We've been trained to believe that persistence is the key to success. And generally speaking, I would agree with this motivational aphorism.
But there are some situations in which too much persistence can be counterproductive.
For example, if you call a company once a month to market your services, your persistence will probably pay off. On the other hand, if you call the company once a day—or 30 times a month—your calls might become so annoying as to ruin your chances of ever doing business with the company.
Of course, recruiters can also be on the receiving end of an overly aggressive pursuit. A few years ago, I began receiving phone calls from an engineering candidate with an impressive technical background. At first, I was flattered by his interest in working with me, and excited by the prospect of placing him with a company in my niche market.
However, as time went by, his persistence began to trouble me. The calls came more and more frequently, first to my office and then to my home.
When he finally crossed the line from “candidate” to “stalker,” I had to cut him loose, and it took months to rid myself of this pest.
The Road Not Taken
How can you tell if your persistence is reaching the point of diminishing returns? After all, it’s nearly impossible to see yourself as others see you.
To begin with, there are some subtle—and not so subtle—clues to as to whether your prospects are suffering from sales fatigue.
For example, if people don’t respond after repeated phone calls, emails and instant messages, there’s a good chance they’ve run for cover in order to avoid you.
While it’s tempting to stay on the attack, it may be more prudent to either back off or find a third party to act as an intermediary. Remember, beating on a turtle with a baseball bat only makes the turtle that much more reluctant to come out of in his shell.
You should also look for polite euphemisms that might substitute for the word “No,” such as, “I'm in the middle of a project and can’t make a commitment right now,” or “Can I call you back in a couple of weeks?”
When this starts to happen, it might be best to simply ask the person, “I get the sense you’re not very interested at this time. Would it be best to just put the ball in your court and let you decide when we should reconnect?”
Or, you might take a more direct approach and ask, “Am I coming on too strong?” I worked for a manager, who was even more blunt. He would say, “There’s a fine line between being persistent and being obnoxious. And I’d appreciate it very much if you’d tell me where I stand.”
Go Tell It On the Mountain
Any time you’re in a position of advocacy—and recruiters are highly paid advocates, rewarded for our powers of persuasion—there’s always the potential for a conflict of interest. The potential is unavoidable, and it’s something we learn to live with.
But what's NOT unavoidable is attempting to reach our goals at the expense of others—and thinking they’re too stupid to see it. If anything has changed since the early days of sales training, it’s the fact that prospective buyers are more sophisticated than ever, and more suspicious of our motives. In a sales career, there's no hell like a prospect scorned.
If I begin to feel a wall separating me from a candidate or an employer, I’ll say, “Look, can we call a time out? I’ll turn my selling switch off if you tell me what you really think, and I promise I won’t try to argue with you.”
Believe me, I know how much determination it takes to keep pushing a heavy boulder up the side of a mountain every day. And the last thing I’d ever want to do is rob you of your enthusiasm or take issue with the obvious truth that hard work almost always pays dividends.
But in the long run, it’s sometimes better to acknowledge a little battle that's been lost, in the pursuit of winning a larger war.