I just kicked out another pair of solicitors from our office suite. Nicely, of course.
The young man and woman were well dressed, polite and trying to whip up some charming banter with me before launching into their spiel about printing solutions. I felt badly for them, and give them credit for taking a tough job in tough economic times, but I’m also annoyed they interrupted my 2:30 pm at-my-desk lunch to sell something we already have.
Their visit made me think about my own small business. I wondered: How do we make our clients feel? Unlike my competitors, my company never cold calls or shows up at an office unannounced. Mostly, we’ll contact our corporate colleagues and then we’ll listen. Sometimes they vent about their crummy job or don’t have time to talk because their hair is on fire — which is exactly when we can help. Our sales strategy isn’t complex, but it’s very effective: Be there when it’s hitting the fan.
Not every business needs a well-defined, matrixed sales strategy. Because we’re a professional services firm, we rely on personal contacts and referrals for painless selling. We use relationships built on value, loyalty and trust. That’s why my company uses four strategies when we sell:
My son’s first job in college was a telemarketer to alumni, calling people at home during dinner to ask for donations. After his first week, he hated it. “I can’t do this, Mom,” he said. “I feel sleazy and want to quit.” Two weeks after I thought he had quit, he said he was still on the job and succeeding, earning a lot more donations and having fun at the same time. How did he turn things around?
“I stopped using the script,” he said. “I just call and talk to people. Some people hang up on me like before, but mostly I just ask what they’re doing since they graduated and there’s no shortage of great stories. It’s fascinating to hear about their lives. Then sometimes they ask about my career goals, and the next thing you know, they wanted to connect me with a friend to help my career or donate to the school!” Genuine connections happen when people actually like what they do.
I’m damn picky about our clients. As a small business, I know we can’t be all things to all clients or we’d go broke and crazy trying. We make a conscious decision about the types of clients we want. If a potential client isn’t in our sweet spot, we refer them to freelance friends or kindly say no thank you. Sales isn’t so painful when you know who you are and stay in your lane. You can’t be everything to everybody, and a great many of your prospects just won’t be the right fit.
Are you a true believer? Do you believe the product or service you’re introducing to your prospect is going to add value and make a difference? Are you doing the prospect a favor — or are you just trying to cram a slightly less expensive, less reliable toner cartridge down the office manager’s throat? When I know my prospect has a problem I can solve, it changes everything about my delivery and the impact of the conversation.
Ooh, don’t you just hate naggers? We know it’s important to stay visible and let prospects know what we can do, but we don’t nag them. Our service business, like many, is like the fire department. People know where we are but don’t really need us until something bursts into flames. Attorneys, tax experts, tech support, electricians. When you need them you want the best. It takes time to build simple awareness into a relationship of trust, but there’s nothing more satisfying than delivering in a big way when you’re needed most.
As entrepreneurs, we’re selling every day even if we’re not natural salespeople. Anyone who’s received a telemarketing call during dinner knows forced solicitation rarely results in a sale. How do those calls make you feel? Your own selling style should be thoughtfully crafted and constantly nurtured for truly painless sales.