Relationship Building > Sales Process
Many people hate the word “sales” with a passion. It brings to mind images and feelings of sleaze, dishonesty–like you’re trying to trick prospective clients. People hate it for good reason.
Some time back, I (Matt) was meeting with my business coach and saying that same thing, “I hate sales!” His suggestion? Stop using the “S Word” completely; just refer to them as relationships.
If you’re doing business the way we are–focusing on your strengths and how you can be of value to others–that’s an easy fix, and it should come pretty naturally, because that’s exactly what you’re building; relationships. We can do relationships a lot better than we can do “sales” usually. It can change how you feel about sales, which in turn can change how you approach them, and it might gain you more business. If you’re hesitant about something, even if it’s just because of simple semantics, modifying it can sometimes be a game-changer.
When I first started Day Creative, my first thought was the same one that most small business owners have; “How do I get paid?” However, I was so focused on how to get clients and how to make money that I was hurting myself without realizing it. I was looking at my business more transactionally than relationally. Need a logo? No problem, BOOM! (Invoice, wait for check, cash it, thanks, next!)
I went from project to project, thinking “MoneyMoneyMoney”…but I didn’t build relationships. About a year and a half in I realized there was a hole in my business. Many business owners will tell you that repeat business is how you grow, and I was lacking in repeat business; I needed to transition from just getting a sale to being the “go to” company for repeat business. I needed to develop a relationship. Become a trusted advisor. And you do that by going beyond concern about the one job to answering an ongoing need. I learned that by doing a great job and building rapport, I could pick up future work with them–I’d built a relationship. If I’ve done my homework, found someone whose struggles I can understand and address, then answering the need and having a relational mindset positions you as a potential trusted advisor. People return again and again to a trusted advisor.
Most successful businesses develop processes for the important things, so that’s what I did with this. A process is ideally a set of instructions for a practice you need to repeat, that the dumbest person in the world could follow. I made a relationship process, which sounds counterintuitive and possibly sales-y, but think of it this way; all of your important relationships, business and personal, fall back on certain procedures, whether you know it or not, or whether you’ve codified them or not. This is simply taking a natural process and making it followable, repeatedly.
I decided I was either going to be onsite or visit them once a year or twice a year, maybe monthly depending on the client. I didn’t want contact to have the effect of, “Oh, great, here’s Matt bugging us again.”; it needed to be positive, engaging and friendly, not always a sales call, or asking for payment. I didn’t want it to be unpleasant when they picked up the phone or read an email from me. One of the ways I did that (I stole this from a client), was to, twice a year, do a customer appreciation event. Nothing big, easy in and out, and a way to say “Thanks”. This ensures that the ONLY reason they get a call or email from me isn’t asking for money…sometimes, it just might be a thank-you gift for them. Positive association. Who doesn’t like free stuff?
One easy method I have for this, that has low overhead (not a hosted, expensive event that people have to attend at a certain time) is to contact a local establishment and ask if I can open a tab for a customer appreciation event. I make a flier for a free drink, cupcake, etc., send them to my clients, the local establishment gets some business (and more positive association with Day Creative), my clients get a treat, and everyone wins. I just pay the tab at the end of the week or whatever. It’s a way to say, “Hey, we appreciate you”.
I have reminders set to do that, to automate it, and no matter how busy I am, I make time to do it.
Another thing I try to do is get to know the client. What are they interested in outside of work? One of our clients is really into triathlons (weirdo), and so if I see an article or meme, I send it to him. It’s a positive touchpoint that isn’t sales-y. Might seem like a small thing, but again, it’s a positive association. I don’t do it often–you don’t want to bug people–but just an occasional contact.
The overarching goal in business is business, and I’m not trying to conflate that with friendships, It may seem like a small distinction, but I do believe that even though I’m making sales-focused contact, ultimately, I’m not focused on the hustle. I’m focused on providing value and positioning myself as a trusted advisor, and it’s proven to be a great business strategy.