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Persistence: Triumph of Hope Over Logic

Sales people often make the fatal error of equating the absence of a solid no to the possibility of a fleeting and vague yes, and since they have been taught that a good sales person never quits, they are off to the races persisting on totally misguided endeavors. At its worse, persistence is logic run amuck. The ugly side of persistence, when it is done to an extreme and with the wrong targets, it eventually breeds resentment, a feeling of being out of control and a mentality of scarcity.

Persistence does play a critical element in the sales process. So long as it is channeled to the right people, under the right circumstances. It only becomes a problem when it transitions from a "necessary evil" to an overwhelming cornerstone of one's sales strategy. There is an inverse relationship between the more productive and efficient you are in sales, and the less you will rely on persistence as the framework of your selling strategy.

The skill set of persistence and dogged determination is an early-stage career strategy. The more confidence you have in yourself and your ability to discriminate between the good, the bad and the ugly, the less you will need to rely on backbreaking persistence. I have never met a top-performing sales person in their industry that used raw persistence in following up with customers as the foundation of their success in sales.

Too many sales people are guided by a private gospel of productivity, constant action, busywork, or avoidance activity. When sales people unshackle themselves from a superstitious reverence for the mysterious god named productivity (persistence), they will find they can actually get a lot of work done and be very productive. The sad truth is overly persistent sales people overextend themselves with poor prospects because they are not effective at being persistent prospectors. There is a big difference between fruitless persistent follow-up on poor prospects and persistent prospecting. This is a classic case of avoidance activity for most conventional sales people. They would rather chase bad deals than hear negative news and start their prospecting over again to replace the bad with the good.

The missing equation in persistence as a strategy is damage control. All good persistence strategies have a stop – gap measure. Know when to cut your losses. There is quitting, then there is quitting while you are ahead of the game. Don't put up with never ending indecisiveness. If a customer thinks you will chase them interminably they will have no sense of urgency to be decisive. In many cases all you are doing is rewarding negative behavior.

"Decision makers vote with their bodies. If they do not return your phone call or get back to you when they promised to, and if they generally want to keep you out of their face, they are trying to tell you something. Their bodies are voting no. So called persistence is nothing other than a desperate need to find out what's going on and being in control when all evidence tells you that nothing is going on," says Bill Brooks. We must constantly dance with knowing and giving up our need to know.

Too often the sales people who cannot afford to be persistent are. They are the ones who give persistence a bad name. The problem is customers frequently have stronger resistance than sales people have stamina. "The sales person who knows when to go away, lives to sell another day," says John Klymshyn.

What also drive sales people to be foolishly persistent is a subtle context of lack and desperation, rather than confidence and optimism. The intense desire to make a sale often merely masks internal feelings of insecurity. The insecurity fuels the desire for the sale and too often that desire scares people away. Unfortunately, we sometimes scare away what we seek. If you need any proof of this go back in your ancient history to your early high school dating experiences. The harder you pursue, the more you try to control, the less control your customer feels, and the more they feel compelled to push you away.

Persistence was a great tool in a quaint bygone era when customers could be worn down by constant contact and social guilt. Also, there was the notion that persistence was a behavior that was highly admirable and a trait that one should not be annoyed by. Well that has all changed. In the digital age sales people can easily be locked out by caller ID, voice-mail and electronic secretaries. Customers today control if and when you get hold of them. So persistence has been largely compromised by technology. So often in today's market you have only one chance to make a positive impression. If you are going to leverage your skill set of persistence, use it to find problems and get to the truth of your customer's motivations and challenges.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com