A new survey of 1100 buyers from the American Management Association tells us that of the behaviors and tactics that are most offensive to customers, being too pushy ranked as number one. Almost invariably, the number one reason I hear why people say they would never go into sales is they don’t want to be pushy.  Certainly there is the stereotypical image of the pushy salesperson.

But it has been my observation that, far from being too pushy, most salespeople don’t push far enough.  By that I don’t mean push customers but, in an effort not to be pushy, many salespeople don’t push themselves hard enough to reach prospects and customers.

When I was president of Richardson, one of our longer termed salespeople was put on a performance plan because she missed target repeatedly.    She called me to ask for advice about what I thought she could do to turn the situation around. I asked her for an example of a situation where she was facing an obstacle.  She described a high profile, interested prospect whom she met at a trade show, but who had not returned her calls.

What did her outreach effort look like?  She described how she had called the prospect twice, with a week in between each call.   Twice?   I suggested a more active plan, which clearly made her uncomfortable.  Her concern: she did not want to be too pushy.

I asked her what pushy would look like.  She described a salesperson that no customer would want to deal with.  We strategized how to be more assertive, but not obnoxious.  After an email and four more calls, she secured a meeting.  After several months, she closed a major sale.  Her comment to me said it all.  Her customer, who was barraged by salespeople, called her back because he said he respected her persistence and preparation.

There is a difference between aggressive and assertive.  Certainly there are don’ts, such as criticizing customers for not responding, or trying to make customers feel guilty, or hounding customers, that make it clear they are not interested (but I must say I know of more than a few examples of salespeople who persisted, despite customers’ directives not to continue contact, because they truly believed they had the best solution and were able to build strong and profitable relationships). Of course, it is important to know when to move on.   But there are many things salespeople can do to push themselves to reach prospects before moving on.

Salespeople can’t make a prospect respond, but what salespeople can and must do is make the effort, and do so with a feeling of joy based on preparation and the belief that they have something that can bring real value to the customer.  They can maximize tools, such as LinkedIn, to get referrals and interact with industry groups and respond to blogs to connect.  They can ask customers for referrals. They can use search, customer profiling, creativity, and insights.  They can be prepared for voice mail and leverage both email and voice mail. They can ask questions to understand the customers’ thinking and what the obstacles are.

I say “joy” because I have found when a person approaches something with a feeling of joy the outcome is almost always more successful.  Pushing yourself is not high pressure.  It is not being aggressive.  It is not giving up too soon.   But it is finding the joy in stretching to make things happen.    I think Maya Angelou said it all,  “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.  In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can come out of it.”

Think about your attitude and how you follow-up on leads.  Do you stop at two attempts, three…?  There is no magic number.  The answer is based on how you assess the prospect opportunity.  If you have done your homework and believe you have something of value, push yourself further than you might ordinarily go.  You will be amazed with the results.