As I sat with Bob Klotz, CEO of Bayside Solutions, he had the confidence of a man with a fast growing staffing firm powered by hundreds of relationships with clients. But all relationships have a beginning--a starting point where the parties encounter each other for the first time.
Without that starting point, no relationship can exist or grow. Making that beginning happen is a barrier for many, a stumbling block that stunts a company's growth.
This isn't just a salesperson thing. Every CEO has a huge responsibility for establishing relationships of the most critical kind, and has to set the tone for their entire team.
Playing on one’s strengths
Mr. Klotz developed his technique for starting relationships before he founded his company, working as a sales executive for a staffing company. He says, "I'm not a great cold caller and I'm not a great presenter, either. But I am disciplined and persistent, so I kept my focus and didn't let up."
Rather than scatter his efforts, he started grading his prospects, and spent nearly all his time on his "A" prospects. At the top of the list was Providian. They were a big firm with a real need for his services. Bob says, "I kept finding ways to get face-to-face with their people who were doing the hiring. One by one, I got to meet them." But they didn't respond the way he wanted. They didn't give him any placements. He met the entire HR staff, one by one, with no luck. So he started meeting the IT staff. Halfway through, he still had no luck.
The company Bob worked for started putting up resistance. They saw the continuing time investment and associated expenses and pushed Bob to divert resources elsewhere. Bob rechecked his assumptions – that Providian was indeed, in all respects, an “A” prospect, and kept at it. After more than 18 months, one hiring manager in IT gave Bob his chance. He got a placement and filled it. With the door cracked open, the pace of business quickened. In the year that followed, Providian became Bob's company's top client. The barriers he had finally broken through now protected his position from other new competition now that he was on the inside.
Identify your “A” prospects and get in front of them, face-to-face. But it's not easy, and nearly everything pushes you to turn away and try knocking on other doors. Don't fall for the trap.
Why does this strategy work so well?
- You are pouring your effort into the best prospects – where the expense of that work can pay off. Of course, prospects can be "downgraded" if you realize they can't use your product or service, if they've rejected you for reasons you can't "fix,” or you have lots of prospects that are better.
- You get information face to face. People talk to people. Too often we don't know why we don't get the business. Much of the time if we just understood the real issues, we could adjust our product or service to address the client's needs.
- All humans, including prospects, are socialized to be nice and polite to people, and it's hard for prospects to have bad manners (like hanging up, ignoring us, telling us they don't like us, etc.) when a human being is right there, asking for help.
- Your clients might like you! You might have the same hobbies. Only in person do we tend to take the time to actually get to know a person with whom we have no pre-existing relationship.
- You get more time. A phone call might be 10 minutes. An in-person visit can be an hour or more.
- You can show things that add to your presentation and conversation. Product demonstrations, brochures and the like. And you can show them as you tell your story. You can show them as you learn your prospects real concerns, then pull out of your bag those things that are responsive.
- The bond of trust begins to be built. Trust is at the core of most all relationships, and trust is built most quickly staring at the eyes and body language of the other party.
But what about all of today's technology – web cams, computer desktop sharing technology and the like? It can be amazing for building relationships and for getting work done. But they pale at the task of starting relationships. Most people doing business today did not grow up with this technology, and it doesn't tie into their emotions. People have to feel good to say yes. Technological solutions are a weak second option to building relationships face to face. But if it's all you've got, use it wisely to get in front of the client. Write with skill and in a conversational tone. Create collateral that shows your face and has a human, personable feel to it. And use the phone a lot -- it is far better than e-mail -- at least you can have a real conversation.
Plenty of CEOs aren't good cold callers and aren't outgoing like a salesperson. But if any CEO gets themselves in front of those they wish to have relationships with, the prospects for their company will rise.
- Face-to-face meetings with prospects are not easy, but the potential benefits are enormous.
- In-person meetings allow people more time to get to know each other, which builds trust and leads to more satisfying relationships.
- Technology is a poor substitute to face-to-face meetings.