Lessons In Persistence

In my heart of hearts I’m a ‘salesman.‘ Although my career has taken me far from the “boots on the ground” type of selling where I started, my soul will always be in Sales. If you’re good at sales someone always wants to promote you, and if you are a natural salesperson, you take that promotion in your never ending quest to “achieve more.” You find great Sales Hearts who wind up in all sorts of places; sometimes with great success… sometimes bemoaning the fact that they ever left the front line.

Through my career in Sales/Sales Management and now Marketing, I’ve been exposed to thousands upon thousands of Sales People, Sales Tactics, and Sales Strategy. Reading a fabulous post by S. Anthony Iannarino reminded me in a very compelling way about the 2 qualities successful sales requires:

COURAGE & PERSISTENCE

I cut my sales teeth in the Flooring Industry, not glamorous but full of gritty mom and pop stores where the basics of smart business meant the difference between doors open or doors closed forever. And I covered New England; anyone who has ever sold in that beautiful segment of the country knows that NO ONE is welcomed with arms wide open unless they’ve known each other’s families for generations. It was a great place to learn tough and learn quick; I was lucky to meet quite a few old timers who were willing to share their stories and advice with me. One of these stories has stuck with me for the last 20 years and I’ve probably retold it a hundred times. Here it is again:

One of the most successful stores in Southern New Hampshire literally dominates their area. I went in full of hope and enthusiasm and was determined to build my sales. Months went by; although the salespeople became quite friendly with me, I saw no orders. My prices were good… they liked my product, but I was getting NO traction. Frustrated, I went to speak with the owner and literally asked him “What am I doing wrong.” His reply, “Nothing, you’re doing everything right. Just keep doing it.”

Then he told me this story: He had another female rep. (we were a rarity in those days) who represented Armstrong Sheet Vinyl for a specific distributor. He informed the woman the first time she came into his store that he had been buying his Armstrong from the other distributor for 20 years, was great friends with the other rep., and although she was a very nice lady… she shouldn’t waste her time trying to get his business.

Most reps, who are counseled ad nausem by their managers about “efficiency,” would have thanked the owner for his frankness and spent their time developing other prospects, but she didn’t. Each quarter when new samples came out and were shipped to that store, she came in and updated the display. On her rounds she’d stop in and make sure the Salespeople had everything they needed it and checked in with the owner. He always asked her politely why she kept trying so hard when he gave her no business, and her response was always the same “one day you might.”

After about 18 months of this continued pattern the owner had a lead on a very big commercial job and could not get a hold of his long time rep. for a sharper price. After waiting 24 hours to hear back he called the other rep. and was taken care of on the spot. The next day he decided that she would get 50% of all of his company’s Armstrong business.

It may seem like a lot of work for half of the reward, but this store was HUGE and did a tremendous volume. That 50% was worth a gigantic spike in our persistent rep’s overall numbers.

It may seem like a simplistic tale, but it’s an honest one, and the lessons I learned through this other rep’s experience have made me stick with a prospect far longer than I would have without knowing this story. Most of the time it has worked to my benefit.

I am not advocating that you latch on to every prospect with this sort of tenacity; you would never have the time to do that and it would be nonsensical in some cases. However, there are some prospects whose shift of only 50% of their business to you would transform your company. Your job is to understand who they are and stick with it.

Your job is to also understand which of those clients you already have, and remind yourself that there may be another company out there as persistent as this woman in my story; you need to treat your current clients with persistent and excellent service to make sure they stay with you.