Perseverance: Is there a law of diminishing returns?


If you read books and attend training programs about sales and business development, you’ll read plenty of warnings that salespeople give up far too early. Same for marketers. Just one ‘impression’ or call won’t do it — you need eight to 15 connections to make the point.

But there is a problem with this outlook, and it relates to two fundamental challenges. First, it can be extremely costly in time and emotional energy to pour efforts into building a new business (or personal) relationship that isn’t reciprocated. And, secondly, although it happens rarely, I’ve seen examples of perseverance overdone: When the repeated efforts to connect end up turning off the potential client, permanently.

The motivation for writing this blog post arises from one of these perseverance to pest stories. Someone in a major US city has some rather harsh and hostile beliefs about a major public/private development project in his community, apparently because he was jilted out opportunities there. He questions the economic stability of his opponent and has railed about city staff and local media outlets who won’t carry his perception of the story.

When he first added me to his list, I was interested to a degree; but decided that I couldn’t touch his claims without needing to expend much energy/effort and engage in risky legal costs. (I generally won’t name individuals or organizations in a negative light — and this rule applies for this individual, so you won’t be able to identify the person I am describing here.)

I continued to read his posts, somewhat bemused about his talk about impending legal action. “Good,” I thought. “Go for it.” Like, file a lawsuit. Take the claim to court. Make your case. But now it is turning into a broken record; three to five emails a day to this ever-expanding list, and no real action. He’s lost his credibility. I now think of him as a flake.

There’s an art to effective perseverance, and because it is an art, you can’t reduce it to a simple numerical formulation, though the numbers can still help. If you need 8 to 15 “connects” then obviously if you are getting to 25 or 50 without results, you may be going over the line — unless you can get a buy-in or adapt the relationship so it makes sense.

In that situation, you find a safe and natural way to continue connecting, without feeling forced or arbitrary.

(I dated the woman who would later become my wife for three times before she said: “Let’s be friends.” A classic brush-off line. But I took her at word and we became friends, sometimes going on what we described as non-date dates. More than a decade later, after I had matured, she said: “Maybe we can be more than friends now.” After two years of dating her, we married, and will celebrate our 25th anniversary this year.)

In a business situation, you might achieve this connect/safe distance status by community, association and voluntary contributions, where you can partner and associate with the not-yet-to-be client for months or even years before the actual business opportunity arises.

Perseverance is indeed a good thing. Just remember that to succeed, you’ll need to find a comfortable and natural way to maintain the relationship. And that doesn’t happen without two-way communication. Spamming dozens of emails a week certainly won’t work.