Do Relationships Still Matter?

There is a growing school of thought, an alarming school of thought if you ask me, that Business Relationships don’t matter as much as they used to. Some would say they don’t matter at all.

There is research that shows that could be true. Generation Z, the generation now entering the workforce is said to prefer “digital contact” over face-to-face contact, especially in business dealings.

Some people say that’s true also of Millennials but the research would disagree. Kind of. It’s only the trailing edge of millennials who prefer less face-to-face business dealings. Leading edge millennials felt that way but as they get older they look, act, speak and do much as the boomer generation who came before them.

There is no reason to think the younger millennials and Gen Z won’t age in the same way.

People and organizations who believe they can eliminate or minimize the importance of business relationships do so at their own risk. People buy and do business with other people they like and can trust. TRUST ONLY COMES FROM RELATIONSHIPS!

Without trust a customer is left to make their buying decisions on other factors, like ease of buying, reputation of the product and of course price. Without trust there will be no customer loyalty nor should there be.

It’s a bit of a scary day when I’m called “old school” because I believe relationships matter. At the foundation of that belief is another belief…one that says people matter. Every aspect of life revolves around our interactions with other people. If you can build solid personal relationships and business relationships you’ll simply have a better life and a better business.

If you don’t agree with that today then one day you will. I only hope for your sake you realize the importance of relationships before you let to much of what life is made of pass you by.

Creating Permanent Success

As a very young salesperson I had some early success. I had no idea why but I enjoyed what I was doing and as far as I knew, I was selling.

I had an engineering degree and fell into sales completely by accident. That by the way is how a great many salespeople enter the profession of selling. Not too long into my sales career some of the Corporate big shots came to town and scheduled rides with our sales team. I was less than pleased when I discovered that on 3 consecutive days I’d have one of the big shots with me.

I assumed it wouldn’t take someone as smart as these guys claimed to be to figure out that despite my early success I really had no idea what I was doing. I apparently figured wrong.

In their report they said I was the best salesperson they had ever worked with. One of them made a comment that I could sell ice to an Eskimo. So my Sales Manager starting asking me questions about what I did when the big shots were with me.

I hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary stuff I did every day and I had no clue as to why they said what they said about me. Then some smart guy asked me exactly what I would do to sell ice to an Eskimo.

I thought for a minute and then it began to dawn on me why I might be having some of that early success.

My answer was I wouldn’t sell ice to an Eskimo in the first place because they didn’t need any.

To this day that philosophy is what has helped separate me from common salespeople. I get the financial aspects of selling crap to people that they don’t need. But selling something to someone who doesn’t need it is not a sustainable strategy for success in sales.

Manipulating someone for your benefit at the cost of their wellbeing, be it financial or otherwise is not a sustainable strategy for success in life.

When I finally figured out what was helping me succeed in sales I became more intentional about building relationships, trust and friendships. That required that I find out exactly how my product could help people. It required that I know enough about a particular customer to know precisely how my product could help them.

That caused me to walk away from a good many potential sales and while I lost a few sales I never lost a customer. Helping your customers, being honest with them at all times, having the courage to occasionally disagree with them and always keeping their best interests in mind are the keys to long-term, sustainable sales success.

If anyone tells you otherwise they do not have your best interests in mind.

“Selling by helping” is the sales philosophy I’ve taught for a long time. I started doing training for two reasons, one was to help more people have better buying experiences with the salespeople they dealt with. The other was to help more salespeople have long-term success and make lots of money doing it.

The selling professional can be very rewarding, “selling by helping” increases those rewards ten-fold. It is also the certain path to permanent sales success.

Are You Helping Your Customers?

I have long believed…and taught, that the best way to succeed in sales is by helping your customers achieve their goals and objectives. My mind is pretty well made up on this point and I can’t imagine what anyone could say to change it.

But many have tried. Some of those who have tried tell me that sales is about separating a prospect from their money as quickly and efficiently as possible. That is most definitely NOT what professional selling is about.

Others have told me that sales is about making a lot of money. That is not true either even though making a lot of money is one of the two primary reasons many people go into sales. The fact is, making a lot of money is what happens when you help a lot of people achieve their goals and objectives.

Sales is ALL about helping customers. I suppose I should add a qualifier to that…PROFESSIONAL SALES is all about helping customers. Product peddlers pride themselves on being able to “unload” any product on anyone and they will use any trick to do it. They will do most anything for a buck. They give professional salespeople a bad name.

Professional salespeople have only one trick up their sleeve and it’s really no trick at all. It’s called asking effective questions. So effective that sometimes it helps a customer understand that there is a solution to a problem that they didn’t know existed.

If those professional salespeople discover that their product or service does not help a prospect they won’t attempt to turn that prospect into a customer by selling them something they won’t benefit from.

If you’re wondering how close you are to helping your customers ask yourself a question first. That question is this: what are the goals and objectives of my top ten prospects or current customers?

I start with the top ten because if you don’t know those then it’s most unlikely you will know others.

