Sales today is not what it was twenty or even ten years ago. Organizations have become leery of the cold call (or email) and direct mailing often goes direct-to-landfill without so much as a cursory glance. A couple decades ago, and still in many places today, sales was all about volume. Business development people would estimate that, for example, for every 100 doors slammed in their face, 10 or 12 might open and let them in, of which they might close 1 or 2 deals. This is the shotgun style of sales – sporadic and dispersed. It may have been effective in the pre-internet days of yore, but there are better uses of your business development time nowadays.
The so-called “hard sell,” for the most part, is thankfully on its way out in many industries. The type of pitches and coercion they use to sell people timeshares aren’t conducive to high-touch industries where customers have options and engagements are longer term. This is where relationship building comes in. Customers nowadays want people they can trust, people who will provide a solution for them, even if it isn’t in your own best interest. They want companies who will go the extra mile to truly understand them, and take the time to get to know them personally and professionally. Romance them so to speak, though in a professional, not physical, way.
Customers should be our partners. We should get to know them like family, and have their best interests in mind all the time, not just when they can are forking over their hard-earned cash. The size of their budget shouldn’t matter as much as their long-term potential. This is because you never know when that 2-person shop down the road will turn into a 200 person corporation or that entry-level administrative assistant will become the next vice president of something, and they will remember how you treated them and helped out in those early days.
However, in order for this to work, you have to choose your customers carefully, just as they evaluate you. Find ones that share values and ideals. Ones that understand that sometimes the lowest bidder isn’t the best option for a particular type of work (being lowest-cost provider is seldom the best place to be for any business in terms of sustainability, but that is a topic for another post). A customer that doesn’t take advantage of your time and expertise or mistake your occasional generosity for being a pushover target. This also means “firing” clients who violate this partnership trust, as well. In the end, these long-term provider-client relationships bear more fruit and provide a vibrant source of referral work, but require a lot more up-front investment and time. You have to be patient, not pushy, and guide the potential client in a direction which suits them best, not force them one direction or another solely for your own selfish benefit.