• http://twitter.com/YotpoOfficial Tomer Tagrin

    Hi David,
    Really good one :) One point I think is not mentioned is that everyone is trying to build relationships with their potential future customers. So probably your first contact point should be significant as well, from the first contact you should start and giving valuable content (blog, conventions or even cold mails).

    Getting the customer’s attention is very hard and I really believe valuable content from day 1 is the answer :)  

  • Thiébaut

    David your point is very interesting and makes complete sense. I’m 100% convinced
    that your way is the best way to sell something. However I’m wondering,
    if it’s the cheapest.

    2 questions so :

    – Do you have data that can establish the fact that, considering the
    efforts needed to create the relationship, it’s actually cheaper it your
    way (“long term trust” process), rather than playing numbers and just
    try to find the guys who are in a “ready to buy now” position ?

    – You have absolutely great talent for rationalization and conceiving process out of this kind of stuff (ie the incredible sales machine ;-) You probably worked on to process this approach, but do you have specific numbers / advises on when to use this kind of approach ? What kind of time should we spend working on “free stuff” / “establishing trust” materials, versus “cold calling like crazy” ;-)

    Maybe this marketing approach would be the perfect one in order to get clients not belonging in the “buy right now category” (more “maybe”, or “thinking about it”) ?

    I’m interested by this because I spent 2 month building a(n absolutely fantastic) website with (super) high value content and I’m wondering if this is too much, or not enough for my market. Where do we stop ? What percentage of time should we spend on this for it to be precisely effective. I can make an educated guess about all this, but I’d love to see a few numbers here and there ;-)

    Well anyway, thanks a lot David for this remarkable content as always !!
    Thiébaut

  • Graham Ridgway

    Don’t forget those customers (typically Government and other public sector organizations) that have a more formal buying process based around the issuing and response to a tender document.

    The relationship thing is still very much needed, but transgress the procurement rules at your peril!

  • http://5toolgroup.com Jay Oza

    My view is that relationship is way overrated.

    One of the potential dangers of this approach is that you can easily get sucked into a long sales cycle that will not lead to a sale and result in going out of business.  I have seen this with startups who really didn’t have any experience with sales and were teetering on closing down.  

    One that I worked with recently  had a very good product but never got any commitment along the way. They built a strong relationships but never closed any business.  When money ran out,  I was brought in and in less than three months closed two significant size deals (one a global contract with the largest logistics provider in the world). Never met them face to face.  All the communication was via emails and Webinars.  

    Unfortunately, I don’t work there any more since the founder didn’t think sales had anything to do with the success, so I left and wished him luck.  

    The point is that salesmanship is very important for success.  It is just not that easy.  

  • http://twitter.com/ContentGuy David MacLaren

    Great post David. This same approach has helped us land the ongoing photography business of over 10,000 hotels around the world.

  • http://twitter.com/aleftick Aurelien Leftick

    Great explanation on “how the right nurturing leads to a Trusted Relationship” but how do you convert those trusted relationships to sales? Any particular technics or methods?

  • http://twitter.com/aleftick Aurelien Leftick

    Great explanation on “how the right nurturing leads to a Trusted Relationship” but how do you convert those trusted relationships to sales? Any particular technics or methods?

  • http://twitter.com/aleftick Aurelien Leftick

    Great explanation on “how the right nurturing leads to a Trusted Relationship” but how do you convert those trusted relationships to sales? Any particular technics or methods?

  • http://twitter.com/aleftick Aurelien Leftick

    Great explanation on “how the right nurturing leads to a Trusted Relationship” but how do you convert those trusted relationships to sales? Any particular technics or methods?

  • http://twitter.com/aleftick Aurelien Leftick

    Great explanation on “how the right nurturing leads to a Trusted Relationship” but how do you convert those trusted relationships to sales? Any particular technics or methods?

  • http://twitter.com/aleftick Aurelien Leftick

    Great explanation on “how the right nurturing leads to a Trusted Relationship” but how do you convert those trusted relationships to sales? Any particular technics or methods?

  • http://twitter.com/aleftick Aurelien Leftick

    Great explanation on “how the right nurturing leads to a Trusted Relationship” but how do you convert those trusted relationships to sales? Any particular technics or methods?

  • http://twitter.com/bhalliburton Brent Halliburton

    Is this David Skok or David Maister! Zing!

