True story: I called one of my dream clients weekly for 75 weeks and left 75 voice mail messages before he finally picked up his phone on week 76. When I asked him for an appointment, he replied, exasperated, “You’ve called me a million times!” He was unimpressed with my pigheaded, relentless pursuit of the opportunity to serve him.
“Actually,” I replied lightly, “it’s only 76.”
A moment passed before he said, “Well, it seemed like a million to me. If you come out right now, I’ll give you an order.”
Twenty minutes later, I was in his office taking an order. Like magic, he had been transformed from a dream client to an actual client.
‘No’ only means ‘not now’
Though it may be difficult at first, refuse to attach a negative meaning to the word “no.” Don’t believe it’s a personal rejection that lessens your value as a human being. Instead, view it as feedback. “No” tells you to change your approach, create more value, or try again later. A no is not failure; it’s information.
Even a no at the end of a hard-fought contest that resulted in a win for your competitor doesn’t really mean no. You identified an opportunity, competed for it and lost. That doesn’t mean you should step away. Be persistent and stay engaged with the customers no matter what. The successful salesperson knows the game is always on. A situation is only unrecoverable when you walk away, when you give up.
While it’s important to keep showing up, offering ideas and information, don’t harass your customers. The difference between being persistent and a nuisance lies in the content of your communication. With every interaction, you define yourself as either a value creator or a time waster. If every communication is an obvious attempt to sell the customer, you quickly become a nuisance. If every communication includes value-producing information, you will be seen as persistent in a good way.
3 ways to improve and apply persistence
Reframe setbacks – To be successful in the long term, you must refrain from attaching negative meaning to setbacks and obstacles. Instead, reframe them as feedback that helps you make adjustments. Then try again.
The words you use in a self-talk can help you see a no or a defeat in a positive light. Instead of saying to yourself, “I’ll never get this client to see me,” say “I’ve just nurtured our budding relationship. A few more calls and he’ll give me an appointment.”
Selling is like solving a puzzle. When you get stuck, you try something new, become more resourceful, and persist until you find an approach that works. Some of the best clients you will ever have will be the most difficult to obtain. If you want them, you’ll have to persist in solving the puzzle.
There’s a side benefit to winning clients that are tough to win — they’re tough for your competitors to win, too. Most of your competitors won’t be as persistent as you are, making your tough dream client account much safer over the long run.
Reset the game clock – In basketball, the game is over when the buzzer sounds. There is no buzzer in sales because the game never ends.
I can’t tell you how often salespeople ask, “When can I quit calling on a prospect?” They are just waiting for the buzzer instead of driving down the court, trying to score. They want to give up because the prospect is difficult to win. But a no right now doesn’t mean forever. Why would you ever stop calling on your dream client, knowing that you can create more value than anyone else?
Every time you fail to make a sale, move the hands of the game clock back to the beginning of play and start again. Better yet, banish all thought of a game-ending buzzer because the game is never over.
If you haven’t already done so, make a list of dream clients that you have competed for and lost. Let these be the accounts you compete for persistently, until they die or you die.
Try something new – Success is often a matter of experimentation — endless attempts to find the key that opens an opportunity. Thomas Edison tried more than 3,000 different materials before he discovered a practical filament for the lightbulb. “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed,” he said. “Every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward.”
Think of an outcome you are trying to achieve and make a list of actions that can move you closer to your goal. Don’t worry about how big and transformational or small and insignificant these actions may be. Being professionally persistent means accessing an arsenal of tools, ideas and techniques.
If your dream client refuses your phone call requesting an appointment, send a white paper with a personal note telling how the paper’s main idea might help her produce better results.
If you lose an opportunity, request a meeting to discover why the dream client chose your competitor. Afterward, be sure to say, “Thanks for the feedback.” And ask for the opportunity to try again. When you get that opportunity, make the changes necessary to win.
Keep calling — for years if you have to — and never fail to nurture relationships, even when there is no indication that you will have a shot at transforming that prospect into a customer. It’s a surefire road to success.
First Move: You may have to go backward to go forward. Generate a list of the deals that you lost in the last 12 months. How many of these prospective clients have you continued to pursue? If you’re like most salespeople, the answer is “not many.” If the prospects were worth pursuing, then they are worth pursing now. Restart your prospecting effort by calling to re-engage with each of these prospects by sharing a new value-creating idea or to schedule a meeting. Some of these prospects are already unhappy they chose your competitor. They’re waiting for you.
Anthony Iannarino is an international keynote speaker and workshop facilitator, sales leader and sales coach. This article is excerpted from his book, “The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need,” which will be published in October by Penguin Random House.