Getting in the Door: Patient Persistence
In any sales and business development role, you develop a thick skin for rejection. What never ceases to grate against you, however, is the non-response.
Nothing pains BD people more than when your high hopes to connect with someone are met at first with a response, only for them to suddenly stop returning your calls. If you’ve ever had a situation where an email exchange suddenly goes unanswered, it’s easy to be left wondering: “What happened?” And more importantly, “what do I do about it?”
This post is the first of the Getting In The Door series that will share tactics that you can use to open doors and revive those “dead” conversations. Whether you’re closing deals with a potential partner or trying to land a coffee chat with a prospective mentor, these posts will shed light on steps you can take to make sure you get a seat at the table.
First up: Patient Persistence.
A classic tactic for breaking through to someone is to be a constant presence in their life with what I call continuous persistence. And while there are inspiring tales of consistently persistent people using brute force of will to badger their way into someone’s office, that technique is a gamble. History is written by the winners, so we only read the stories of those who succeeded in opening doors with this risky maneuver. We don’t hear from those who failed with the continuous persistence formula, and whose email addresses are now being auto-filtered into someone’s Spam folder.
There is a fine line between being persistent and being annoying. It is difficult to know who will find a year’s worth of weekly check-ins endearing and who will find it creepy. Instead of using persistence as a blunt object, I advocate for a more measured brand of persistence: what I call patient persistence.
With patient persistence, you follow-up with a contact on periodically, but regularly, while honing the content of your message to match the audience. There are several characteristics of patient persistence:
1) Stagger your follow-up
if continuous persistence would have you emailing your lapsed contact weekly, with patient persistence you may space out your follow-up communications by several weeks or months. This adds breathing room to a conversation, and helps stave off the appearance of desperation that can be a side effect of continuous persistence.
Building a relationship with someone has a long sales cycle. Patient persistence is about respecting the cultural norms of social interaction in the interest of establishing a relationship.
Spacing your follow-up contacts is not for hustlers looking to meet a monthly sales quota. It is a method that works to create long-term value by purposefully not suffocating your prospective partners or customers with attention.
2) Add value with each contact
Continuous persistence is often about what’s in it for me? Patient persistence is about making each communication focused on what’s in it for them?
We cannot make more time in a day, so getting someone to allocate some of their time to answer your email or connect with you is time that they are not spending meeting someone else, or getting work done, or relaxing with family, or focusing on their own personal interests. If you can demonstrate that spending time on you actually creates value for them, then you have a shot at jumping up the queue. Every communication is a chance to demonstrate the value that you can create for someone else.
Offering an introduction to someone important in their industry, providing an opportunity to speak at an event that you’re hosting, or even simply sending link to an article that you thought they might enjoy are all simple tools for creating value that you can offer to your contact. But they are not things you can offer every day. Patient persistence requires you to be patient, and wait until you have something good to say before you say anything at all.
3) Test the message
Someone may stop returning your calls because they are busy, because they are distracted, or because they just don’t care about what you have to say. It’s hard to tell what’s causing someone to be unresponsive, but you can mitigate the chances that their lack of response is caused by a lack of interest by experimenting with your message.
Getting a meeting with someone requires a strong value hypothesis, an assumption about what will be relevant to them. But assumptions are guesses, and you may guess wrong as to what value someone may find in responding to you.
During the intervals between contacts, you can research the person and their organization to assess what may be of importance to them right now. The more your message can reflect the alignment between what’s of interest to them and what matters to their organization, the better your chances of provoking a response.
Patient persistence is a slow road to getting in, but it’s an exercise that helps to establish a solid foundation for a relationship that may come once the time is right.