  • http://www.chasminnovations.com Robert DiLoreto

    David,

    Great post and I relate on two fronts.   (Also, my comments apply best to B2B companies
    who don’t just rely on a “Pricing & Plans” revenue model, combined with
    leveraging the latest sales/marketing 2.0 tools.  Also, these B2B companies are targeting Big
    companies as customers and partners)

    #1:  Building a trusted relationship first with the “C-Suite” (Vs. “Potential Buyers”) is
    key to having the lowest costs to acquire customers, (CAC).  You want to qualify your opportunities as quickly as possible while receiving executive sponsorship through closure……and
    this is the place to do it! 

    Once you have established a trusted relationship and executive sponsorship is achieved, they will “connect the dots” while confirming who the “Potential Buyers” are, who else within their organization needs to better understand details behind your company, technology, value
    proposition, partnering options, etc.

    Key Initiatives:  What I have found to be the best way to connect and build a trusted relationship
    with the “C-Suite” is to first uncover what are their major initiatives.  This is a very straightforward and quick process and maps to the suggestions you made in your post.  Big company “C-Suite” execs are often quoted in a number of news sources, talking about what their strategic initiatives.  Probably the best source for this has been looking through the “Investor” portion of the Big company web site.  Their shareholder and investor briefings reveal focused areas that are the initiatives. 

    From this point, craft a strategic email (I’ll write about this process in another post) and dialogue that first acknowledges the initiative(s), expected benefits, etc.  Next, communicate how you are positioned to offer a compelling value proposition towards the initiative(s) and you will have a very high probability that the “C-Suite”will want to hear more.  The emphasis here is towards an emotional connection Vs. a logical product/feature one.

    #2:  On a historical note, back in 1983 when you were leading Skok Systems in Cambridge, I remember 2 things that we did to win your business that map well with the suggestions in
    your post:  (I was selling MRPII for ASK Computer Systems/MANMAN)

    –     Even before we gave a formal pitch or demo, we sent you the complete set of the user documentation to show the ease of use, etc.  (built trust, credibility, etc.)

    –     We wanted to let you know you were in good company and arranged for Skok Systems to attend one of our frequent regional user meetings while passing along references such as Interleaf (now Broadvision), Spinnaker Software (Now Mattel) and Apollo Computer (Now HP).  This nurtured the relationship over time with high value communications.

    The The biggest challenge we had winning Skok Systems was the pressure you were
    getting from HP as they had a competing software product and your products ran
    on HP!

  • Jaime

    I completely agree with your assessment of building a relationship through trust.  It’s paramount to building long term relationships.  I did read a post below by Jay Oza and have to agree that while some aspects of the sales cycle must be quicker to the punch, you have to realize what accounts should have an expedited sales cycle and what accounts should be approached more as described by Mr. Skok, or David Maister (I think Master) as referenced by Brent Halliburton.  Larger organizations or organizations that show a need for your services including ancillary products must be researched and approached with more care.  Other, smaller companies, have a better chance with an expedited sales approach.  This will generate that much needed immediate revenue, while at the same time, continue building relationships with the larger accounts needed to increase your company’s bottom line as a whole.  

  • http://www.forentrepreneurs.com David Skok

    Jay, I think we are actually on the same page. After reading your comment, I amended the article adding the paragraph at the end titled “There is still an important role for sales”. Purely building a relationship without recognizing that you need to leverage that relationship to close deals is not a good strategy. My point of view is simply that you are more likely to succeed as a salesperson if you first go about building a trust relationship, even if that is for the first 15-20 minutes of your phone conversation with them.

  • Danneh

    wish every company would understand this. I’m so tired of companies I do business with (as a consumer) trying to up-sell and cross-sell me without ever knowing a thing about me.

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  • http://www.forentrepreneurs.com David Skok

    Robert, Thanks for adding your experiences to the discussion. (It really fun to read about how someone was selling to me all those years ago!)

  • http://www.forentrepreneurs.com David Skok

    The technique that I am suggesting here recommends a regular marketing touch for leads that are not ready to buy (lead nurturing). However to make this effective you need a way to watch when a customer becomes ready to buy. This is done by scoring the lead based on how they are reacting to your content. If for example, your emailed content brings them back to the web site, and they start looking at the pricing page, that is a good indicator that they have moved from an earlier stage in their buying cycle to ready to purchase. That is when you should hand them over to sales to call and find out more. How sales goes about converting a qualified lead depends on the particular product or service. For example: does it need a demo, or a trial? So that I can’t answer in a general sense. But sales people reading this blog post would research that customer before making their first call and try to learn as much as possible to be in a position to provide insights and value on that call. That initial lead in to the call should get the customer to start asking them questions, and that is their moment to carefully introduce their product as a solution.

  • http://twitter.com/mcontrol mcontrol

    High Value PERSONALIZED Content… yes indeed – Anyone who provides valuable, relevant content can be a thought leader. You get what you give!  TY for such a well thought out post! Great content.

