When Selling is the Worst Way to Win Customers

imageCustomers hate being sold to. They don’t mind getting expert help when they want to buy something. But much of the time they are not ready to buy, and one of the most irritating things is to have a salesperson try to get them to buy when they aren’t ready. Unfortunately too many people in marketing and sales positions don’t seem to understand this, and proceed to irritate their potential customers. They don’t realize that there is a far better way to sell. That is what this blog post is all about.

Introduction

When I started my first company, I had no business or sales training of any kind. As you’d expect for any founder/CEO, I was put into many selling situations. I developed a gut feel for how to interact with prospects that seemed to work surprisingly well. When I watched other sales people, I noticed that they jumped into a sales pitch far earlier than I would have done, and sold much harder than I felt was appropriate. My gut instinct told me that the recipient of these sales pitches felt both uncomfortable and mistrustful. Furthermore, when I read about how you were supposed to go about closing deals, I was surprised, as I wasn’t using any of those deal closing techniques, yet was able to close deals reasonably easily.

It was only later on in life that I realized what I was doing to succeed, and why it worked so well.

Building a relationship and trust

The mistake I observed was that too many marketers and sales people want to jump right into selling.

image

The problem with this approach is that it ignored the importance of trust in the sales process. I was doing something different:

  • First building a relationship
  • Then building trust

image

The result of this was that usually the customer would start asking me for my opinion on what they should purchase. As soon as that happened I had won the hard battle, and was well on my way to winning the customer. All this had happened without any hard selling.

This changed the whole dynamic from uphill selling to advisory/consulting soft-selling. To my mind this seemed a whole lot more successful way to go about things.

How did I do this?

  • I would start by learning something about them. Ideally I would do this by researching them before I made the visit or phone call. However there were many times where I wasn’t given the time to do that. In those situations, I would start with a few questions an rely on knowledge that I had gained from talking to similar customers.
  • Then I would work hard to find a way to add some value to their business life. Typically this meant bringing them some new insights, but it could be in other ways.
  • I was looking for ways to get the customer asking me questions about things that could help them or their business. When that happened, I took it as a key sign that I was starting to succeed.

In several situations, I figured out ways to start the creation of trust before I even met with the person. To do this, I could do one of two things:

International Software Guide

  1. Send them something of high value that proved that my company knew things that would be useful to them. An example I can give you of this was when we founded International Software in Europe (later changed the name to Corporate Software). International Software produced this great book every six months that was a review of all the PC software on the market. At the time we did this, the market was very early, and customers didn’t know what software to use for things like word processing, IBM mainframe terminal emulation, project management, creating slide presentations, etc.. The Guide educated them about what was available and helped them to choose what was best for their needs. This was high value. By sending them the Guide in advance of the meeting, we found that our acceptance rate for taking meetings jumped from around 20% to over 85%. And when we arrived for the meeting, there was already a high level of belief/trust that we could help them.
  2. I could use information that I had gathered about them from my research, and process that in my product to produce some output that was both personalized for them, and showed them something of value.

Adding Value is often best done in an orthogonal way

Many times the way I added value was not directly associated with the product I was going to try to sell them later on

image

For example, I might pick a much higher level topic of some mega-trend that was affecting their business segment, and discuss how other companies in their segment were tackling that issue. The value would be the insights into their peers or competitors.

However the nearer your topic is the better. For example, you could build a relationship and trust with a customer by playing golf with them, but when it comes time for them to select a sophisticated software package, they may not trust your opinion in that particular field. So it is better to build a relationship and trust in a way which sets you up as a person to trust for advice about their business.

Positioning as an Expert

I also had another technique that worked well: positioning myself as an expert. I would make sure that I studied to develop some expertise in an area that was interesting or important to them. Then, we would create a forum where this could be delivered as a presentation. The greater the audience size the more powerful the effect. Once I became established as an expert in the buyers mind, they viewed me as a natural person to turn to get business advice.

A key rule

There is a key rule that I instinctively stuck to: my presentations religiously avoided any reference to my company or product. In my view that would destroy the credibility, and turn this into yet another sales pitch.

Think back on your own experiences: how many times have you been at a conference that you paid money to attend, and were turned off by a presenter who couldn’t resist using their presentation to pitch their product. It continues to surprise to me how many marketers ruin great opportunities by ignoring this rule. They simply can’t resist the temptation. They apparently lack the understanding of how trust is built, and how it can be translated into a very powerful selling tool.

A Pre-Internet Example

In one situation where we didn’t have the expertise we wanted internally, we hired the Nolan Norton management consulting group to develop a presentation for us. This was back around 1987, in the early days of Novell networks. (In case you are wondering why I am using such old examples, and not referring to modern post-Internet situations, wait for the next section where that will become clear.) This presentation predicted how computers would go from individual disconnected machines, to connected workgroups, to company-wide networks, and then eventually to the stage where all companies would be connected together. (This happened to be a very prescient indicator of the Internet.) It talked about how each stage would transform their business.

The presentation was highly visionary, and also educational. We trained our salesforce on how to give the presentation, and in the process transformed them into thought leaders and “experts” who were worth listening to. They were no longer “salespeople to be avoided”. If the customer bought the premise of the presentation, they would likely turn to us for help implementing networks, and the software layer on top for communications and collaboration.

How to build a trusted relationship in the on-line world?

One of the most interesting mega-trends taking place today is the shift from face-to-face business interactions to on-line. This kind of on-line self-service is great for the customer as they can get the information they want, when they want, with no waiting, sales people, and annoying interactive voice response menus, etc. It’s also great for vendors as it’s far cheaper to let customers serve themselves on-line than with human touch.

