This is a true story.
It highlights three highly important aspects of business development that could have a positive effect on your ability to win more business in the future.
Here we go then.
In a previous life I owned and ran an IT recruitment company. One of our targets was a water company who we conservatively estimated spent £15m ($22m) on contract IT people each year and we badly wanted a piece of that action.
The person who gave out the work, we’ll call him Brian, and I didn’t really get on. Our moral compasses pointed in different directions and I wasn’t prepared to do what others did to secure business from him. He would mess me about no end: cancelling meetings at the last minute and breaking promises but I pressed on.
Then two things happened at pretty much the same time.
Firstly, a contractor who was working for me and had worked at the water company before, let’s call her Alice, was contacted by her old agency to go back to work on a specific project that she had extensive knowledge of. She refused to go back unless it was through me.
Secondly, Brian called me up to say he had good news and bad news: good news was they would let Alice come back through me (whoopee); bad news was they had just installed a supplier panel for 3 years and I wasn’t on it (booooo). He also added that he was moving to another part of the organisation, I took this as more good news but didn’t let on.
Then a new resource manager turned up, why don’t we call him Pete, who I only got to see because I had Alice on site. Had I not then he would have given me the brush off like all the other wannabe agencies (lesson #1).
My relationship with Pete was different from the start: identical moral compasses, the same interests and an amazingly similar sense of humour. Added to this early on he gave me a really obscure technical requirement that his panel suppliers had drawn a blank on and after working solidly on it for 2 weeks I found somebody. Our relationship entered a new phase as a consequence (lesson #2).
Roll forward three years. We had over 70 contractors on site making us the second biggest provider of contractors even though we could only get the requirement 3 days after the panel suppliers. I also had excellent working relationships with Pete and all the hiring managers (lesson #3).
So let’s summarise those key lessons: -
- The difference between zero and 1 is greater than 1 and a hundred. Being on the sales ledger makes all the difference so do what you need to in order to make it happen. Had I not had Alice on site I would not have got to see Pete and you wouldn’t be reading this blog post.
- Do something exceptional. The other agencies gave up because the requirement I satisfied was hard and one of many so they just pressed on to the next easier one. I didn’t. If you succeed where others have failed great things can happen and frequently do.
- It’s all about strength of relationships. When it comes down to it people buy from those they like, trust and feel valued by, Pete certainly did and it helped me to overcome the strictest of supplier rules. Added to that I also established a relationship with all the line managers who actually had the need for IT contractors. Relationships based upon trust and affinity will always trump those based on process and rules.
For what it’s worth this is the best of several very similar stories from that era that all deliver the same key messages which are as relevant today as they were then.
If you have time I would really like to hear comments from anybody with similar relationship-based success stories. Thanks you.
Image courtesy of Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
So this young man and young woman get married. All goes well and the young wife says “I’d like to cook you a Sunday dinner on our first Sunday together”. He agrees and looks forward to the great feast to come.
On Sunday the young man decides to stay with his wife whilst she cooks in the kitchen and he sees a very puzzling thing. She takes out a piece of beef from the fridge, slices the top third off and places the rest in their brand new double oven. Naturally, it being their first roast dinner together he says nothing. The meal is served up and it is truly delicious.
The following Sunday they are invited over to his mother-in-laws for lunch. He decides to do a little sucking up and stays chatting to his mother-in-law in the kitchen whilst she prepares the meal. To his amazement she too takes the meat out of the fridge, a dazzling looking piece of pork, slices the top third off and places the rest in the oven. Once again the meal is scrumptious and everyone congratulates her for a job well done.
The next weekend they all descend upon his wife’s Grandma for Sunday lunch. She still lives in the same house she did when she was first married over 60 years ago and although he didn’t say so the young man thought a kitchen make-over was long overdue. He found Grandma fascinating. She was as sharp as a whip and a great conversationalist so he stayed in the kitchen whilst she prepared the eagerly anticipated meal. As he watched her everything fell into place for him: she took the meat out of the fridge sized it up, sliced about a third of it off which was just enough to get the remainder into her tiny ancient oven.
I wonder how many people conduct their business activities in exactly the same way: by blindly copying what they saw before them?
In business, as in life, it is always worth asking the question “why?”
I just met a really special guy who I shall call Nick, mainly because that happens to be his name. We met up for a reason that doesn’t matter as far as this blog goes but we got onto talking about sales and particularly networking. Nick is a consummate sales person who, as with all great sales people, comes across as anything but salesy. He is charming, down to earth, listens and concentrates on the little things but the most striking aspect of Nick’s approach was his view of relationships. If he said “people buy from people” once he must have said it 10 times and I completely agree.
Trouble is many people say it but few of them live it but that is where Nick is different: he walks the walk not just talks the talk – in short he is a connector. At the end of our discussions I asked a favour – I am keen to make a noise about education. I don’t intend to bang on about it now but I feel that we don’t educate our children so much as process them and like some great Soviet 5 Year Plan produce what we want not necessarily what industry needs. Also for a man that loves metrics like I do I think for the next 5 years there shouldn’t be any in education at all. There you go, I said I wasn’t going to bang on about it but I have – sorry.
Anyhow, back to Nick. As soon as I had roughed out my ideas Nick was straight in there thinking of which of his massive network engine he could introduce me to. Now I am thankful to Nick for his support on this campaign but in the wider scheme of things what an asset he has there. Key people in industry and government who all dig him and do you know how he managed to amass such a treasure-trove of contacts? He gives without any thought of return – a true Real Networker if you ask me and an inspiration to us all.
I was reminded recently of the story of Bob Golomb. He was, and still is I think, a car salesman at a Toyota dealership in New Jersey but Bob is not just a common or garden variety: Bob is a super salesman. Apparently at his peak he consistently sold twice as many cars per month as the average US car sales person. Now why am I interested in him?
Well since he was selling something that you could get from any other Toyota dealer, and remember I do mean get exactly the same; the same physical car in fact, he could not have been differentiating himself based upon his product. No, his differentiation was based upon the way in which he delivered that product to his clients. If you want to know more about Bob I suggest you read “Blink! The Power of Thinking Without Thinking”, by Malcolm Gladwell. In essence Bob treated everybody the same so he would engage a spotty 18 year old youth looking at a top of the range car exactly the same as he would an affluent looking be-suited business person – always! He also listened to his clients. If they wanted to talk about 0 to 60 times or BHP then Bob got technical, but if they wanted safety features or fuel consumption then Bob delivered the goodies here as well.
This chameleonic approach to sales is much harder to do than it sounds: we all get excited by what we are selling and so want to talk about all its features and benefits especially the ones that we like – this is a mistake and a mistake that the over-performing Bob Golomb does not make. Mmmmm.
Ask yourself this simple question: what three things can I change about the way I deliver my product or service that will a) be of benefit to my client, b) make them feel like an individual and c) make me stand out from my competitors? Remember the smaller the thing the better but just make sure you are consistent – people like to rely on things so consistency is vital when creating these new stand-out features.