  • http://twitter.com/NCPetri Nicholas Petri

    Another way to build a relationship: connect your prospective customer with other knowledgeable people outside your own organization, via hosting an event or just an intro. It’s a great way to show that you want them to succeed and aren’t only interested in selling your product.

  • Justin Roff-Marsh

    I think the problem here is the ambiguous nature of the word ‘relationship’.  It can be used to refer to a pre-sales engagement (in a general sense) with a potential customer.  Or it can be used to refer to the more personal engagement that the salesperson has with the prospect.

    I think both deserve consideration but, for clarity, it’s important to consider them separately.

    Hubspot, for example, have a clear delineation between the pre-sales engagement, which is marketing’s responsibility and the selling bit.  From my experience, their salespeople make scant effort to ‘build a relationship’ — simply because they don’t need to. 

    The nice thing about this approach (which is ours also) is that the pre-sales engagement can be handled by the marketing department and — importantly — involves processing prospects in batches (meaning the incremental effort required to ‘build a relationship’ with one more prospect is $0).

    Obviously, this results in the generation of high-quality prospects for the sales team — who can focus exclusively on selling.

    Justin 
    http://www.salesprocessengineering.net

  • http://www.forentrepreneurs.com David Skok

    Great idea, Nicholas. I have seen this work very well in one variation which is to use other prospects/customers as the draw card. It is often a high value add to customers to meet with their peers and discuss best practices.

  • http://www.forentrepreneurs.com David Skok

    Thanks Justin. It is helpful to separate the marketing work pre-sales contact from the sales calls. I did not make this clear enough in the post.

  • http://www.chasminnovations.com Robert DiLoreto

    Thanks David!  Those were some fun years, pioneering MRP/MRPII/ERP…Some of my greatest early lessons came from my start at NCR and then ASK…Great to see Sandy Kurtzig back in the game with http://www.kenandy.com, backed by Mark Benioff at Salesforce.com and Ray Lane, KPCB.

  • Pavan Lulla

    And what about Steve Job’s Reality Distortion field.. only use that mechanism if you’re the charismatic/ enigmatic export with a proposition promising taking the customer experience to the ‘next level’. Its a lot easier this way, as trusted relationships, although more sustainable in the long term, take time and effort to build.

  • http://www.forentrepreneurs.com David Skok

    Pavan – In an upcoming post I will talk about the Customer Buying Cycle, and why you have that time to build this relationship. It is because most of the time visitors to your website will not be ready to buy, and you will need a good engagement strategy to keep them engaged with you so that when they are ready to buy, you are their first choice.

    If you build this relationship using marketing content, it has a powerful value proposition, it scales at zero cost. i.e. once developed, you can use it over and over again at no additional cost.

  • Angus

    Ok, so the cat is out of the bag now. With this blog, all our customers now know that we are just trying to build a relationship with them because actually we really want to sell to them.

    Joking aside, the bottom line is building a relationship is just another part of the ‘selling’ process. Its not separate form it. Try to pretend to your customers that you are offering them excellent insight because you are really just a very nice guy who believes in the development of their industry as a service human kind, and they will see right through you and it will probably have the reverse affect. They will end up distrusting you. At best, they will just suck your information (and time) and then go to a competitor. At worst, they will spread their distrust of you to others.

    We all know the archetypal used car salesman who are the masters at building a relationship very quickly. But does anyone trust them? No, and the reason is because we know that they are just asking us about what we do, how big the family is, what car we have now and generally sizing us up in order to get the sell there and then (irrespective of real value to us). Simply taking longer to do the same thing doesn’t make it any less dubious.

    All potential customers know that your time is valuable and they know that your ultimate goal is to sell. Pretending to them that you are building a relationship for any other reason is just another form of deceit and will result in the expected consequences.

  • http://www.forentrepreneurs.com David Skok

    Hi Angus, As you rightly point out customers are smart. This strategy only works if you are genuinely knowledgeable. So I could not agree more strongly with your statement “Try to pretend to your customers that you are offering them excellent insight because you are really just a very nice guy who believes in the development of their industry as a service human kind, and they will see right through you and it will probably have the reverse affect. They will end up distrusting you. At best, they will just suck your information (and time) and then go to a competitor. At worst, they will spread their distrust of you to others.”
    You are also right that any customer will see right through someone that is pretending to build a relationship with them. This has to be GENUINE to work. Your company has to truly have a culture that is all about a genuine interest in its customers. This starts from the CEO, and needs to be carried all the way down the organization. You cannot pretend to have that interest simply because all you want to do is sell something. Your content creators in marketing need to be true experts that care about the domain. You have to hire salespeople that understand that their job is to really understand what the customer is trying to accomplish, and help them with that, as opposed to simply pushing a product. They need the right training to be able to do that correctly. Etc. etc. As you rightly point out if you simply try to pretend you have an interest in your customers, it will backfire fast.

