I’ve spent most of my work life searching for efficiencies, and I derive great pleasure from finding better ways to do things. I may even take it too far at times — employees who suffered through my lessons on ways to pack boxes or create pivot tables can attest. But suffice to say, if there is a better way to do something, I’m probably game.
It may, then, seem crazy that I spend as much time as I do on fostering business relationships. I get to know my clients, my referral sources, and even my vendors because, in my experience, the relationship is where I can create real, lasting value amidst a world filled with transactional dealings.
Now, there is a fine balance between operational efficiency and building meaningful relationships. Efficiency in business is a noble goal — we all agree one should “do more with less,” that we should find profitable ways to serve our clients, and we should avoid leaving money on the table. But this push often leads to terse or highly formal relationships with our customers and vendors. And this can sow seeds of trouble down the road, as the push for instant gratification, (or for this quarter’s earnings number) builds a big disconnect.
So whether you’re a marketer or a salesman, heed my advice on what matters most when capturing your client’s trust and attention. Let’s use “the art of the deal” as our starting point.
If a prospect comes to me looking to buy a specific product or service, I pause before trying to close the deal and, first, consider what they think they want to buy. This is because I typically know my services, and the market, better than the customer. I want to give them the value of my knowledge — but I need more information first.
Before I ever propose or close a deal, I spend as much time as possible learning about my client’s goals. How does he or she envision success? Why does he or she think she wants to buy from us? If we work together, and she is incredibly happy with our work, what will it look like?
I find that knowing the underlying motivations — and real desires — of my client or audience ensures that I’m selling the right product or service. Is this efficient? Not at all, if you look at it in the short term. But if you are trying to build real value, it’s the only way to do it.
After I learn the full scope of my prospect’s motivations, I can better serve them. If my business or firm indeed has a product or service that helps the client, I am comfortable specifically offering it to them. Sometimes it’s what they thought they wanted. But in many cases, it’s not — and I prefer to identify that on the front end before any money changes hands. If that’s the case, I can ultimately help them find what they need. And while that may lower my sales number for the month, it does make me a valued resource in the long run. I’m protecting myself from the wrong projects, the customer from buying the wrong service, and providing genuine value to both my prospects and my business. I’ve even found that many clients who do not select me become great referral sources, or might someday become a great customer.
By the end of it all the relationship becomes the prize, not the sale. And when you have relationships in mind (and at stake), you have no choice but to provide value.
This model applies to all spectrums of business strategy — from marketing to customers to seeking referral sources, sourcing investors, empowering employees, and selecting vendors.
By establishing a connection, and learning what the other side really wants out of their relationship with you, you’re ensuring that an effective process ensues —avoiding wrong fits or costly mistakes. And most importantly, you’ll build your reputation as a giver and spend the right time on the right relationships.