By Michael Caron, President, Northbound Learning
We’ve heard them for years, the so called mantras of sales professionals:
- Never give up!
- The only sale you’re sure not to get is the one you quit trying for!
- Persistence pays off!
For most of the salespeople I’ve worked with, however, there is a clear tendency to give up too quickly. And yet, there is a point when giving up on a sale is the most logical and productive thing to do. Let’s examine when it’s best to keep your foot on the gas and when it’s time to apply the brakes.
When to keep going
Research has revealed some startling facts about the number of interactions or “touches” required to make the average sale. A recent M.I.T. study shows that 80% of sales are made after five or more interactions, where an interaction is any action that leads to some sort of connection with the prospect, even it’s one-way. It could be a phone call, an email or a meeting, for instance. The sad fact is that most salespeople give up after a mere two interactions, and it doesn’t take a PhD in math to see that these stats don’t often lead to success. So, why do salespeople often give up after only one or two “chase” attempts? Some of more common reasons I see are:
- We figure that if the customer was interested, they’d call us back. Wrong! As much as we love to believe that customers place the decision of whether to buy our product or service as a top priority, it isn’t. Customers have dozens of other priorities that, in their eyes, are far more urgent. Unfortunately, there seems to be an acceptance in business these days that it’s okay for customers not to return phone calls to salespeople. It may be bad business form, but it seems to be a fact we need to accept. Your job is to help increase the sense of urgency of solving a problem through your product or service, and you most certainly can’t do it by waiting for the customer to get around to it.
- We don’t want to appear too “pushy.” There is that fine line between being persistent and being pesky, but most salespeople are far to the left of this line. Personally, I am very tenacious in my chase calls and space them no more than three days apart. In the thousands of calls I’ve made, I can count on one hand the number of times I have had someone say anything to the effect of “Please stop calling me!” When the prospect and I finally do connect, I’m most often met with something like, “Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you” or “I respect your persistence.” In my books, unless you get some strong push-back on a regular basis, you’re not being persistent enough.
- We let other things get in the way. Let’s face it, you don’t have to call that prospect today,nothing terribly is going to happen immediately; and because of this, we let the follow-up calls slide . . . and slide . . . and slide. After a while, we feel even less motivated to contact them because it’s been so long. That’s why I recommend that in all follow-up communication, you make it clear to the prospect when you will next attempt to contact them. Something like, “Today’s Tuesday, and if I don’t hear back from you, I’ll give you another try on Thursday morning at 10:00.” This does a few things: it lets the prospect know that you’re not going to be giving up any time soon; it forces you to schedule the call, increasing the chance of it getting done; and finally, it prepares the prospect for the call instead of catching him off guard. When prospects are caught off guard, the quick, knee-jerk reaction is to say “no thanks.”
When to move on
Yes, those words that are hard for us to say “I give up.” Seems crazy to some, but good funnel management must include regular purging to ensure that you are spending your valuable (and finite) time where it’s going to get you the best R.O.T.I.—Return On Time Invested. Some factors to help you make the decision to let go are:
- The size of the sale. Bigger deals will naturally take more time. Not only is it usually harder to connect with decision makers, but there are often multiple decision makers and influencers as well. When you’re going “whale fishing,” always be asking yourself how many smaller deals you could close in the same amount of time. Sometimes the allure of a whale may prevent you from thinking logically!
- The fit. Based on your intelligence gathering and research, does it appear that there is a strong potential fit between the prospect and your company’s offerings? The more “fuzzy” the fit, the lower they should be on your priority list.
- When you’ve had absolutely no response after a wave of contact attempts. At Northbound, we recommend that chase attempts are done in a “wave,” meaning that you use multiple contact tactics (phone, email, snail mail, fax, drop-ins) over a short period of time. There is no doubt that the number of calls required to connect with someone has increased over the last few years—today, it is frequently more than seven, but if you’ve had no response whatsoever after leaving several voice messages, the first thing to do is to mix up your media. Try e-mail, if you can, faxes, even hand-written notes; but after a good effort, you need to ask yourself “are there bigger fish to fry out there?” The answer will often be yes, so put the prospect on a drip campaign of loose contact and move your wave to a more rewarding prospect, possibly even the competitor of the prospect who wouldn’t call you back!
Relentless tenacity is generally the hallmark of successful salespeople—of success in most endeavors. But we have to be vigilant in balancing this persistence with smart funnel management. Giving up on a prospect is not a sign of failure, but rather, it could be a sign of high intelligence!