  • Pavan Lulla

    I think being trustworthy implies a previous track record, and must not to be confused with influencing and engaging customers. The former is about being good and the latter about looking good. 

    Once the distinction is clear, the question is how can trust be built. I think being non-opportunistic is one way. What this means is toning down the bullshit and being frank about pros and cons. The other way of gaining trust is practicing the espoused ethics and values. eg,  ‘We are here to serve you and help you succeed’ is a humble stance which can be powerful enough to sway a customer.

    The influencing aspect about the relationship building process means one must have clear aggressive objectivity, and that is establishing in the customers mind both a compelling shared vision for the future and alignment with the customers present needs. The trust aspect of the relationship building process implies admitting the misalignments and being pragmatic.

  • http://www.forentrepreneurs.com David Skok

    Pavan, This does a far better job than I did of describing what is needed to establish trust. I like the way you separated this into two topics. And your description of the difference between the two was very good. A great addition to the discussion. Thanks.

  • Alfacubes

    So true, i started my small business with some of the technics here. and i got great feed back over time.

  • http://www.repeatablesale.com/ Scott Barnett

    David – great post.  Here’s what I take from this at a high level:

    (1) Create a bi-directional relationship.  If people think all you want to do is sell them something, they will not be a long lasting partner.  They truly need to feel you are invested in their success

    (2) Deal with the customer on their terms.  If they want/need information right away, give it to them.  One of the easiest ways to build trust is to be there for a customer when they want/need you to be.

    One area I’ll differ slightly is that you are suggesting that you shouldn’t “sell” during the up front process.  I do agree that impartial information during the marketing phase is a much more effective approach than “in your face” marketing.  However, I make it clear to my prospects that I would like a mutually beneficial and bi-directional relationship.  That means they buy something from me.  Now, if I don’t have something of value to them, then the commerce relationship is not bi-directional and we can remain friends or whatever we will be.  However, at the end of the day, my goal is to make money.  So after I’ve proven that I have something of value that can benefit you, I want you to give me a fair deal that allows both of us to “win”.  If not, I won’t do business with you.  It’s important to let your potential customers know that this is an important part of the process.  Again, it doesn’t have to be in your face, but I wouldn’t assume it either…

  • http://www.forentrepreneurs.com David Skok

    Scott, I like how you put this, and agree that this is needed at a certain point in the discussions. You nicely describe how to create a win-win negotiation.
    When I first wrote this post, I had planned to talk about the buying cycle, where a buyer goes through three phases: awareness, consideration and finally purchase. I then realized that was too much for one post, and decided to split it into two. However it lost something with that change. This post really applies best to the phases of Awareness and the early part of consideration. That is why the title included the word “When…” as qualifier meant to describe the fact that this is not always the right thing to do.
    What you are describing is a great conversation to have at the latter stages of consideration, or purchase, and creates the notion of a win-win partnership being the best way to do business.
    Thanks for the clarification, David

  • Preeti

    Great insight! A real value add..

  • Kevin Wright

    David, I do so wholeheartedly agree with your take on selling to potential customers. Yes, the potential customer knows that you are there to sell your product/service, but how you approach that task compared to your competition is what could set you apart, either positively or negatively. The GOOD sales person is one who is rightly trained…thoroughly trained in the product with a solid belief in it. That sales person then does all he/she can do to understand the potential customer’s business and needs so that they can honestly recommend the right answers, which may mean that your product may not be the immediate answer. Building trust and relationships is THE ONLY WAY TO SELL TO A POTENTIAL CUSTOMER WHO, INDEED, KNOWS THAT YOU ARE THERE TO SELL THEM YOUR PRODUCT. The sad thing is it seems that there are far too many companies who don’t realize this, or just ignore it, opting instead for minimal training at best, with a push, push, push method of selling.

  • http://twitter.com/B2BSparkplug Ron Ainsworth

    I think the answer to this question is another question. What’s the difference between a good idea and a business case? I think a lot of B2B marketers quickly grasp why this kind of content marketing is good idea, but they often fail to make the business case for why an organization should make the required investment.

    If you are running a business and deciding whether to spend your money on A ,B or C, it sure helps if you can compare the ROI among the various options. So whether you’re an entrepreneur or a director of marketing you need to know what it will cost to produce the content, how many leads it can be expected to help produce, for how long, and the expected value of a lead etc… To convince a large organization to change the way it sells I think you have to have some numbers suggesting the ROI is better than the old way.

