursuit be terminated.
Sometimes there is no fine line between persistence and stalking – too much is too much. After a proposal is rejected, it is up to the sales person to determine when there is still an opportunity with a prospect or not, but acting with respect towards a prospect can help keep opportunities alive. On the other hand, if a prospect feels that they are not being heard, that they are being pestered, or worse yet, that they are being stalked,then the chances of making a sale drop considerably if not completely.
People Buy From People
To use persistence to drive more sales, a sales person has to treat people the way they want to be treated rather than putting the sales agenda before that of their prospect. In between rejections from a prospect, a sales person has to build the relationship and create trust with the prospect. Then, and only then, when a prospect changes their mind about a purchase, will they be likely to say yes to the sales person who stayed around after the other sales people gave up.
To your success!
Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.
He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.
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