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Don’t Be Persistent!

Mar 4, 2021

Why what you think works does not… and what to do instead

Practical sales advice based on conversations between experienced training consultants Fred Copestake and Clare O’Shea

Clare     Welcome back. In today’s Don’t Series offering, we’re talking about ‘Don’t Be Persistent’. Fred, Tell me more.

Fred      Probably as with many of the other Don’ts it sounds a bit weird. ‘Don’t be persistent’. Isn’t that exactly one of the qualities that we look for in a salesperson? We want them to be like a dog with a bone.  They’ve got to be really resilient. They’ve got to keep going at things.

Now, I would say that people do think that’s a good idea but it’s not because quite often sales has been positioned to people as a numbers game. Pipeline management tells us to put lots in and the top and ultimately you’ll get enough out of the bottom. Just keep going moving, doing all the hard yards, putting lots and lots of things in and ultimately be successful. There are elements of this hard work pays off which in some ways I wouldn’t argue with, but I just think pure hard work doesn’t make as much sense as smart work.

Work smarter, not harder.

I think what can happen also with persistence is that you can just make customers angry. The time might not be right and when you keep pushing and keep on at them. You can burn a bridge that ultimately might be one that you would have crossed.  By using that kind of really pushy type mentality, you’ve ruined the opportunity for yourself when it would eventually have come along.

These are the main reasons why people probably think that being persistent is a good idea.

Clare     A lot of people think it’s a numbers game. I was brought up with a numbers game philosophy as well.  A hundred calls in a day and twenty, possibly twenty-five people you’ll talk to and then one in those twenty-five you might actually get something out of. So 1%. You’re saying a numbers game and hard work is a flawed bit of thinking.

Fred      It’s just not very clever. I think we can be smarter with it and that’s what we’re going to come to.  The flaw is it just wastes a lot of time and energy. I mean, if you’re literally just going to call all the numbers in the phone book starting at A you will most likely be talking to taxis companies and they probably don’t really need what you’re selling (unless it is petrol).

You’re going to do a lot of work and it will take a lot of emotional energy. If you’re just going, to look at the numbers, and you’re thinking ‘I’m going to get some pushback and that’s fine I expect that ten No’s will ultimately get me a Yes’. It’s hard on the individual and to a degree can be demotivating. I can’t imagine who would want to get up every morning and say, ‘This is what’s going to happen, I’m going to get loads and loads of refusals, but I’m a persistent person and life’s going to be all right’.

Clare     I think back to my early years of selling when I did do some telesales for an IT provider and it was quite interesting. It was literally as you say going through a yellow pages book and I remember one day I rang a pig farmer who had no computers. I thought that was bizarre as the database that we had bought was allegedly just of what we were looking for at the time, but a pig farmer pops up.  In actual fact we know a lot of databases are wrong, and they say just be persistent, but you say it’s a lot of wasted time and energy. What are you suggesting people be instead of persistent then? 

Fred      I’ve alluded to it already. It’s work smarter, not harder. What does that actually look like?

For me, this is all about qualification. Doing the research and understanding what this potential customer is all about. What are they likely to need? Does it match with what I could potentially do?  The pig farmer isn’t going to be wanting a full IT systems integration, and if that’s the case, this is probably not going to be interesting to them.

Then start to fine tune what the message is because they’re an ideal customer. I know we can do a really decent job with them because I know we’ve done work like this before. Therefore, what I’m going to be saying is going to be of interest to them.

That where I think that the work smarter not harder tactic works.  Just take a step back, don’t just try and smash the calls. Take your time, have a look at what they do, understand them.

Does it even make sense to call them? No, it doesn’t.  Move on and go to one that does.

If it  does make sense then refine exactly what I’m going to say, what I’m going to send and how I’m going to approach them.  Think about it from that point of view.

Be a bit clever really.

Clare     The smarter a bit is a lot about qualification in this case. Persistence is ‘Don’t be persistent without any qualification’.

People will often say ‘Of course I qualify’, but the advice is to qualify much better. I love your comment where you’re saying research and make it relevant to the customer. Do much more and spend much more time upfront. It is still working hard but you can work hard and actually work smarter.

Fred      Work hard. Work hard and smart at the same time.

Clare     Yeah. Fair enough.

Fred      Now you’re going to be in a far better position every day. I used the word that I really like, which is prospecting. As in prospecting like looking for the little nuggets of gold.  That’s what we’re doing rather than getting up in the morning, trying to get lots of No’s. 

That is how persistence seems to be sold. ‘Oh, you’re going to have to get lots of Nos to be really successful and even get that gold’. Well, you forgot to tell me I’m supposed to be looking for gold nuggets. Now, if you had said that I’d have done it differently and I’d have gone to the river where the gold is.

We know that salespeople find it difficult to ‘qualify out’. That is to say ‘I’m not even going to pick the phone up. I’m not even going to get in contact. They’re just not the right kind of customer.’

Even as the opportunity starts to develop, we can still qualify, because it might not really be an opportunity.  I need to be confident to say, ‘You know what I’ve found out as I’ve actually gone a bit further down the line, is this it’s not right for us’. Then ‘qualify out’, take it out of the pipeline and do that early rather than being persistent. I don’t want to just keep pushing it through because I’ve got some contacts because I’m talking to somebody because there’s a relationship there, but ultimately, we’re not going to be able to do anything with it.

Fred              Be tough and qualify out.  That’s where persistence would have you persevering and pushing onwards when actually it might better to act smarter and just step away.

Clare     Oh, that’s interesting. You’re basically linking the idea of persistence with, and rightly so , the idea that someone’s persistent, they tend to do the same thing over and over and over and over again.

What you’re saying is instead of being persistent, be clever. Rather than being persistent check what you’re doing is actually right. Qualifying, prospecting, whatever it is always check against it, as opposed to just being persistent for the sake of being persistent.

Fred      Yeah, but don’t lose your resilience.  Don’t lose that positive mindset and hard-working attitude, but just be a bit smarter with it.

Clare O’Shea is Founder of Marlow Sales Academy
She was instrumental in the design of the first ever Qualifications in Sales back in 1998 with the first Institute of Professional Sales and continues that interest as Course Director for the CIM Certificate, Advanced Certificate and Programme Director for the Post Graduate Level 7 Diploma in Strategic Sales Practice
Clare specialises in helping salespeople to be more consultative and consultants to be more commercial, by developing the right mindset, process, tools and skills.

Contact: https://www.linkedin.com/in/clareosheasales

Fred Copestake is founder of Brindis, a sales training consultancy.
Over the last 22 years he has travelled round the world 14 times visiting 36 countries to work with over 10,000 salespeople.
His book ‘Selling Through Partnering Skills’ looks at the evolving world of sales and sets out what salespeople need to do to refine their approach. It explores how to take things to the next level through understanding partnering intelligence and using the innovative VALUE Framework.

Contact: https://linktr.ee/fredcopestake