In the old days many of the big sales leaders taught sales people to “develop a relationship” with a potential customer. The idea was a good one: get to know the customer, their hobbies, their family, and their children’s birthdays. Thus gaining their trust and faith so that you and your company would be there for the long haul and you and they would be friends forever. So the salespeople would show up and ask a lot of questions about the family, hobbies, “where’d you catch that big fish?” they’d ask as they looked around the office for personal things to discuss.
The challenge with this approach is that many good intentioned sales people became extremely good about the personal relationship but never really focused on solving the customer’s issues. To make matters worse, the shelf life of an average technology sales person is pretty short (maybe because they never focused on solving the real business problem) and thus the decision maker was forced to answer the same questions about their kids over and over again……that gets really old, and decision makers see through the shallow conversation.
It’s interesting going from a technology business development person to an entrepreneur and being the receiving side of those sales appointments. As an entrepreneur, I don’t need someone to take me to lunch and talk about my hobbies. I have friends. I want someone to provide me something (expertise, resources) or help me in some way. I like it when people tell me what they can do in a very straight forward manner, I like it when they’ve done research before they show up, and I like it when they ask me intelligent questions about what we do (as if they’ve thought about it beforehand).
Chances are the IT Manager or CIO already has some friends and family. They may want to play some golf with you, but they more than likely let you meet with them not because they were interested in adding to her Facebook pals, they want someone to help. They want you to understand and diagnose their problem and help fill in the holes.
Here are two things we try to instill into our IT Consultants:
Industry Specific Expertise – Understand your customer’s industry, and how your they fit in the industry. If you already work with other similar customers (and you should be), share with the customer challenges their peers are seeing and how they are addressing them. (Be extremely careful here not to share confidential information about their competitors or violate the trust of another client, your goal is to help provide expertise on industry wide challenges AND solutions).
Solution Specific Expertise- Is your customer a private university? If so, they have thousands of students and teachers who carry mobile devices on campus. How are other universities building campus wifi infrastructures? What wireless LAN solution did other schools select and why? How are they addressing security concerns like Network Access Control, Application Level Security, and Bandwidth Shaping?
These are all things that an Industry Expert and a Solution Expert should understand.
In my opinion, a vendor-client relationship begins with helping the client first. The personal relationship and going to their kid’s Bar Mitzvah may come. Or you may just gain a long term customer without ever going to a tee ball game.
Have a different opinion or have something to add? Feel free to comment below.