Editor’s note: Paul Kirch is CEO of Actus Sales Intelligence, a Fort Worth, Texas, business and sales consulting agency, and Actus-360, a technology services provider. He can be reached at 214-295-6111 or at pkirch@actussales.com.

I was recently asked, “When do I know that a non-responsive prospect is not worth contacting?” Unfortunately, the question does not get at the real issue. The issue isn’t about a lack of response – most sales professionals don’t make enough attempts to connect and engage – but a misunderstanding of how much time it takes to turn a lead into a client. In the situation that prompted the question above, prospects started off as inbound leads that expressed interest in a service offering but did not respond after the salesperson reached out. But the salesperson was only making four or five attempts to engage a lead before moving on. In fact, most of those attempts were by e-mail, which the recipient could easily ignore. The salesperson didn’t want to push the leads any further.

Let’s look at this from a few different angles. First, an important distinction: a lack of response is not a lack of interest. Think about your own life: If someone leaves you a voicemail and you’re busy, do you immediately call back? Not likely, and you might forget to call back even when you do have time. In today’s busy world, three-to-five attempts to reach out is not enough. It may require 10 attempts or more. Most sales professionals stop at three. My lead-generation team’s reports show that conversions often happen after eight interactions. This is always a combination of e-mail and phone, though predominately the latter. How about your team? Are you making enough attempts to reach your prospects?

Let’s look at two examples. I recently made multiple attempts to reach a business leader who had previously expressed interest. She did not return my calls even though we had had a promising conversation. I left four voicemails and sent three e-mails over seven weeks. I received no indication that there was still interest. This frequency was determined by her insistence that she had some deadlines coming up that pertained to my calls. I saw this person at a networking event and she immediately approached me. The first words out of her mouth were, “I’m so sorry. I know I owe you a call. I’m so grateful you have been staying on top of me. I’ve just been stressed. Can we talk next week?” Bingo!

Here’s another example: A business leader asked me to call in January after a conversation last November. I called and left a voicemail that referenced our last conversation. I followed up a few days later with an e-mail, receiving no response. After two more calls and another e-mail, I finally spoke with this person. He informed me that he saved my first voicemail as a reminder to call me when his plate cleared. He assured me he was still interested in talking and promised he’d reach out. Does this mean I’ll wait forever for his call? No. However, I will respectfully give him time before reaching out again.

This mind-set will unlock the mystery to sales engagement. Let’s go back to the example presented at the beginning of this article. The salesperson wanted to be respectful and not pushy and didn’t continue to reach out. That’s a mind-set that doesn’t belong in sales. It’s not pushy or disrespectful to reach out to an interested party. It’s not even wrong to do it with one who hasn’t expressed interest. If you believe in what you’re selling and believe that it can benefit someone, it’s more disrespectful to make a couple of attempts and stop. Do you want to be there when they need you or would you rather leave that to your competitors?

We can’t expect people to respond on our schedule. Yes, it would be amazing if they answered their phone when we called or responded to every e-mail with zero delay. And yes, there are a million articles about how cold-calling is dead, how the telephone is a black hole for salespeople. Take a look at a good number of those articles. They are often authored by someone selling a solution, a non-salesperson or possibly someone using an online marketing strategy. If you’re avoiding the phone, you’re missing out on so much opportunity. I won’t be so bold to say that you’re failing but I assure you that you’re falling far short of where you could be. When I hear that the telephone is a dead-end, I often provide examples of Fortune 100 executives that were secured almost solely by phone. Yes, it takes multiple efforts, it requires work getting past gatekeepers and it requires perseverance but that’s part of the sales process. Don’t ignore the telephone unless you have mastered an online marketing strategy. Even then, you should diversify your efforts to create sustainability if your online efforts are disrupted.

The telephone is a great tool to provide top-of-mind awareness. If you send an e-mail or some other collateral, it also helps keep you on their mind. However, e-mails can be easily deleted or lost. A voicemail often gets played before deletion, allowing for your name to get through. Also, if your messages are valuable and a lead sees value in your offering or approach, you won’t be seen as a nuisance. You may not be a priority to them but you’ll be reminding them that you’re there. If your competitor has been calling and you haven’t, you’ll likely lose. You must be top-of-mind or you will be at the bottom of the list. You must earn trust and respect by proving your value and loyalty. A lack of sales effort shows that they are not important to you. If you still win the business it is likely due to some reason other than the salesperson’s efforts. Many executives argue they would win business without a salesperson’s involvement. If you aren’t persistent, they might be right. If what you are offering is a priority to a potential client, you need to be there. As a salesperson, you ultimately want them think of you first. That doesn't happen by accident.

Going back to the original question – “When do I know that a non-responsive prospect is not worth contacting?” – you won't. I’m not stating that you should never stop contacting leads but that you can’t determine if they are worth contacting by a non-response. You can determine this through research. Are they a viable prospect? Do they meet your ideal client profile? You may even develop a way of measuring.  Prioritize your prospects but do not rule them out as not worth contacting. And if you’ve made less than 10 attempts to reach them, you’re likely short of where you need to be. Stop looking for the low-hanging fruit by churning through lists. If you can engage someone through e-mail marketing or some other marketing approach, you can re-engage them as a lead. Just make sure that you've determined that's where they belong.

If you want to learn more, e-mail me at pkirch@actussales.com to receive updates on my soon-to-be-published, Ninja Follow-up.