What is the hardest part of sales? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Tom Sullivan, software sales, on Quora:

The hardest part of sales is not rejection or being said no to over and over again. After a short time making sales, you get past those fears and just see them as part of the job.

The hardest thing and the thing most salespeople fail to do properly is consistently and effectively following up. Contrary to what most non-salespeople think, for most high-dollar products or business-to-business products, the sale is not made right away. The typical sales cycle for my company's products is typically 3-6 months, but can be shorter or much longer depending on the customer.

What is lost to many salespeople over those long stretches of time is maintaining the relationship with your prospect through the follow-up.

You might get through the qualifying phase, demo your product, and put together a proposal for the prospect and think that all you've got to do now is 'close the sale.' However, this is where the hardest and most repetitive work begins.

There are typically many many roadblocks, approvals needed, other parties to get 'on board,' and other random things that need to happen before you can close a sale, especially in business to business. Now is the time when you need to maintain a relationship with your prospect and keep yourself on their radar.

Examples of good follow-ups:

  • Email them and ask if they looked over the information you sent last week and if there are any confusing parts you can clarify for them.
  • Call and ask if they have any additional questions or got any feedback from their boss about your product and offer your advice.
  • Ask if they were able to get the approval they needed and if there is any documentation you can provide to help.

A good follow up isn't just, 'Are you ready to move forward with this purchase?' but is stoking the fire of your relationship with your prospect by offering your help. You want to show you are happy to help them jump through all the hoops and pain points to get the solution they need.

Why is this so hard? Because you have to do it over, and over, and over again, and sometimes with little or nothing back from your prospect. It's when the prospect doesn't return call or emails several times in a row that most salespeople give up and fail where they could have succeeded.

When I first got into sales, I was tasked with following up on cold leads and old opportunities that hadn't been closed yet. The chances were extremely low I would close the sale.

I made contact with one prospect who hadn't got back to us in two years and took him through the sales process. It ended up being a very high dollar opportunity for our company, and I was excited about it. But then, of course, he went completely cold again.

I followed up every week or two for six months, re-wording the same email and voice message offering my assistance. Eventually, he hired an assistant who took over the project of buying our product and it purchased it within one month.

It's not like he wasn't getting back to me because he didn't want to buy. He knew he needed our product but didn't have time to deal with it. I put the purchase order on my wall and wrote down how many times I followed up on it as a reminder to myself to grind through all of these follow-ups.

The hard part is that I'm following up with so many people simultaneously. I probably dedicate half of my working time to efficiently and thoughtfully following up with people. It takes a ton of brain power, writing, speaking, thinking, and is very taxing. I would even consider it a 'follow-up muscle' that you build over time.

The failure is that many salespeople simply stop following up. They only stay on the hot opportunities that are getting back to them quickly. I never stop following up until I get a definitive 'No, I do not want to buy your product because of X reason.'

Master the art of following up effectively and power through the tedium of doing it over and over again, and you have conquered the hardest part of sales.

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Published on: Nov 17, 2016