One of the disciplines I ask all my clients to embrace is persistence. Why? Because it’s always served me well. Since the beginning of my career in business-to-business phone sales (way back in 1987) up to today, persistence has garnered me more trust, more revenue and more recognition than any other skill, system or strategy.
And persistence has become an essential part of my brand. After all, if I teach it, I better do it. (There’s nothing more disconcerting for a client or prospect than realizing we don’t “live” our words.)
But … it isn’t always easy. Here’s one situation that had me wavering:
This past year I received a call from a client. It was a request for training from a division of the company I had never worked with before. I followed up on this detailed conversation with a proposal, which was received and reviewed with me during a second phone conversation. Possible dates for delivery of the workshop were discussed.
Proposals are a vital part of my sales process. When a prospect accepts a proposal from me, it indicates a high level of interest in working together. I keep track of my proposals and run metrics on them regularly. At the moment, for every two proposals I send out, I confirm one sale. (No matter what you are selling, you need to understand your process – and follow it. I’ll be delivering a workshop on this topic in January through the Centre for Women in Business here in HRM.)
My sales are confirmed because I follow up. Everyone, all of my clients and prospects, are overwhelmed with things to do and its my responsibility to reach them and hear their thoughts on, and reactions to, my proposals.
Getting back to the story … my last communication with this new contact was at the end of April, when we exchanged email. Between mid-May and mid-July, I left 6 messages. That’s roughly one every two weeks. Persistence isn’t about being pushy or anxious. It’s about letting the client/prospect know you haven’t forgotten them, that you are interested in their response and that you are available for questions and comments.
None of my messages were returned; I received no email. On July 13, when I reached the contact’s voicemail once again , I made a second call to main reception. I explained that I was having difficulty reaching so-and-so. Was she perhaps ill, or on leave or …? The receptionist asked what phone number I was using. When I recited it, she indicated she had a different phone number listed for my contact and gave it to me. I experienced a spark of hope. But … the new number was incorrect and the person who answered directed me back to the original number I had on file.
And yes, this level of persistence is uncomfortable. There is no formula or method I can give you that will take away this discomfort.
If I had’t sent this contact a proposal, then I would likely have stopped following up after the 5th message (This is gut-dependant. If initial conversations are abundant with enthusiasm and interest, I will extend my follow up to 7 or 8 messages, sometimes even more.) My “final message” would sound something like this: “Hi so-and-so, this is Mary Jane calling from The Phone Lady. Sorry we haven’t been able to connect. I do want to follow up on our conversations in April and prepare a proposal if that holds value for you. Do call whenever your schedule allows. I look forward to our next conversation.” After leaving this message, I might follow up again in 2 or 3 months to keep the relationship simmering.
But I had sent the contact a proposal, so my job was to get an answer. It might be yes, no or not now – but the responsibility was mine to get an answer. This is what I teach, what I taught to other divisions in this same company.
At this point – message 7 – I’m pretty sure I know the answer … but I’ve been surprised many times before and know from these experiences that there can be both revenue and important relationships on the other side of my discomfort. So I called again and again and again … 3 more times. Then I went back to reception. This time I specifically asked to speak to someone else in the department and, fortunately, the person chosen answered the phone.
This person was lovely. We had a good conversation. She said she would speak with my contact and someone would get back to me. Her voice did betray her own discomfort with the task so I apologized, saying that I was not focused on making a sale but simply receiving an answer. I had promised to follow up and, no matter what the decision, I could at least stop leaving the contact messages.
This lovely person kept her word. She did get back to me (I’ve kept her voicemail message as a reminder to myself of the value of persistence) and let me know the workshop discussed did not fit in with current priorities. I was able to remove the contact from my follow up list. She’s freed from my regular voicemail messages.
Did my persistence irritate my contact? Maybe. Actually, yes, I think I’ve lost this sale altogher. But beyond a doubt she knows I keep my word, that I live my brand. And if my actions offended her, eliminated our ability to work together, then I know she’s not my ideal client. Experience has taught me that opportunities lost because of professional follow up are usually revealed to be opportunities fraught with roadblocks and frustrations.
Enjoy your phone work everyone!