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The Tyranny of Irrational Persistence; No Prospect Left Behind

What I call liberation the sales world calls quitting. Sales people should have a Six Sigma, lean sales mentality on improving waste at all levels. One of the biggest levels of waste in the sales profession is indiscriminate persistent chasing on unqualified customers where the yield is negligible.

Failure is not failure. Failure in the 11th hour is failure. It is not quitting when you quit while you are ahead. So be defiant to traditional failure and exercise your right to have the freedom to fail under the right circumstances.

I am an outspoken critic of wanton persistence. Technology (voice mail, email, caller ID) has essentially neutralized the traditional value of hard charging, take no prisoner sales people. Today customers control if and when you get hold of them. I tell all my clients to rechannel their positive energy of persistence into the more useful skill set of persistent, thought-provoking questions that get to the truth of their customer's compelling reasons to change.

The battle cry for overly persistent sales people is "hope springs eternal in the peddlers heart." Persistent chasing is too often typified by winning the battle and losing the war. It is played out everyday by conventional sales people where it is an exercise in foolish optimism over reality. Too many sales pipelines are riddled with deals that are DOA (dead on arrival), yet vigorously pursued week after week, month after month, quarter after quarter, with little to show for effort and expenditure of resources.

Selective memory is the driving force behind indiscriminate persistence. Too often it is optimism run amuck to compensate for poor selling skills and strategies. It has generated a lot of irrational behavior and rampant inefficiencies.

The glare of hindsight prevents classic sales people to see that a lot of opportunities were too good to be true. They are too easily seduced and enticed by small nuggets of positive information, while ignoring a myriad of warning signals. Sales people employ an overbearing persistent strategy with customers because they cannot get them to make decisions. In a professional manner, with a strong dose of empathy, you need to give customers a wide berth to come clean and give you the green light or the red light. If they are still waffling, and your gut tells you it is dead, then gently tell them so and see if there is any wind left in their sails.

Selling in the information economy is about always being willing to accept the rude awakening of reality. A good sales person is a shrewd student of economy of effort. Sales people should always be conducting an unemotional cost/benefit analysis of their energy, effort and time. I was watching the Animal Kingdom on cable where one of their photographers was filming a leopard chase his prey and after 40 seconds the leopard stopped in their tracks. The photographer noted it was a sure sign of an experienced hunter who quits when he knows his energy should be preserved for a more high probability chase. Think of the untold hours and huge amount of energy in the sales profession that is wasted on the on the false pride of not giving up and needlessly chasing dead deals to satisfy one's ego.

Blind follow-up is a death by a 1000 cuts. Drib by drab it sucks the life out of you. It's effects are so subtle and acceptable that sales people rarely realize the deteriorating affects of how it works on their soul. A quick dagger to the heart would be a much more preferable outcome. Unfortunately, there is no Statue of Limitations in the sales profession so customers often get away with murder with naïve and unsuspecting sales people.

In the past you could get the equivalent of a certificate of effort on lost causes that could give you future leverage. Those days are few and far between. There is unfortunately no patron saint of rejected sales people. You do not get any worthy accommodation, usually all you get is a lesson in futility that is rarely learned.

A lot of companies throw more resources at their worst opportunities than they do at their best, because they cannot differentiate between the two. It reminds me of my old days in advertising. The big joke was that customers knew advertising works 50% of the time. They just did not know which 50%. In sales, blind persistent works less than 10%, versus other skill sets like probing for reasons for change that work very well.

Sales people have to be very careful to cross the boundary of pursuing deals for good sound business reasons, to making it too much of a personal quest. Once customer realize it is a personal mission your self-interest becomes more apparent and credibility and trust come more into question.

Stopping when it makes no more sense is learning to be a good winner. Most conventional sales people's pride and scarcity prevents them from being a good winner and they end up being bad winners; someone who will try to win at all costs. As Peter Drucker says, "It is not just about winning, it is about winning efficiently.

"According to Dakota Indian wisdom when you find yourself riding a dead horse, you should turnaround-but business people often adopt less sensible strategies. Some of their strategies are: buy a bigger whip, harness several dead horses together for increased speed, and declare that dead horse is too dead to beat," says Stephen Miller.

You get the behavior you reward. When sales people are over zealous in their persistence they simply reinforce that chasing is okay and it is okay for customers to ignore them. Customers waste our time because we let them. We let them know our time is not valuable by wasting our own time and they simply return the favor.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com