Thursday, November 12, 2015

Friend, Customer or Business Colleague?

The original CRM with notes scribbled
on the sides of business cards
Sales experts have extolled the virtues of building a personal relationship with customers since the invention of dirt. Arguing that sellers devote time and resources on activities not expressly focused on business, they encourage salespeople to learn about the customer’s family, hobbies, personal interests and more. Many years ago, Harvey MacKay developed the MacKay 66, which was used by many organizations to understand and log customer interests. But that was back in the “olden days” before the internet, Amazon.com, big data, global competition and all the rest.

The question really becomes this… In the age of big information does customer friendship matter?

Let’s think about three points:
1. Most of us think of ourselves as (or aspire to be) “solution” providers. Why? Because solution sellers are able to command a little higher gross margin than “parts sellers."

2. There is a certain risk to every real solution we provide. What happens if what we suggest doesn’t work?

3. When risk is involved, customers buy from the person/company they trust.





Trust is the key issue in establishing a relationship. Most of us know lots of people. We know their name. They know ours. But that doesn’t mean we trust them. So let’s look at the things that build trust.

If we know the person listens to what we tell them, we trust them more. And, it’s not just about attentively listening comments about the sale. Instead, we are judged by how much we pay attention to personal details as well.

Without sounding hokey, it can be said people grow to trust those who care on a personal level. This means their kids, hobbies, pets, etc. It also means their opinions on products, processes and plant politics. We need to listen and demonstrate that we care about more than just making a sale. Salespeople must understand, customers fear that sellers will oversell their solutions. Customers fear the risk of endorsing your ideas. Alleviating the perception of risk is the name of the game.

This brings us to the point of trust. Customers favor those they trust. Building a solid relationship, professionally and personally, builds trust. In spite of all you might imagine, trust is not something which is organizational. Trust is a personal thing. If an organization is noted for being the employer of trustworthy people, some of the trust level rubs off on that organization.

Stretching this point of trust, most of our customer contacts are likely to say, “I do business with Company XYZ because I have a salesperson that I trust, even though the company’s president might seem questionable.” For sales leaders, think about this: A distrusted salesperson reflects poorly onto your company even if you are the most trusted individual on the planet.

Going back to the title of this piece, should our customers be friends, customers or business colleagues? I believe that friendship is justifiable in that it drives trust. And trust drives customers to do more to help us reach the status of business colleague.

I know there are skeptics out there, so let’s look at a half dozen ways friendship might help you win more business.
Customer contacts who are also friends:

1. Provide you with insider information which helps you position for future sales.

2. Introduce you to others within their company who might be interested in your products.

3. Help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors.

4. Steer you away from politics which could impact your efforts in a negative manner.

5. Carry you with them to new jobs as they migrate to new jobs or as they are promoted within their current organization.

6. Educate you on new technologies being explored by their employer.

Notice how none of these include price, buying practices or other tactical actions required to get an order. However, it is often common for customers to pay more when they feel less risk is associated with the purchase. And, when pricing is tight, it’s not uncommon for friends to give you guidance around what an acceptable price might include.

And while not essential it is important to not that working with friends is richly rewarding. Working with friends is fun; fun for them and fun for you. When you have fun at work, it shows. Customers embrace your enthusiasm.

Finally, for those who are wondering… Working with friends often manifests itself on your commission check.


BTW – I recommend the MacKay 66.

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