“Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door,” runs an expression attributed to nineteenth century American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The days of having a better mousetrap have, for the most part, gone and most of the sales teams we work with have to go out into the world and find their own opportunities. It all starts with prospecting and yet we consistently find that teams rarely have enough new opportunities in the top of the hopper. The consequences of having too shallow a prospect pool include having too much riding on a limited number of prospects leading to a reluctance to qualify properly, a poor negotiating position and inflated forecasts.
Generating our own sales opportunities is hard and since scientific research shows us that persistence predicts high performance in sales, sustaining persistence in the face of adversity requires resilience, the ability to bounce back.
When thinking of the types of adversity from which we need to bounce back, most people instinctively think of rejection. Paradoxically, rejection need not feel so bad. Sales people often tell us that a polite “Thanks-but-no-thanks” message is quite liberating: for one thing, it at least acknowledges the approach; additionally, it gives us clarity: we know where we stand and we can cross this opportunity off our prospect list.
When we delve into the reactions of sales people in the midst of the process, what appears to us to be harder to deal with is not simply outright rejection but – as is more frequently the case – to get nothing back, to be ignored.
Some recently published research in the journal Organization Science throws some light on this. A team at the University of Columbia’s Sauder School of Business found that workers that experienced being ignored or ostracised were more likely to leave their jobs and experience health issues than those that experienced direct harassment. In other words, being ignored is even worse than being bullied! Surprising as this may seem, it is helpful to look at this from an evolutionary perspective: in our ancestral environment, early humans lived in small communities much as the remaining hunter-gatherers do today; to be ostracised by one’s group for something shameful was the worst possible fate as it could lead to being expelled which itself was a likely death sentence.
In other words, we are wired to treat being ignored as a disproportionately negative experience. Added to this, we are also likely to explain being ignored in a negative, pessimistic way that is not warranted by the evidence before us. We think that the prospect with whom we’ve made contact a) does not think us worth responding to and b) never wants to hear from us again. This is what psychologists call the “Spotlight Effect”: We attribute all sorts of thoughts and judgements when the likelihood is that the prospect is – like everybody else – frenetically busy and has simply forgotten about us.
This is particularly the case when it comes to following-up on the back of some initial expression of interest. After chasing a couple of times, sales people all too frequently desist. Fearing that the prospect does not want to hear from them again, they simply give up. And yet most sales people can come up with examples of prospects they chased repeatedly only to receive a warm reply thanking them for persisting
As David Foster Wallace wrote: “You will become less concerned with what people think of you when you realise how seldom they do.”