Patience is the most overlooked and under-appreciated skill in sales. Managers tend to push for quick results and higher executives tend to drive the managers. And that’s entirely understandable: the need for growth is the key driver of C-level executives and shareholders. This understanding, however, should not lead you to push your prospects so hard they leave. Patience, judiciously applied, is the most effective tool in closing deals. If you’re not patient, then you won’t succeed in sales.
Most salespeople have an arsenal of skills ranging from effective qualification to closing. However, the least discussed skill is the one that’s absolutely vital to every single deal. It’s what allows salespeople to do what they do without alienating prospects and clients, and without ending up as nervous wrecks. Here, I’ll show you how patience is vital in every part of the sales cycle. I’ll also give you some tips for where to apply it and how to cultivate it. In the long run, time invested in learning patience is time extremely well spent in all aspects of life.
Remember: all successful salespeople know when, and more importantly how, to be patient.
Patience in prospecting.
Prospecting is my one of my favorite topics (next to qualification) because it’s the most effective tool at your disposal for generating business. It’s also the one where you must bring the most patience to bear. You’re unlikely to reach the prospect on the first try, or even on the fourth. They’ll ignore your emails and avoid your calls. It’s extremely easy to give up at this point, and simply move on to other prospects who are more responsive.
Patience is a key factor here: if you can simply be patient and try and try again, you’ll eventually reach the prospect. And this’ll be the prospect of your choice, not the prospect who happens to answer the phone. Patience can give you a measure of control over your prospecting, and can help you win the deals you want to win.
Patience with prospects.
Once you’ve reached a prospect, they’re unlikely to stick to the schedule you are. Indeed, they’re unlikely to be aware of it, or to want to stick to it if they’re made aware (some exceptions exist with good relationships, but that’s a different story). Prospects live in an entirely different context from you, and have an entirely different set of priorities, needs, and pressures. Adding pressure to this melting pot is usually a bad idea (despite oceans of advice to the contrary): you alienate prospects and betray your inability to build relationships.
All of your prospects should, in your eyes, be humans first and foremost. I know of nobody (zero exceptions here) who appreciates additional pressure from a salesperson. If you didn’t receive the email you were expecting, it’s usually better to be patient than to force a conversation. Or you can simply send a kind reminder after a reasonable timeframe has passed.
As you’re probably speaking with executives or people with decision-making power, you can expect their time pressure to be intense. Be understanding and patient, and you’ll build a valuable relationship. Increase the pressure, and you’ll associate yourself with negativity in their mind, making your continued communication less likely.
The same is true of calls, meetings, or any other form of communication. Decrease the pressure and you increase the relationship-building. This only works if you have a good reservoir of patience (and consequently a good tolerance to stress). You may not hear from them for some time, but if they’re interested, they will get back to you.
Patience in deals.
Deals are often the greatest source of stress in a salesperson’s job, especially if they’re locked into the forecast. Here, too, patience must come into play: each deal is unique, and must be handled with the delicacy required of it. There is much advice about pressuring prospects to close. I think a better course is allowing them to pressure themselves while remaining patient.
One way to do this is to offer them something they can only receive now, during the timeframe you wish to close the deal, and can’t receive later. Like anything else in sales, this requires patience: you’re a fisherman dangling the lure you have so carefully constructed. It’s now up to the fish to bite. I’ve found pushing them during this phase is not worthwhile: you’ll end up stressing them, and may push them to a competitor.
The key thing to keep in mind is that they’re working within a different context. Even if they’re a decision-maker, they’ll have to justify the purchase, and that takes time. There’s nothing you can do about this, and pressure will simply result in an annoyed prospect. Ideally you’ll place yourself into their context and understand the process, but if that’s not possible, be patient.
Patience with your management.
Much like your prospect, you’re also working within a context consisting of various sources of pressure. Demands may be placed upon you that are difficult or unrealistic, or seem so. Your manager may be pushing you hard to meet your number. The best way of dealing with this is to be patient both with your manager and yourself.
Cultivating and displaying patience doesn’t mean you should kick back and relax. Patience is valuable in certain situations, but don’t let it become laziness. Instead, focus on where you can apply it.
A general rule of thumb that has always worked for me is:
- If it is within your power, go for it!
- If it is not within your power, display patience.
Ultimately, whatever you can control should be done as well, thoroughly, and quickly (sometimes) as possible. When calling prospects, for example, you control how many you can call, and how often you do so. What’s not in your power is how they respond if they respond at all. Be patient there, and continue your work.
Patience is indispensable. Patience with yourself is key: becoming an expert on something doesn’t happen overnight, and you must give yourself the time and the space to learn, experiment, iterate, and succeed. Likewise, you must organize yourself in such a way that you provide your prospects some breathing room, and be patient with them.
Learning patience is much like learning any other skill: it takes time and practice. At first, the only thing you should focus on is self-awareness: you must be aware of your impatience when it arises. When you notice you’re becoming impatient, take measures to calm yourself down. In high-stress situations, I usually take a quick walk around the block. This never takes more than 5-10 minutes, and I return feeling refreshed and calm. Meditation is also extremely useful here. Think of what you can do to calm down quickly, and use that.
Above all, don’t become impatient with your impatience: simply accept it and allow yourself the space to improve. As you progress in this simple exercise, you’ll find your reserve of patience growing steadily. What you’re effectively doing is transferring your impatience into a large, cool reservoir of patience which you can tap at any time. Your whole life will benefit as a result.
A last thing to remember is success simply takes time. Nobody has ever been an overnight success – it was always a result of many years of work. Keep building it just like you’d build a muscle, and you’ll be surprised by the progress you make.
I hope this has been useful to you, and, as ever, I wish you all the best!
Do you agree with what I wrote here? Disagree? Did I miss something? Could I have done something better? Please let me know in the comments!