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When Does Persisting become Pestering?


Auto dialers and CRMs, along with sales managers everywhere, are being questioned by sales reps. The systems and sales managers are programmed to push for following up with prospects. The sales reps are skeptical, feeling that following up too soon or too often will look pushy.

Usually, it’s the sales reps who win on this one. They may, if pressed, make the call. But they will choose not to leave a message. More often, they’ll defer the callback until another day. After 3 or 4 attempts, most sales reps will move on to newer prospects.

So what is the right number of callbacks to make on a prospect? And how frequently should a sales professional make contact with a prospect? What is the tipping point at which being persistent becomes being a pest?

Sellers may be relieved to learn that it doesn’t happen as quickly as they think. Buyers are accustomed to multiple callbacks. In fact, some wait it out to see just how serious a seller is. If a seller gives up, the buyer reasons, what they had to say to me must not have been very important.

In our culture, we have idioms and sayings to support being persistent. Contrast “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” to “out of sight out of mind.” Sellers are expected to be the squeaky wheel, vying for the busy prospect’s attention and earning a chance to be heard by not giving up too soon.

Consider your own response to a seller who calls on you. You may miss the first call because you were out or busy. The second call may not come at a convenient time. The next message causes you to consider calling back, if only to say “no thanks.” But then it slips your mind. Since the seller doesn’t call back again, you go on with your routines.

The same kinds of responses are happening with your prospects, too. After the first or second call, they don’t even remember your name. You aren’t a nuisance because you’re barely a blip on the radar. By the third call, you’re just beginning to register. Then, poof, you’re gone, never to be heard from again.

Part of the problem is that we aren’t as memorable, important, compelling or highly prioritized as we think we are. Ouch. But it’s true. Your calls are unexpected, unplanned, unwanted at the times they come. That’s the nature of selling. That is how it will be until you break through and change the perception the buyer has of you, your company, and your products.

At this point, the biggest risk you have is that the prospect will think you’re a nuisance. So what? If that’s the worst thing that happens, you’re in a good place. Put that side-by-side with the best possible outcome – on the fourth, fifth or tenth call you might get a new customer.

It takes the same amount of time to call three prospects three times as it does to call one prospect nine times. Making an impression and getting through with nine calls is more likely than “getting lucky” with three calls to three prospects. With each call, progressively, you are building name recognition, showing your determination and elevating the priority status you have. When you give up, you relegate yourself to the role of “just another salesperson.”

It may help to fret less about the quantity of contact attempts and to focus more on the quality of those attempts. Here are three new approaches you can try to increase your effectiveness in making a strong impression earlier in the callback cycle.

  1. When leaving a voice mail message, say “I will follow up by sending you a planner for a time when we can meet.” Then send a calendar invitation. Make it for 1 week after the message, schedule just 15 or 30 minutes, and say in the invitation that you will call the number you left the message on.

One of three things will happen. You will get an accepted notification OR get a declined notification (often with a note or an alternate time), OR get no response at all. If you get no response at all, e-mail the day before the appointment. The subject line should read “Are we meeting tomorrow?” and the message should reference the appointment and mention that you haven’t heard back and were hoping to confirm.

Surprisingly, more and more people rely on others to set appointments for them. You will find that many prospects appreciate you taking this extra step.

2. Be sure that each contact attempt you make has a clear focus on value to the prospect. The more you pitch your product and talk about its generic features, the less interesting your messages will be to the prospect. Leave out all those bullet points and strip all your messages down to the bare essentials. Just say “I’m writing (calling) to talk with you about solving the problem you have with ______.” That’s a message that is hard to ignore. In order to craft a message like this, you have to do a little bit of research. Take a look at the company website if you’re selling B2B, know your audience if you’re selling B2C. Use that information to demonstrate that meeting with you will be time well spent.

3. If you have called 12 times, make the 13th message a “last call.” Say something like this, without any sarcasm or irritation, “I have tried to reach you on 12 other occasions, and I have not heard a single reply. I am left to conclude that the solution I have to offer you for ________ is not of interest to you at this time. I will not call again, but I do want you to know that I am here for you when you are able to spend a little time focusing on this problem. You can reach me at _________.”

These techniques work best when a seller genuinely believes they have something of value to offer to the prospect. It’s easier to be persistent when you are motivated by a desire to help someone. Otherwise, if all you’re doing is pushing products because you have to, it may be true that you have become a pest rather than a sales professional. Be sure to check your intent and that may liberate you from the nuisance feeling that has been nagging at you.

Deb Calvert

Deb Calvert, President of People First Productivity Solutions, is a Top 50 Sales Influencer who’s championing the movement to Step Selling & Start Leading. Deb provides consulting, training and coaching for companies aiming to improve their sales, leadership and team connections.

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