Persistence vs. perseverance

perseverance2“Mom, isn’t there some rule of salesperson etiquette that says when a customer tells you ‘no’ three times, you stop trying to sell him something?”

My son asked me that question last night as we left a store. We had just purchased a mirror for his room, and the sales clerk wanted to partially bag it to offer some protection from the freezing rain outside. She asked us every way possible, and we politely declined each time. We finally capitulated when we realized that the scene would go on forever otherwise. That woman just wouldn’t quit.

One the surface, I totally agree with my son. She kept pushing; we kept saying no. She eventually got her way, but we left feeling mildly annoyed. Annoying your customers doesn’t seem like an effective long-term sales practice. Somewhere there’s a line a salesperson just doesn’t cross–and it’s called respect.

On the other hand, the world is filled with stories of people who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, people whose perseverance eventually earned them wild success.

So what’s the right path?

Actually, I don’t think the answer is that complicated; I think an effective salesperson (and we’re all selling something, right?) does both. When a customer says no, particularly when he says it repeatedly, a salesperson has to honor that. Continuing to push is not only inappropriate, it’s also disrespectful. And it’s lazy.

That’s where the two strategies converge. Instead of pushing, pushing, pushing, a salesperson should back off and reevaluate. Something about his pitch isn’t working. When it becomes clear that it doesn’t appeal to the customer, the salesperson should look at the issue from the customer’s view and make sure he’s speaking the customer’s language–and in ways that are meaningful to the customer. The salesperson needs to find a new strategy, and that takes work.

The key is that we’re trying to capture the customer, not the sale. When we look at it that way, we should be willing to take a few NOs in the short term to get to the bigger YES in the long term. It’s the difference between being persistent and being perseverant.

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