    Obviously if you haven’t tried content marketing/lead generation before you don’t have the numbers from past projects but what you can do is bench mark against other organizations, and then run a test case. Once you have proof of concept you can make a case for the kind of investment it will take to really succeed.

  • http://twitter.com/B2BSparkplug Ron Ainsworth

    I think the answer to this question is another question. What’s the difference between a good idea and a business case? I think a lot of B2B marketers quickly grasp why this kind of content marketing is good idea, but they often fail to make the business case for why an organization should make the required investment.

    If you are running a business and deciding whether to spend your money on A ,B or C, it sure helps if you can compare the ROI among the various options. So whether you’re an entrepreneur or a director of marketing you need to know what it will cost to produce the content, how many leads it can be expected to help produce, for how long, and the expected value of a lead etc… To convince a large organization to change the way it sells I think you have to have some numbers suggesting the ROI is better than the old way.

    Obviously if you haven’t tried content marketing/lead generation before you don’t have the numbers from past projects but what you can do is bench mark against other organizations, and then run a test case. Once you have proof of concept you can make a case for the kind of investment it will take to really succeed.

  • http://www.forentrepreneurs.com David Skok

    Good answer. Thanks Ron.

  • http://twitter.com/brianland Brian Land

    I think gaining credibility is more important than building a relationship.  In the former, you can do this relatively quickly in certain situations……versus lengthening sales cycles by building relationships.

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    Great tips ;)

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  • http://www.brandings.com/ Kim Oakland

    In a world where there is more anonymity than ever, the foundation of building trust and building a relationship are more important than ever.  Applies both to b2c and b2b.  Thnx.

  • Felipe Perlino

    David, have you already done the post you mentined? :”This approach does not work in all situations. Where it would work less
    well is in low price point, short duration, transactional sales. In
    those situations the customer may be just looking for the quickest way
    to purchase something and get on with their lives. I will talk more
    about that in an upcoming blog post.”

  • http://www.forentrepreneurs.com David Skok

    I am sorry to say that I haven’t had the time to do that yet.

  • http://www.nicwindley.co.uk/ Nic Windley – Biz Dev Strategy

    Great article David. I’ve experienced that during the “start-up” phase of some ventures often you don’t have the time to create these kinds of high level and in depth relationships and this is where the important “market testing / validation” occurs for your venture. I agree this strategy is very important however it may be for some start ups a questions of timing and scaling where you apply higher level / deep relationship focused strategies versus short and fast sales / marketing validation techniques.

  • http://www.forentrepreneurs.com David Skok

    Hi Nic, I see what you are getting at, but believe that the concept that I am proposing will work just as well in the early stages. Even in the early stages startups will need to be developing Inbound Marketing strategies. I believe the key to a successful inbound marketing campaign is some form of content that is of high interest to the prospect. The best blog posts are not usually sales material, but are usually educational, or contain valuable data, or could be humorous. They help to establish the credibility of the startup and can also build trust. That creates a good reason for the prospect to sign up to get more of that kind of content. Few prospects will give you their email address to allow you to keep sending them sales material.
    Sometimes startups cannot afford the time for marketing, and need to go straight into cold calling prospects. I usually refer to this as market development, and the people that do market development as market development reps. If a market development rep simply cold calls a customer and tries to jump straight into the sales pitch, my belief is they will not be well received. However if the market development rep takes the time to do some research on that customer and discovers information from their earnings calls, annual reports, press releases, etc. that helps them establish what matters to the management team of that company, and then uses that information to craft a personalized conversation with the prospect before jumping into selling, I believe they will get far better results.
    What do you think?

  • http://www.nicwindley.co.uk/ Nic Windley – Biz Dev Strategy

    Even before all of that David, as a start up you may be generating ideas and pivoting them (failry quickly) and commiting to high level strategies too early is like putting on led boots before you’ve got the jetpack.

    Getting your butt out the building and asking people “hey, what do you think of this” can often times yeild more feedback than a 6 month “plan”. Sometimes the plan is not to have a plan.

    I’m a big fan of inbound marketing and similar high level / longer term strategies, that is the way to go once you’ve got the right track to run on (personally speaking of course), as that takes time and commitment.

    Sure, inbound marketing can actually help you to do some testing and pivoting and engaging with your potential market, its a careful balance though of when you start applying more higher level / longer term strategies and activity versus being highly agile and adaptive to you have sufficient validation.

    For an established business it may be a bit of both.

  • http://www.forentrepreneurs.com David Skok

    At the stage you are talking about, that makes total sense.

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