Founder & CEO
I am an introvert by nature and many people wouldn’t believe that but it’s true. Put me in a room of 50 or 100 people and I would be the shiest person in the room but introduce me to one person and I will talk their ear off. Being in sales and management most of my career that has been something I have always struggled with and it is something I consider to be out of my comfort zone. To combat this I had to be really good at building relationships because my networking skills left a lot to be desired.
In my opinion there are four keys to building strong relationships with customers.
The first one most people might find odd but it’s the one thing that I have always done when meeting new or existing customers. Most people in sales have heard that if you are talking, you aren’t selling. This couldn’t be more true. No one wants to listen to someone talk about how great they are or how great their company is or their services. What that person across from you wants isn’t a bunch of marketing fluff, what they want is to have a meaningful discussion and one that in the end has value to them. If they don’t see value in meeting with you then good luck getting the next meeting. Something I heard a long time ago and I think its bang on is that you need to give three times and on the fourth time its ok to ask for the business. Building value for the person you are meeting with is essentially the same thing. So, when you meet with a prospective customer, just let them do the talking. I will admit sometimes that’s not easy because not everyone is open during meetings but the more time you put in the more they will open up about themselves and their business. That leads into the second key point, information.
When I meet with a customer I always have my little black book and I use it because I want to write down everything I can about the person I am meeting with. Now, you should notice I didn’t say the business or the opportunity you are meeting about, I said the person. That other info is important but don’t get ahead of yourself. When you meet with someone for the first time or even the tenth time, how often do your spend the first five minutes talking about life, your kids, the weather, your hobbies….the list goes on and on. Well that five minutes to me is the most important five minutes of a meeting because that’s where I learn who and what my customer is all about. For example, lets say someone I am meeting for the first time is pressed for time and he says its because he’s gotta run his son, Johnny to his soccer game in 45 minutes. I say “You know what, I will be real quick and maybe you and I can get together in a couple weeks when you have more time.” Immediately the sense of relief hits their face and a comfort level with you begins. Now I might spend the next 20 minutes just trying to get him to talk a little bit about his business or his organization but I already got the most important thing. See I will make a note that Johnny is his son’s name and that the last time we met he told me his son was playing in a game that night and when he gives me that meeting two weeks later, the first set of questions out of my mouth won’t be “How can we do business together?” or “What keeps you up at night?”……no my first set of question would be “How was Johnny’s soccer game? Who won? What position does he play?”. So what did I do? I showed the person that I listened and cared enough to pay attention and ask about it. Peoples worlds are surrounded by their kids and I am no different so when you take an interest in what makes their world complete, it makes a difference.
Relationships are about connections with people. People want to be around people that have common interests and people they can relate too. So, to me this was an easy example but they aren’t always that easy so what I do normally in those first five minutes is try to find out what makes that person across the table from me tick as they say. I ask what their interests are, kids, no kids, sports, whatever might be something they are interested in because that’s what makes the connection and the connections over time create trust.
Trust is the key to any strong relationship. Your customer needs to trust you before they will buy from you. It’s the most simple concept behind sales but its true in every instance. Whether you are buying a car or managed security service, it really doesn’t matter. If you don’t trust the person you are working with then you won’t buy from them?
The last thing that should be a given no matter what the situation is honesty and integrity. The easiest way to explain this one is to give you an example. Some time ago Bulletproof won a large Voice Over IP project for an organization in New Brunswick. Our proposal was a Cisco voice solution and we based the entire solution on the expertise that one of our veteran voice people had with the product. We were thrilled to win the business but on the day the contract was to be signed we had a huge wrinkle. As part of the agreement both sides agreed to do a formal signing at their office and have an initial project executive meeting which I was asked to attend. Literally, on my way over to their office I got a text from the voice person that the deal was centered around. He was resigning from the company and moving on. I had two choices, don’t tell the client for all intent and purposes they would find out a few days later after the contract was signed OR do the right thing and be honest with the customer and risk having the contract cancelled. Now, we aren’t talking about a small contract here folks, this was one of the largest deals in the history of Bulletproof at the time and there was no way I wanted to lose it but I had no choice. When I arrived onsite I sat the project manager down who was assigned the project and told her the bad news. I also told her I had no replacement at the time and needed to reassess. I also told her that in good faith I could not sign the contract. The project manager, was in tears because this project was so key to their organization and she was point for the whole thing. I hated to do that to her but in my eyes, I had no choice. Fast forward a week or two later, we were able to engage another resource on our team and he rose to the occasion. What resulted was a project that was very successful, a very happy customer and most of all a customer who knew they could trust us. I have told that story many times but it is the basis for which Bulletproof was built and I stand by it today still. We do the right thing, no matter what. If you are going to be successful in building relationships you need to live by this rule.
Thanks for reading folks and I hope you enjoyed it!