There are many preconceived notions on the art of the close and how to convince people to buy your products and services. The word “convince” or the concept to “persuade” is what leads people astray. The notion of the ABC’s of Sales that has been popularized by the movie Glengarry Glen Ross has led people to believe that sales people should Always Be Closing. This has skewed the thought of new business. It’s not about “the ask”, it’s all about what is done to get to the ask. The true ABC’s of new business and sales needs to stand for Always Be Creating. If that’s the case, the relationship will lead to revenue.
When I was a kid, my dad was a salesman for a pharmaceutical company. My dad was a pretty solid sales rep and would always win awards for his efforts. One day, he brought one of these awards home and it caught my eye. The award was a framed photo of a beautiful ship with billowing sails cruising on a blue ocean. It was entitled the “Salesman Ship” and in every sail there was a word identifying a characteristic that made up the qualities of a great salesman. Words like “perseverance”, “conviction”, “enthusiasm”, were written in the white sails. The ship, itself, also had a word across it – “personality.”
My dad gave it to me to hang in my room. As we were putting it up, he said to me, “Louis – All these traits are important to have, but if you don’t have great relationships in your life, none of this matters and you will never make any money. You will be able to accomplish anything if you possess unbreakable relationships.”
I would see that ship every day and thought it was pretty cool that my dad entrusted it to me. More importantly, it was a daily reminder of what my dad had said about relationships. Ultimately, it has led me to a particular manifesto when it comes to sales, negotiation and closing business: Relationships Equal Revenue. This credo means the stronger the relationship, the higher the percentage when it comes to closing business. When it comes to small business, this mantra is even more important. In order to turn potential customers into paying consumers, small business owners must become incredible relationship architects.
Focus on the Customer, Not the Sale
In a sea of competition, salesmanship is really less about sales and more about how strong you have built the ship. Relationship Architecture™ will not only be what separates you from your competition, but also what leads you to providing your customers with what they truly want. I have many friends who are restaurateurs and I always tell them that their waiters and waitresses should not only be taking orders, they should also be taking notes. This is true of any business. Most small businesses focus on the product or services being provided to the customer and are not paying close enough attention to the customers themselves.
It’s a trap to believe your product or services are that much better than those of your competitors. Because of this, too many people who handle sales for small businesses focus entirely too much on “the ask” and what they are selling, instead of the needs of the customers. Asking is the right thing to do, but it shouldn’t be for a sale; the questions should be about the potential customers needs and goals. I realize this may seem like Business 101, but small businesses are failing miserably every day because they are focused on their product or services and not the needs of the customer.
My wife, Patricia, our two kids and I moved to New Hampshire to live full time on a lake instead of living in the heart of the action in the Boston area. There is one problem with the move: the options for dining and purchasing premium food products are limited. Most people may be able to deal with this change, but it’s a huge problem for our family. I find myself making sure that I make stops at our favorite purveyors while I am in Boston for business meetings. Patricia is constantly searching for places that might suit our preferences and taste buds.
Recently, she stumbled across a pasta shop near the kids’ school. She was excited and hopeful that this shop would be a viable alternative to the fresh pasta she was able to buy locally before we moved. Unfortunately, we will never know because the clerk at the store had no interest in what my wife needed or what she was looking to accomplish. Patricia started to explain that for the holidays, we have big crowds and would need to order eight to ten pounds of pasta for our group. The hemming and hawing that ensued along with the clerk wanting Patricia to jump through hoops prior to making a purchase was ridiculous. To top things off, the clerk didn’t even know if it was possible to accommodate our needs. Hello, it’s pasta…
This is why small businesses close. Business owners and their employees must break away from the mindset of “this is how we do it” and that there is no room for adaptation. I have to reiterate, the products that businesses sell are not special enough, in most circumstances, to warrant that attitude. It’s not the product alone that drives business; in fact, you could have a subpar product with incredible customer relations and be more successful than the company with a great product and no plan to win over their customers. The key to being overwhelmed with customer traffic is to give them what they want. It’s so very simple, yet so many businesses fail because they do not pay attention to this concept.
HOW TO TURN RELATIONSHIPS INTO REVENUE
When it comes to sales and negotiations I have developed the Nine Steps of the New Business Funnel, which can be found in Winning the Customer. These steps are very effective in increasing the percentage of closing new customers if meticulously followed without skipping steps.