If you can’t answer that question it’s likely because you’ve never directly asked your prospects what their goals and objectives are. If that’s the case you have the ability to correct that situation immediately…just ask.

Your prospects and customers may not have an immediate answer for you. It’s a question that may catch them off guard. That’s because so few salespeople straight up ask. You can actually change the perception of a prospect by asking, and that change will most definitely be in the right direction.

So, are you helping your customers? You’ll find it very difficult to help anyone achieve their goals if you don’t even know what they are. So find out. Just ask, it’s the only trick you’ll ever need.

Calm Seas

I’ve never met a sailor who didn’t prefer sailing on calm seas. Who can blame them, it’s just easier. Everyone likes easy.

But here’s the thing, almost all of us are paid to navigate choppy seas. If you’re in sales this is especially true. Sales by my definition is changing someone’s attitude from neutral or even negative about your product, to a positive attitude. Positive enough to buy your product or service.

Those “seas” of changing someone’s attitude can be very very choppy.

If you’re in any type of customer service role you almost never experience calm seas. Customers seldom call or show up at your counter to tell you everything is perfect. It’s just the opposite, almost 100% of the customers you deal with are unhappy and it’s your job to turn that unhappiness into sheer delight. Sometimes the seas you navigate aren’t only choppy, they are downright hurricane like.

Almost every job and position have challenges. Thank goodness for that. If they were easy, if there were no headwinds, if there were never any problems, a whole lotta people would be out of work.

If customers were convinced your products were always the best and provided the best value then your company wouldn’t need any salespeople. If nothing ever broke then service people would be a thing of the past. If every customer was delighted every single time the role of customer service person would be history.

If there were no problems in business then a whole bunch of businesses would need a lot less people. You would never see the term “problem solver” on a résumé again.

All that being the case I find it amazing how many salespeople dislike having to convince people to buy their products. Service people can get bitter over constantly having to fix things that break. I’ve heard many people in customer service roles say how much easier their jobs would be if the customers would all just go away.

You and everyone else are not paid to sail your organization’s ship on calm seas. You are paid to navigate the rough spots. Your role likely exists in one way or another to solve or overcome problems. The very problems you may complain about from time to time, or maybe even more often than that.

When you stop and think of it like that it doesn’t make much since to complain…does it? So don’t complain! Be thankful for the challenges your job provides you because it’s those challenges that provide your income.

No job is perfect. No job is always easy. Every job has its challenges and that might be the best news you’ll hear all week.

The Newest Competitor for Sales

A tough new competitor has just re-entered the sales game. This competitor has invaded almost every industry. Whatever you’re selling this competitor is lurking under the surface of every sales opportunity. Sometimes they are not even under the surface, they are sitting boldly on top of YOUR sales opportunity.

This competitor is particularly nasty too. They aren’t even interested in stealing business for themselves. The only thing they want to do is wreck the deal for everyone. They want the salesperson to go away empty handed. Worse, they want to leave the customer empty handed and with no help too.

The name of this competitor is NO! No has a twin sister who has entered the fray as well. Her name is Not Now. If you’re newer to sales you may not be familiar with these formidable competitors. But if you’re not careful they can be much tougher than the competitors you normally face.

The competitor named No and his sister Not Yet are always around but they thrive in uncertain times. They last entered the profession of selling in 2008 and 2009. They were pervasive enough to end the sales careers of many unprepared and unprofessional salespeople. The bad news is that many sales are being lost to No and Not Yet in the current business environment. The good news is that a great many of those lost sales are not truly lost, they are merely delayed.

It is vital that sales professionals understand that while No and Not Yet can slow a sale down they can’t stop it completely.

As effective as No and Not Yet can seem they are readily defeated by replacing the unknowns of today with the information that customers will need tomorrow.

The best salespeople seldom lose a deal to No in uncertain times and they never lose a sale to Not Yet. Product peddlers float to the sidelines when No and Not Yet enter the game. Professional Salespeople hold their ground and expose No and Not Yet as imposters who only want the worst for customers.

Information erases the unknown. If No and Not Yet try to get between you and the customers you’re trying to help STAY IN THE GAME. Provide your customers with the best information you can. Industry information, product information, problem-solving information and whatever advice you can offer based on your own expertise.

Don’t float away from your customers and leave them alone in the vastness of the current unknowns. They may not remember exactly what you’ve done for them in the presence of No and Not Yet but they will certainly remember how you made them feel.

Make them feel like more than a customer. Make them feel as if they matter as a person because in fact they do. Sales right now is far more about helping people than it is about closing a deal. That’s actually always true but it is vital right now.

It’s likely you’re not spending as freely as you were a month ago. Neither are your customers. But one day your own unknowns will be gone and you’ll feel safer spending again. That too will be the same for your customers.

If you can stay with your customers in the presence of No and Not Yet today then your customers will be there for you tomorrow when No and Not Yet have faded away until the next time of uncertainty.

Today’s Effort Determines Tomorrow’s Success

Many times towards the end of a year salespeople sort of “coast” their way towards the New Year.

