Getting by with a little help from your friends

There are many mysteries in life, but this much is clear: Nothing can help you get by like a little help from your friends. This is just as true in sales as it is in life.

Truly effective sales people – the ones who always have time to make one more prospect call, finish one more project

and grow their client base by another 10 per cent, while bringing fresh-baked cookies to the office every day – have one thing in common: They are all likely to employ a broad network of connections, friends, family and acquaintances to help them seize opportunities and respond to challenges. In other words, the most successful and effective sales people are also the ones who are most likely to ask for help.

Many people feel that networking is something that only business people do – that it’s only used to grow your business, sell more products or find a new job. But this simply isn’t true. Think about it on a personal level. Would you rather go to a dentist whose name you found in the phone book, or the one who your neighbor with the perfect smile always recommends? Would you prefer to shop for a used car at the first dealer you come to on the highway, or one who’s a personal friend of your sister-in-law’s?

The fact is, in our personal lives as in our careers, we succeed or fail based on our networks, and on people. As has been said many times: “”take care of your people (or, in this case, your network), and your business will take care of itself.””

This month, we explore four tried-and-true principles of networking that have been perfected by successful businesses in every industry, and which every sales person can use to improve their networking technique for business, or for pleasure.

  1. You have to be prepared.
  2. Networking opportunities can present themselves anytime, anywhere, so you always need to be ready to meet new people. Know in advance what types of people you want to meet, what types of questions you want to ask them and what kind of information you’re looking for.

    Keep an open mind. Plan for networking events in advance. Schedule regular meetings in your calendar. Always be on the lookout for new events or opportunities to find people who can help you. And always have more than enough business cards on hand – not only with you but also in your car and even at home. Having a card available makes it easier to follow up with people you meet, and for them to remember who you are.

  3. You have to give.
  4. Whether it’s a marriage or a business partnership, all good relationships are built on give and take. In order to work and play effectively, you must therefore first understand the concept of “”giver’s gain.””

    Humans are driven by a desire to be reciprocal. As best-selling author and professor Robert Cialdini states, reciprocity is one of the most powerful influence and communication techniques. The power of reciprocity, and our human desire to want to give back to others who have first given to us, is one of the most effective ways of building a supportive network.

    Likewise, one of the most powerful attributes of successful sales people is their willingness to share their network with the same fervor that they are willing to share their knowledge. So give of yourself first. When you meet a new contact, be the first to share information or pass on a referral. Then be sure to follow up to find out how the referral worked out. Practice this principle of sharing, and you’ll be rewarded with loyalty, and with trust.

  5. You have to listen.
  6. Motivational guru Zig Ziglar teaches us that the best way to get what we want is to first help others get what they want. But how do we find out what others want? By listening.

    As sales people, we are taught effective speaking and presentation skills. But perhaps an even more important lesson – and certainly a much rarer one – is how to be a truly effective listener. My father used to say to me all the time, “”Colleen, you have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion!”” As a good rule of thumb, you should speak 30 per cent of the time, and listen 70 per cent. How do you do this? By asking questions that start with Why, Who or What.

    As Steve Covey noted, successful people “”first seek to understand, and then to be understood.”” Covey knew that you only learn while listening, not talking. Monopolizing the conversation is a good way to miss what someone is telling you he or she wants, and to make your customers feel unimportant or dismissed.

    The most powerful sales conversations come when sales people learn how to start their sentences with the words of their prospects. By inserting their language into your presentation, you show them that you’re listening, and you create a powerful relationship based on trust and respect. In these high trust relationships, studies show that only two per cent of decision makers will even bother to check out the competition the next time they need to buy products like yours.

  7. You have to be in the right place.

You can’t meet anyone by staying in your office, living room or backyard. So go to where your customers are, or are likely to be.

Where do the decision makers you want to meet hang out? Association meetings? Chambers of Commerce? Charity events? It’s important to determine which fields of business can best help you, and then go where you’re most likely to find the people you want to meet.

Also, think who your customers associate with. If you’re looking to meet a specific executive, the best chance is by attending events that other executives will be at. Develop relationships with them and, eventually, you’ll be introduced to your prospect.

However, remember that, regardless of the events you choose, networking and business opportunities can appear at any time. This year alone at Engage, three of our largest and most exciting projects came about as referrals from my neighbors! And if you’re lucky enough to be a successful networker and find yourself swamped with friends and supporters, don’t forget to help out others. Having a large enough network to refer people to when you’re too busy can be an invaluable tool, and one which could pay off in dividends should the roles be reversed one day.

Even Ringo would agree

Nothing can help you get by, or succeed, like a network of friends and supporters. The Beatles reminded us of that little fact in the 60’s, and I think it’s something we as sales people should carry with us wherever we go.

Of course, you can’t expect to build an exceptional network by attending a single event. Like all things worth having, building your network can take time. But if your goal is to enhance, continue or accelerate your sales success, I’m confident you’ll soon find it is time well spent.

Thanks for reading. I know that, for the last couple of months, this sales tip column has been covering the “”touchy feely stuff.”” And I know, too, that most sales people hate that – I’ve been there myself. But what we can’t forget is that selling is personal. Without a personal relationship based on trust and respect, there is no business. Period.

But for those of you who are ready for something a little different, have no fear. Join us next month when we’ll talk about a few more tangible sales skills, like strategy, negotiation – and closing.

Colleen Francis is president of Engage Selling Solutions of Ottawa

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