Selling is not my strong suit. I’m just not one of those people who wakes up in the morning and jumps out of bed saying, “Yeah! I get to sell today!” And I said as much to my manager many many years ago (I wasn’t in sales) who gave me some of the best advice of my career. She said, “Andrea, no matter how far you go in your career, you had better be prepared to sell every darn day of your business life.”
Over the years that advice came back to me again and again. Finally I realized that what she was really telling me was that business is always about your customers, and selling is one of the primary ways of expressing that. All these years later it still takes a bit of mental preparation to pick up the phone and make a sales call, but I’ve developed three simple approaches to help me get past the initial block, and I thought I’d share them with you.
1. Pick five friends to call today. I start each day thinking about five customers I will call. But instead of thinking of it as a sales call (in which case, I would put it off all day until it was too late to do it), I look at it as a friendly call. My intention is to touch base, not to take an order. I identify the five people I will call – including both existing customers and contacts who haven’t yet purchased – pick up the phone, and start dialing. The truth is, throughout my career I’ve had great customers, and this part of my business day has always been very rewarding. Even more rewarding? I’m still talking with friends I established three industries and 20 years ago.
2. Learn about your customers. If all you know about your customers is what they buy from you, you can’t establish anything but a superficial relationship. When you’re making those friendly calls, make sure you’re listening more than you’re talking. The jewelry designer who can connect their customer to a pattern-maker/seamstress who can replicate their favorite – and lost-through-the-airlines – linen jacket may not make a jewelry sale right away, but they’ve made a friend for life. If you really know what interests your customers, you can connect with them in meaningful ways beyond simply selling them your products.
3. Always follow up. Call your customers after you’ve shipped a product to or closed a project with them. Sure, if you have a few hundred thousand customers this isn’t possible, but most of us don’t have too many customers to call. Hopefully, the rest of your business processes are under control and your customers will be consistently delighted with your effort. But when something isn’t up to their expectations, most people find it a lot easier to give feedback when they are invited to do so. This is particularly true for those customers with whom you have built a friendly relationship. So check in with them and make sure everything is as it should be.
These three ideas are so simple, yet they are profoundly effective in helping you build your business. Why? Because selling doesn’t lead to relationships, but relationships do lead to sales. And relationships are a lot more fun.
(c) Andrea M. Hill, 2007