In times of uncertainty many salespeople do the same thing, they take their foot off the gas and stop selling. It’s a mistake at the end of a year and it’s a mistake in these times of uncertainty.

“Sales” are different right now than they are in more normal times. But different does not mean impossible. “Sales” in their current state might also not mean making a sale. It may be, and likely is, more about being available to your customers. It most definitely is about staying in touch and keeping your lines of communication open.

Whatever secondary methods of communication you used to communicate with your customers prior to our current situation are now most likely your primary methods. By secondary I mean texts, email and phone calls. Your primary method was face-to-face and in most cases that’s not possible at the moment.

If you somehow can make face-to-face calls and both you and your customer are comfortable with it then I guess that’s fine….so long as it is SAFE FOR OTHERS AND IN NO VIOLATION OF CURRENT LOCAL, STATE, AND FEDERAL GUIDELINES.

How ever you do it, you must stay visible to your customers. You must remain a resource to whatever extent you can. You must remain willing to help. In fact, I’d recommend each communication include that very question; “How can I help?” Or “What can I do for you right now?”

Beyond some sort of personal contact with your customer there are many other sales activities you can undertake. Many many salespeople had things, productive things, that they were going to do “someday.” We’ll guess what, someday has arrived!

You know the stuff you were going to do “someday” but never had the time to do. Things likes reviewing notes from accounts that haven’t purchased from you in a long time, or maybe ever. While “someday” is still going on review those notes to determine what you will do differently to earn that customer’s business when personal selling becomes possible again.

Now is also a great time to prepare and practice responses to your most common objections. And by the way, the most professional and prosperous salespeople practice those responses out loud.

We should talk a bit about prospecting. I am not an expert like Mark Hunter @thesaleshunter is. But I’m thinking if you’re going to attempt to prospect right now you must tread very lightly. It just seems almost inappropriate to me. But like I said, others know far more about this topic in times like these than I do so I could of course be wrong…but I don’t think so.

That doesn’t mean however that you can’t prepare new prospecting materials. Prospecting emails, letters, leave behind materials and phone scripts. You can even practice your phone presentation so it doesn’t sound scripted. Just so you know, if you ever call me and it sounds like you’re reading a script, I will never buy from you. Most people are like me, they won’t either.

I have been in and around sales a very long time. I don’t believe we have ever experienced anything like this. With other major disruptions we have faced we could see or at least predict what the end might look like. Not so much this time.

Many things are unlikely to go back to exactly the way they were but it’s my guess that sooner rather than later sales will return to pretty much normal. What you do in these abnormal times will determine your level of success and how fast you’re personally back to normal when the “ab” in abnormal is gone.

Stay in the game and keep selling. Take the long view and realize your activities today will shape the curve of your personal comeback later. That is most certainly not the curve you want to flatten!

You Haven’t and You Won’t Because You Can’t

Almost every business professes at least the desire to provide the highest caliber of customer service possible.

They name their customer support departments things like customer “care.” They talk about improving the customer “experience” all while failing to invest in the people who might actually care for those customers. The people who work for that business that professes the desire to “care” for their customers.

If you’re running a business that professes the desire to provide your customers with excellent customer service then you need to know that if you’re not caring for your own employees then you can’t provide a high level of service to your customers.

And if you’re not currently providing your employees with the tools and training they need to take care of your customers then you won’t be providing a high level of customer service anytime soon.

You can’t provide a high level of customer service if your employees feel undervalued, under appreciated and unprepared for the task.

I maybe haven’t said this in like an hour so let me repeat it. 100% of your employees are people. By an amazing coincidence 100% of your customers are people too. If your employees are unhappy and feel unsupported then you can bet your last dollar that your customers will be too.

If that situation persists you’ll be down to that last dollar a lot sooner than you think.

You simply cannot create happy customers by placing them in contact with unhappy employees. The fastest way to create an unhappy employee is by trying to manage them instead of leading them.

When I ask the owner of a business about their people I listen for how they describe them. When I hear a bunch of buzzwords like “our team members” or our “guest support staff” or my personal favorite “customer experience managers” I start to be concerned.

What I’m hoping to hear is about the PEOPLE of the organization. A solid, firm unmistakable understanding that the people who are expected to create happy customers are human beings. Human beings who have stuff going on in their life outside of work. Human beings who have goals and hopes and dreams just like a real person.

Human beings who need to be led because trying to manage another human being causes nothing but problems for the manager trying to manage them. You have not and you will not have a fully productive and engaged human being working for you if you’re trying to manage them instead of lead them. Because you can’t manage a human being. It’s just not possible.

Stop trying to create a great customer service department and start creating a great customer service culture. That culture begins with happy, supported and valued employees. That culture is only possible if you lead your people rather than manage them.

I’ll write a lot in the coming weeks on the difference between managing people and leading them. In the meantime consider investing less in the latest “new thing” in customer service. Invest instead in your people because only people have the ability to truly care for another person…like your customers for instance.