I had a phone call this afternoon from someone called Kelly who was desperate to sell me a new phone system. It would have all the bells and whistles and do all sorts of things that our current system doesn’t do – but there was a problem, well a few actually:
- She rang me when she wanted to talk to me; which was not when I wanted to talk to her
- I don’t want to buy a new phone system
- The one we have works just fine thank you very much
- Despite her best efforts, none of the ‘must have’ features sparked my interest
- and did I mention I don’t want to buy a new phone system
You see, I think there has been a seismic shift in the world of Business to Business (B2B). It’s no longer about selling, it’s about buying. People don’t sell things, people buy things. With the internet at your fingertips, you can quickly learn a lot about pretty much anything at pretty much any time, day or night; so if you want to buy something for your business (even a new phone system), a quick search on Google (other search engines are available) will deliver vast quantities of information. All this info presents issues itself, as much of it will probably be incomprehensible. So you don’t need a sales person to try to sell you Brand X. What you need is someone to help you understand all the information and work out what your options are. You need someone you trust to understand your requirements and give you straightforward, relevant information to help you make a decision. ..and yes, this does include people letting you know about new products or services, not so that they can sell them to you, but so that you can include this knowledge in your buying decisions. If you do find someone trying to sell you ‘Brand X’, good old Google will soon throw some light on whether Brand X is actually any good for what you are looking for – and what experience others have had for that matter – which can put even more pressure on the ‘old-fashioned’ sales approach as they need to get you to make a decision before you can check them out.
A new sales concept: Marketing!
If selling is about getting someone to make a buying decision now and this is becoming ever more challenging as people have access to more and more information they can research, maybe the focus shouldn’t be on selling to people but rather building relationships so that customers have the confidence to buy from you when they are ready. Even better, if you have a good relationship with someone, they are likely to be much more willing to listen to you about new products and services – hopefully because you are informing them rather than selling to them.
So how do you build relationships?
More specifically, how do you take the first step? This is where networking can be effective. OK, making new contacts at a typical networking session can be a bit random. There might be 50-60 people at a networking meet though you probably only have conversations with 5 or 6 at most. But if you find a networking group where the membership ‘fits’ with your target market it is likely that you will be meeting people worth keeping in touch with (as potential suppliers as well as potential customers – remember, it works both ways!). Networking is not a quick fix! Good relationships take time to develop. You should be prepared to visit a networking group regularly for at least 6 months. This is another reason why you need to find a network of people where there is a ‘fit’ with you and your business. There is a focus in many networking groups (particularly the commercial ones!) that it’s not the people you meet but the people they know. While this approach has merit, surely it’s better fish in a pond that contains some fish you want to catch! You may only get good opportunities to network every month or so, and each time there is no guarantee that you will meet the same people to start to grow your relationships. Effective networking should be joined-up with your other marketing. Add new contacts to your database. You then have the opportunity to keep in touch and keep engaged. LinkedIn and e-mail newsletters can also be a great tools here. Don’t just rely on the networking sessions. Keep in touch. Meet one-to-one. By getting to know people – and giving them a chance to get to know you – you can build relationships based on confidence, trust and mutual benefit which are key to building long term business opportunity. …and who knows, almost certainly I will want to buy a new phone system sooner or later so if I ever meet Kelly through networking and get confident in her phone system expertise,maybe I might just give her a call?