It's All About Relationships!

I recently read a post on LinkedIn Pulse written by a former colleague and current entrepreneur. Entitled "It's All about Showing Up," Karen Fields talked about her experiences, or lack thereof, of attempting to contact companies via their websites. She said that over a period of months "I personally filled out contact forms on thirty-five web sites and received zero responses." Voice messages received the same lack of response. Go figure. Why the lack of response to potential customers?

My frustration often comes from the other end of the spectrum – cold contacts and/or cold calls. Nary a day goes by that I'm not interrupted from getting the business of my business accomplished. Emails litter my inbox offering services guaranteed to grow my business ten-fold -- solutions from organizations who nothing about the nature of my business. At a minimum, I've got to waste time deleting them or take some action to get removed from their mailing list. And don't ask me why! Cold calls – I try to ignore those, but when I see the same number constantly reoccurring, sometimes with minutes, I'll answer and try to explain that they are taking me away from my work. Occasionally, the caller gets it. Usually, they hang up on me! Is this a good business strategy? Does this develop a positive image of their firm? I don't think so.

Todd Cohen, author and consultant, works with companies who want to create a sales culture. He's written a book entitled "Everyone's In Sales." While the book's target audience is sales professionals, there's a good message for leaders in all organizations. Just as Zappos' CEO Tony Hsieh emphasizes that customer service is at the core of their company – it doesn't happen in a silo – Cohen's message is sales doesn't happen in silos either. Think about it. Team members in all organizations need basic sales skills. Even if you're not directly involved in selling the goods and services of an organization, or supporting the sales team, all team members represent the organization's interests and values. Even non-profits have to sell its mission to others.

Cohen offers three skills that are essential to sales, all of which build on each other.

First is strong personal skills including qualities such as passion, energy, self-motivation, integrity, and the ability to work across the organization to understand and serve the customers, clients, or members in the case of non-profits or member-based organization.

Next is strong relationship skills including qualities such as humility, ego control, confidence, and personal responsibility. Don't forget these related skills of building collaboration and listening. Relationship building has to occur within the organization as well as with external stakeholders. Just as team members want to work with other great team members, potential customers want to do business with people, not with an impersonal organization. Are you listening cold callers?

Finally is excellent business acumen including an awareness of the total business environment. When Cohen talks of this, he's referring to the selling organization and the ability to understand the needs throughout that organization. I'd add that understanding the needs of the potential customer's organization is equally important. If you’re scraping the Internet and gathering web addresses, you're not demonstrating business acumen. You're engaging in a hit and miss approach. If you miss, you move on. A hit results in a quick sale, but not a relationship.

When you build relationships, you build trust. It's a message no leader can ignore.

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