10 Essentials: Persistent vs. Respectful

The third in series of ten posts in a series titled: 10 Essential B2B Sales Rep Attributes (and their 10 Essential Opposites).

english bulldogWillie Sutton, an infamous bank robber, was once asked why he robbed banks. Sutton replied: ” . . . because that’s where the money is.” It makes sense to me that, if you work in sales, you’d follow Sutton’s rule and call on the people who have orders that they could give you.

The challenge in B2B sales is that the best prospects are somebody’s client. They weren’t waiting around with an unmet need hoping that you would call on them someday. Odds are, when you call for the first time you are going to hear a “No.”


The best salespeople in the world are persistent. They don’t easily take no for an answer. They are also resilient enough to hear “no” time and time again without ever being discouraged from making the next call . . . or calling that prospect back in the future (sometimes the not to distant future). Salespeople who aren’t persistent sometimes fall prey to the idea that they should spend time calling on easier targets, people who will easily agree to spend time with them. More often than not, these prospects don’t have orders to give them, or at least not the same volume of the real target prospects.

What happens when you are not persistent enough to continue to pursue the real targets? You end up with a haphazard approach to calling that never gains any traction with the client, and so never earn the right to compete for their business. You also miss the opportunities to catch them when they are dissatisfied and may be open to evaluating you and your company. If you sell downstream, you often end up with the smaller transactional clients that put you somewhere near the bottom of the board.


Salespeople who aren’t respectful lose credibility with prospects quickly; they are too persistent, bordering on insistent. At the beginning of the sales process, we are often asking the prospect for his most valuable commodities: his time and attention. You have to at all times be respectful of your prospects needs, desires, and opinions. As soon as they sense that you are not, then they know you are not in this for their results and are instead in it for you.

The problems begin when this respect leads to one of the greatest delusions ever suffered by a salesperson: the delusion of the non-activity activity. Too often professional (yes, professional) salespeople accept the time objection as an activity. The client says something like: “Can you call me back next quarter?” The salesperson agrees. When asked, they say things like: “I am scheduled to call him next quarter.” When pressed, the salesperson will tell you that they are being respectful and this respect will blossom into the trusting relationship that lifetime customers are built on.

This is simply bullshit. Not taking any action is not an action. If not taking any action were an activity then those of us in sales management would have a metric for it, and we would track it with the same fervor that we track everything else that is activity.


To succeed in sales you need all the persistence of a bulldog while still being agreeable and respectful. Like the prior two posts, you must possess both attributes simultaneously. And like the prior posts, many of the challenges we face in sales are the result of a limited ability to create value for prospects. The reason you are waiting until next quarter to call is not that you believe that is going to gain you credibility with the prospect. Face it, the reason you are waiting is because you don’t have a great way to create value for the prospect in the meantime . . . if you did, we wouldn’t be able to keep you from the telephone. Here are some questions to struggle with:

  1. How often do you accept “no” when you should persist?
  2. Who do you have to be to persist when others accept no?
  3. Do you have the skills to overcome objections (and “no”) in the most agreeable and respectful way, persisting politely and professionally.
  4. Do you have a list of prospects in a tickler file that are only there because you accepted the non-activity activity of calling later?
  5. Do you (really) have the ability to create value for the prospect on every sales encounter, regardless of whether they ever buy from you? What would you need to do? What tools would you need? What kind of a resource could you/should you be for your prospects?

Filed under: Sales 3.0

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