Death of a Salesman


The salesman is dead. Long live the relationship-builder.

If you're like most entrepreneurs, you love what you do. You have a passion for your ideas, your products and your services. But you hate selling those ideas, products and services with a passion, too. And you know what? Your customers hate being sold just as much as you hate selling them. So what's the solution? Forget everything you thought you knew about sales. In today’s marketplace, growing your business is as simple as building relationships – something you’ve been doing your entire life. There’s no magic formula for success. You don’t need to be a fast-walking, smooth-talking salesman to get people’s attention. You don’t need to put on a dog-and-pony show to convince them you are the best at what you do. Flash isn’t what’s going to get the job done. Just be yourself and do what comes naturally. Focus on serving others. Have conversations. Talk plainly but with authority. Be authentically helpful. Let your expertise do the heavy lifting. Lead the way to success for your prospects. Say goodbye to your days of being a salesman once and for all. Here are the dos and don’ts that will guide you in building relationships that lead to business growth.

Find your niche. Don’t try to be everything to everyone.

target The salesman will eagerly talk the ear off of anyone and everyone that will give him the time of day, regardless of whether they have any real use for his products or services now or in the future. The relationship-builder can say with confidence that he is the best man for the job because he knows his strengths and his customers’ needs well enough to know that it is true. When you’re trying to grow your business, it’s tempting to cast your net far and wide to reel in any and every prospect that crosses your path. But grasping at straws is no foundation for long-term, mutually beneficial relationships. The key to convincing prospects that you are their best choice is truly believing that you are, in fact, the best choice for them. This type of self-assuredness starts with knowing where your depth of expertise lies and identifying those who can benefit most from it. This requires you to be resolute in defining your service niche, clear in identifying your target audience and focused on finding ways to connect the dots between the two. When you find the people that you are meant to serve, convincing them to let you help them reach their goals is a much less difficult proposition.

Pull, don’t push.

leader The salesman cold calls. His is the Russian roulette approach to business growth. He spins the wheel and hopes for the best. The relationship-builder endeavors to establish a foundation of trust before ever asking a prospect to entrust him with their time, attention or hard-earned dollars. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: you must be identify the tribes of people who represent your target market, find the places where they live online and earn your right to walk among them as a leader. To be accepted by their community, you must first contribute. This will likely require being an active participant in social media channels, where you can interact directly with current and prospective customers in ways that are helpful, insightful or even entertaining. This almost always requires ensuring that your own online home base – your website – provides value beyond compare in its free content offering, whether that takes the form of blog articles, videos or other types of resources. After all, as a relationship-builder, you must be willing to give away some of your time and expertise in order to plant the seeds of trust and open the lines of communication. But the benefit of your efforts is that when someone is ready to pull the trigger on a buying decision, your name will be the first – and maybe only – one on their call list.

Do your homework. Don’t make assumptions.

homework The salesman has a one-size-fits all pitch for every customer. His product doesn’t change, so neither does his approach. The relationship-builder does the legwork necessary to ensure that the relationship starts off on the right foot. He recognizes that no two customers are alike, and if he doesn’t have a fundamental understanding of the problems they face, how can he propose to address them? If you are given the opportunity to meet with a prospect, gather as much intelligence as possible beforehand. After all, when you have the entirety of the Internet and its infinite font of information at your disposal, why not use it? What can you learn about the person you’re meeting with? What is their professional background? What experiences or interests do you have in common with them that can help you break the ice? What’s the story of the company they represent? What does their competitive landscape look like? What opportunities can you see that they might not be taking full advantage of? You’ll be amazed at what spending a few minutes with Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter will reveal. Ultimately what you’re really looking for are the questions, concerns, issues and insecurities that keep them up at night. If you walk in and show them that you understand their challenges from their perspective, they’ll be more easily convinced that you also know how to overcome them.

Have a conversation. Don’t make a pitch.

The salesman loves the 30-second elevator pitch. He comes out swinging right off the bat with a perfectly polished speech about how wonderful his products or services are. The relationship-builder asks questions first. After all, this meeting is about serving the prospect’s needs, not his own. While it is important to do your homework before a prospect meeting, don't make the mistake of assuming that you already have all the answers you need. And certainly don't script out the interaction. Ask a lot of questions. Confirm the conclusions you drew from your research. Be prepared to improvise. You know your business, and if you’ve done your due diligence, you know their business pretty well, too, so there’s no need to be apprehensive if the conversation takes an unexpected turn. Don’t become so wrapped up in your own presentation that you steamroll over your prospect. You should listen at least as much as you talk. Make sure you truly hear what the prospect has to say. Pay close attention to their body language and facial expressions for cues that can help you steer the discussion in ways that reinforce their trust in you. Remember: a pitch is a push; a conversation is a two-way street.

Tell a story, don’t tout features.

arrow The salesman has a laundry list of features that he wants to make sure he conveys to a prospect so they know just how special his product or service is. The relationship-builder doesn’t talk in bullet points. He paints a picture of the end result. Tell your prospect the story of their future success and how you're going to help them achieve it. Give them a reason to believe why will it work, what will it be worth when it does and why are you the one that can make it happen.

Be authoritative, not arrogant.

The salesman is unshakably confident – to such an unnatural degree that he comes across as phony and affected, as if he’s merely putting on a well-rehearsed show. The relationship-builder demonstrates a different brand of confidence – one rooted in the foundation of authentic expertise and experience. When you talk to a prospect, speak with authority, not arrogance. Demonstrate that you are a master of your field, but interact with them as an equal. Relate to them as one person who understands the challenges of growing a business to another. And never stoop to tearing down the competition. Unless your prospect broaches the subject, there’s no reason even to acknowledge their existence. This is your time to shine; make the most of it.

Be patient, not pushy.

clock The salesman wants a commitment today because that’s what serves his interests. The relationship-builder lets the customer decide when they’re ready to take the relationship to the next level because that’s what serves the client’s interests. That’s not to say that you should meet with a client and then ignore them until they decide to pick up the phone and call you again. You should touch base periodically, but do so in a way that demonstrates your continued mindfulness of and investment in their needs. Reassure them that you’re ready to hit the ground running if and when they choose to move forward. Remember that every touchpoint – whether it occurs in person, over the phone or via email – represents another chance to strengthen the bonds of trust that exist between you.

Be a nurturer, not a closer.

handshake-trust The salesman is a great closer. Once he has a signature on a contract and money in hand, his job is done, and he has already long since turned his attention to his next target. The relationship-builder never closes. He pays attention, he nurtures, he earns the right to continue serving the customer’s needs. "Closing" is a dangerously misleading term – one that is symptomatic of the old school of sales. When a customer makes the choice to do business with you, you’re not closing anything. You’re only beginning the process of cultivating a relationship with someone whom you hope will be a lifelong client. Remember that this person and this company have decided to take a chance on you. To them, it’s still a roll of the dice at this point. This is your opportunity to prove to them that their gamble will pay dividends in the realization of the future success you promised. Think of every interaction you have as an opportunity to cement their continued loyalty. Don’t just meet their expectations; exceed them at every turn.

R.I.P., Mr. Salesman. Hello, Mr. Relationship-Builder.

Follow the guidelines we’ve outlined here, and you’ll inevitably find that your prospective customers respond positively to seeing that their needs come first and that you have a genuine interest in helping them advance their own goals. If you approach the task of growing your business as a mission of earning trust and building relationships with people rather than just closing one sale after another, you’ll find not only that it’s not a dreadful task but that it’s actually enjoyable and even rewarding. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start building!