In the modern world, the practice of sales, whether it be called “Account-based Marketing” or Business Development, or some other euphemism, is as tough as it’s ever been to be effective. With over a thousand marketing messages or more hitting the average citizen every single day, it’s harder than ever to cut through the clutter, to get people’s attention, to gain their engagement and their focus for even a few moments, let alone tell a compelling story and persuade them to take whatever action that moves the needle for your firm. One of the most effective tactics is one of the oldest, and it still works in today’s environment – persistence.
We’ve all seen the memes online for success in sales, indicating that most B2B sales are made after the 12th or 14th contact with a prospect, less than 5% get made after the initial contact, etc. A key ingredient seems to be “keeping after the prospect until they cave in and buy.” I don’t frame it that way to sales-based clients, but that’s essentially what you’re trying to do. Entire systems and software platforms have been created and sold based on this endless tracking and following strategy, scheduling the next contact, ranking the viability and likelihood of a sale, gauging their ability to buy, and when. The systematization, the automation of the sales process has been driven to new levels in an attempt to counter this profusion of messages and the shortening attention span of the prospect audience.
Technology has made this not only possible, but extremely easy, and as a result, sales management of all stripes have latched onto this approach as a way of integrating sales into their other business processes. You can now track and call a “Lead” anyone who clicks on a link in a search results report. And beyond that, you can have your messaging and tracking follow them on their entire journey through the ether that is the Internet, popping up whenever and wherever they travel.
This is sales?
True sales professionals know that these are simply tools, not replacements for a solid set of skills, like active listening, seeking out pain points, probing for possible objections, collaboratively crafting solutions, over-delivering and under-promising. The essence of all of these things is that you have to actually get in front of and speak directly with people who make the buying decision. Conducting sales activities “remotely” will only take you so far, at some point you have to interface with the customer. Usually more than one such engagement is required, because the basis of a sale is trust n the sales person, and trust in the company behind them to back up their promises and claims, and that trust takes several encounters to achieve. Hence the need for persistence, to keep coming up with a new, compelling reason to get in front of that prospect and convincing them to see things your way.
The skill in all this occasionally takes the form of sensitivity – the gauge of how tolerant the prospect will be in receiving follow-up messages, calls, e-mails, communications from the sales person, before they start to work against them and annoy the prospect. Persistence is not just being relentless. It’s being in contact on a regular, ongoing basis, and offering something of value to the client with each interaction, building trust progressively, offering to work the prospect through whatever challenge you’ve agreed they face together, showing them how you’ll achieve the desired result. For professional services or big-ticket items, the consultative approach is by far the most effective.
And that takes persistence.
If you’re on the fifth or sixth contact with a well-qualified prospect, it may seem like overkill, but if you hang in there, the seventh touch may be the charm. For efficiency’s sake, the game is to try and reduce that number of touches to the most effective use of your time and resources without negatively affecting the outcome. But if you plan on investing significant time with each prospect, and have a constantly full pipeline of incoming prospects, eventually a rhythm develops and you can gauge how many touches are required for each one, and can start to predict and plan your time investment accordingly.
As each one moves through the pipeline toward the close, a new one starts with an initial interview, and proceeds through the consultative system toward a close and into the delivery or service phase. By being systematically persistent, you’ve remained top-of-mind without being annoying and driving interest downward, provided the prospect with value before the sale, and shown your ability to deliver, to keep to a schedule, to bring something to the table, and have developed trust.
Now that’s sales!
Mechanizing, automating, scoring, tracking, weighting, prioritizing, and all the other functions are merely supports for the basic activity of communicating effectively and persistently with the customer to achieve a result. Of course all this communication has lots of other benefits as well, since the more you know and can learn about the customer, the more effective you can make the solution you’re delivering, and the more opportunity you can uncover for additional sales interaction with them – they’ve told you what they want, you just have to deliver it at the right time in the relationship.
Message clutter, short attention spans, over-scheduling, software profusion, excessive meaningless contacts and content in the inbox, are all enemies of the practice of effective sales, which requires honest, direct, persistent communication with actual people. Everything else is distraction, which won’t put food on the salesperson’s table, or fill the company coffers with anything but empty promises. Avoid distraction, dig in, and connect with prospects – they’ll appreciate your honesty, and enjoy the attention.