I often talk about the ‘5 no’s make a yes‘ philosophy. A much more eloquent way of saying it:
‘Beneath every no / lays a passion for yes that has never been broken’
Stevens, “Esthetique Du Mal,” Collected Poems
One of my most valuable lessons in sales was the statement ‘five no’s makes a yes’. Paul Shearstone was one of my first and most impactful mentors. Paul taught me a valuable lesson before he even started mentoring me. While working at Canon, Paul was seen as the crème of the crop – the best rep in the company (When you are making $300K+ per year selling photocopiers in the early 90’s, that is impressive). Whenever someone would start at Canon, they would learn about Paul and invariably attempt to spend some time with him to learn. I did the same thing, I entered the company and asked that magic question: Who makes the most money here?
I approached Paul and asked him if I could shadow him at some point over the coming weeks. Paul asked me why, and I simply said ‘Because I hear you are the best’. So he agreed. He told me to call him the next day.
I called. He did not return my call. I called again, and again and again. Five times in total. Finally Paul returned my call, and agreed to let me join him. I showed up at our first meeting with a notebook in hand, ready to go.
As I spent time with Paul, he became a mentor and one day he shared why he had made me call 5 times before he would meet with me. He had a rule; he would only spend time with people who called him five times. It was his litmus test. Calling Paul multiple times, with no response – and then to keep calling proved that the person really wanted to learn, and was worth investing time (Paul LOVED to teach). I was one of those fortunate few, and to hear him tell the story, I just kept calling until he let me in (smile). He also stated that I was his only student who hung on his every word – writing copious pages of notes (I believe that is why I broke $100K in my first year at Canon, hitting 330% of plan at the age of 26).
I think this philosophy has broad implications and is one of the underpinnings of my success as a salesperson. Whether it is cold calling, building relationships or chasing a deal – five no’s make a yes. Many, many times I have been told ‘No way, don’t even talk to me about that’ or ‘We are not interested’ only to turn that around through perseverance to ‘Yes, lets sign that contract’.
No is the start, not the finish.