• Persistence or Pest

    Feb. 1, 2008
    If there's one facet of the business world that fascinates me, it is the struggle between persistence and obsession. We praise meaningful persistence,

    If there's one facet of the business world that fascinates me, it is the struggle between persistence and obsession. We praise meaningful persistence, espousing it as a worthy trait, and often associate it with successful performers. But we also classify people who seem guilty of misguided persistence as a pest or some stronger moniker that I won't print.

    I'm always fascinated at how we are almost gleeful with our children when they demonstrate persistence in any task they embrace. We think, “They'll be persistent in life,” and it fills us with pride and confidence in their approaching adulthood.

    In the stark world of adults, however, we've also seen that praise for persistence turn into disdain when that focus becomes fixated on something we deem unimportant, trite or just plain dilatory.

    Let's reduce it to its simplest terms. When is it smarter to stop — yes, quit — rather than to keep going? It's the difference between good pain when you exercise because it's those last few reps that build endurance and muscles, versus the bad pain that indicates you are actually damaging your body.

    When you call upon a potential customer or client and they rebuff you, how often should you persist in the face of a refusal? I know some sales trainers adhere to the old adage that “the sale doesn't start until the customer says, ‘No. '“Do you make one call a year, one a month or one every week?

    I addressed this issue in my book, Wacky Days, where I asked my counselor, Millionaire Mike. [Mike retired from Wall Street and work in his early 40s and enjoys la dolce vita in California.] Mike says you should mete out your effort (persistence) based upon the importance of the potential customer or client. If the potential client is not that important a target, maybe a pitch once a year is enough. A client that could double your business in one year? I'd say he is very important and make a call every month or however often it takes to keep you in front of his deliberations when he needs your product or service.

    But in your zeal and knocking (if not pounding) at the door, how do you know that you're not overstepping the bounds of accepted aggressiveness? (Indeed, this actually leads to some business based on nothing other than persistence. You get the gig because the person admired your persistence.) But how do you know that your efforts aren't actually starting to backfire and your persistence is turning you into a pest because the decision-maker, when thinking about you, mutters under his breath, “I wouldn't order from him if he was the last wholesaler west of the Mississippi?“

    Frankly, I don't have an easy answer, so allow me to offer some ideas:

    • What's your style? Given my Midwest roots, I try to be unflinchingly polite, even though I now live on the East Coast, where attitude is often regarded as a substitute for intelligence. You could argue that I'm almost too polite, but I've never had anyone trash me over the phone because I bothered them with a very polite pitch. (Remarkably, I had a rare occasion recently when I was rude to what I thought was a telephone solicitor who in reality was interested in my services. He hung up saying that he had never “talked to anyone so rude.” I've gone back to my Midwest manners.) In short, if you are exceedingly polite, it will ameliorate any irritation you create because of your persistence.
    • Analyze the potential end result. What do you really hope to gain from your efforts? If there really is a huge client with enormous benefit, then at least parcel out the effort so that you don't appear to be suffocating the potential customer. Timing is the secret. Stay in front of the would-be client or customer on a regular basis, but don't stick to him like a decal or dead bug on your car windshield.
    • Ask and then tell the customer what you're doing. I've had people say no to me all my life for an interview, going back to my beginning journalism days. Somewhere along the line, I learned to say, “Thanks for your time, I hope you don't mind if I call upon you again. You might change your mind.” I say it with a smile and, hopefully, a friendly tone too. Often, I would even say, “I know you've said no, and I appreciate the few minutes you have given me. But my job is to write a good story. I'm going to call you back in a year. You might change your mind. ”(Of course, you had BETTER call back as promised. And I do.)

    If you have any other ideas, please share them with me, and I'll use them in a future column. I'm sticking with the persistence versus pest theme until I get it right.

    HVACR Distribution Business welcomes letters to the editor. Please send correspondence to: Tom Peric', Editor 2040 Fairfax Avenue Cherry Hill, NJ 08003 856/874-0049 or e-mail [email protected].