1) Prospecting ~ Thoughtfully consider how your business matches with prospects that appear to have the characteristics, qualities and needs that you can deliver upon, in order to develop a long list of prospects.
2) Research ~ Do initial research concerning your long list to have a deeper understanding of your prospects and if they truly fit with your business.
3) Identify Target List (short list) ~ Widdle down the list to ensure that you do not waste time with long shots and that you are focusing on realistic prospects.
4) Relationship Architecture™ ~ Build a strategic plan for each prospect individually with the goal of closing the distance between you and the prospect. The stronger the relationship the more likely for a reasonable negotiation to get to a final deal.
5) Needs Analysis ~ When there is comfort and credibility in the relationship, find out quite specifically what the prospect is trying to accomplish. Understand their needs as well as their goals. When it comes to negotiation, understanding the needs and budget numbers will assist greatly in closing a win-win deal.
6) Create a Pertinent Program ~ Utilizing your skills, products and services, build a way to help the prospect achieve their objectives.
7) Pitch the Concept ~ Show the prospect how you will help them with their efforts and fit perfectly to aid them in achieving their goals.
Exchange of Ideas ~ It’s not about you, so let them help adjust your proposed plan to more precisely fit with their efforts. When you include the prospect in the building process it is both harder for them to say no and make negotiations much smoother.
9) Make the Ask (Close/Dead) ~ Show them you are worthy of their business and ask them to bring you in to assist them in achieving their goals.
Unfortunately, the Nine Steps of the New Business Funnel does not necessarily fit with every small business and they are also very time consuming and may not be conducive to some small business owners, who wear multiple hats and have many functions. In a perfect world, if you had the time to meticulously hit all nine steps you would definitely reap the rewards, but in the world of small business, you have to take a more time-practical approach. So here are my three steps to shorten the process but assist in your new business efforts – the “Three G’s” for turning Relationships into Revenue for Small Businesses: Gather, Give, Get.
1) Gather ~ As a small business you must devise a cost effective way to gather information about your customers and potential customers. Remember, current customers are also potential customers – you always want to be growing the amount that customers are currently spending with you. Do not just focus on new business, focus on all business. Small businesses need to take notes on all of its customers to make sure they understand what the customer truly wants, not just what they want to sell them. We are not living in a cookie cutter world, so one size fits all is a terrible sales strategy. CRM Software for small businesses does not have to be expensive and now are very convenient and mobile. Sales Force is what I use and recommend to clients, but Batchbook is another viable option and Nimble is using its technology to feed in social data to your Database. There are many other options out there, find what fits with you and use it religiously.
2) Give ~ Once you know the customer, you can give them what they want and customize their experience to fit their needs and goals. If you are selling a product like the pasta I mentioned earlier, I am not telling you to change your recipe to cater to one customer, but you should customize the experience so that they do not want to go anywhere else. In regard to a restaurant, by all means alter the meal to give the customer exactly what she wants. The relationship and understanding of the consumer will lead to a lifetime of sales as opposed to one transaction. Relationship Architecture™ and a thorough Needs Analysis will greatly assist in this area. This second “G” will also aid in the negotiation process and lead to a smoother back and forth to get to a deal.
3) Get ~ Don’t just get them to pay you, get their feedback. Once you provide your product or services, you can’t stop there. You have to keep asking questions on how you can improve and what will make your services better. The more feedback you receive the better you will be at closing them again and again. There are many ways to “Get” feedback, they key is not to be afraid to ask. Companies like Survey.com and Survey Monkey can be helpful with broad stroke questions and even utilizing social data to assist in knowing more about the validity of answers. However, when it comes to small business, I am partial to the “old fashion” way of personally asking your customers for feedback and insights to their experience because it not only will provide the data, but also assist in building the relationship.
Many small businesses are of the belief that if they provide a great product or service that is enough to get potential consumers to spend money with them. The reality is that sales and negotiations just begin with the product or services and the true art of generating revenue is in the Relationship Architecture™. The better equipped your organization is to build relationships and understand the psyche of the consumers, the greater the ratio will be to close business. So build that ship which will lead to sales and always remember; there is no magic wand to winning customers, but relationships will lead to revenue.