The web also gave us a bunch of powerful new tools to engage customers (Blogs, Social Media, Videos, Webinars, Forums, Chat, etc.  It also gave us the power to personalize individual experiences based on a customer’s interests.

The downside of this is that your customer is in charge of where they spend their time, and if you don’t engage them quickly, they will simply leave your site. The key to that engagement is the same as it was in the face-to-face selling situations that I have been describing above: build a trusted relationship.

How the right nurturing leads to a Trusted Relationship

The smart marketers have figured out that they can build a trusted relationship on-line. The way they go about doing this is simple:

  • Find out as much as possible about your visitors
  • Provide them with Value
  • Track their progress through the buying cycle, and vary the content and approach accordingly

Lets look at the first two elements of this:

Find out as much as possible about them

  • What you want to learn:
    • Their stage of the buying cycle
    • Their specific pain point (if your product addresses more than one)
    • Their vertical industry
    • Their job title
    • Etc

Often this can be gleaned without asking questions, simply by watching how they navigate your web site. What landing pages brought them to your site? Did they follow navigation options for specific verticals on your home page? etc.

Providing Value On-Line

So far we have only talked about how to offer value in a the physical world. Moving to the on-line world actually makes things a lot easier as the work you create can be viewed by millions of visitors without additional effort. This means you can afford to invest a lot more time in creating great content.

Traditional content: Blogs, Videos, Webinars, etc.

The key to using this kind of content to create a trusted relationship is to eliminate all forms of sales pitches, and to take a strong view that only content that adds value to your customer’s life will be used. This can be done in many ways:

  • Provide them with Insights that they didn’t know before
  • Educate them
  • Entertain them
  • Use data. Provide them with data that is interesting. e.g. survey results that show what are other customers like them doing in some area of interest.
  • Use other recognized experts to help provide
  • Provide them with Best Practices in their industry and/or job function
  • Review content, products, in a way that is useful to them
  • Figure out ways to make them more successful in their job
  • etc.

Non-traditional Content

This is a great way to add value, and is often not considered simply because it is a little outside the content box:

  • Free Software. (e.g. Jboss’s free Open Source version, HubSpot’s WebSite Grader, DropBox’s free edition.) This is actually one of the most powerful techniques available. It uses the power of your engineering team to build things of value to your customers. Many times marketers don’t think this way as they are constraining their thinking to being inside the marketing box. Think outside the box. (Important note: free trials don’t count as value to the customer. They are just another selling tool.)
  • Benchmark them against their competitors
  • Offer Free Consulting
  • Etc.

This is an area that is ripe for great creativity. I would love my readers that have interesting stories to tell to add these as comments at the bottom.

The more you know about each individual visitor the greater the value you can provide.

Step 1: Customer Segmentation

A simple way to start doing personalization is to group (segment) your customers according to the information you learned about them, and create content that is specific to each segment. The more you segment, the more likely you are to be creating content that they will grab their attention. For example: content that is specific to their vertical market can use the right terminology to describe the pain points, how your product works to solve those, and how their business benefits as a result. Another form of segmentation is to use their job function to write content that is specific to the issues that they face in their work environment. Both of these approaches are far more compelling than a generic bland email message that at first glance look can look like yet another piece of spam.

Another segmentation approach is to use what you know about the specific pain that led them to your site. You might have a product that can address several pain points. As an example, if you are an HR SaaS provider, you might have people coming to you to solve one of these pain points: Hiring, Performance Reviews, Vacation tracking, Time tracking, etc.  Often times you will know this from how they found you. i.e. which Search terms did they use, or which banner ad did they respond to? Creating content that is specific to their needs is going to be far more valuable to them than taking their time describing features that they don’t immediately care about.

Step 2: High Value Personalized Content

The highest value personalized content that I have seen can be created in the following situation: You have some way to find out data about your customer from information that is freely available on the Internet (or that they are willing to provide to you).  For example, you might be able to observe how your customer is going about hiring, advertising, using social media, investing, marketing, etc. simply by looking at things they are doing on-line. If your product is able to take that information and generate a personalized report on what they could do better, that can be very powerful.  If they are early in the buying cycle, you will want to consider re-running that report on a monthly basis and automatically emailing it to them.  The fact that it is personalized to them will make them pay attention.

If you can’t find this information freely on the web, ask them if they would be willing to give you that information so that you can provide them with personalized reports. This kind of request has a high chance of success provided that you are able to assure them of confidentiality.

How this applies to Inbound Marketing

A big part of Inbound marketing is about using content to drive traffic. However it is not always clear how to create the best kind of content. The key recommendations that I would make are:

  • Figure out how to add value to your customers in your content.
  • Don’t be tempted into using your blog, or other content, to carry sales messages. They have the opposite effect that you are looking for, and damage your relationship building.

You may still need a way to communicate product related news to your customers. If that is the case, consider separating your blog into two entities:

  • Use one blog for your company and product updates
  • Create another blog for expert value-added content – i.e. for trusted relationship building

Never use the second blog for anything other than adding value to your customers. Aim to become a trusted expert. Recognize that any form of selling destroys your credibility as a trusted expert.

Virality and Social Media

Social Media like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ have made it increasingly easy to share great content. Not surprisingly the articles that get shared the most are not those containing sales pitches, but are those that contain value such as insights, expert opinions, vision, and educational content.  This can add a powerful amplifier to your efforts.

There is still an important role for Sales

By writing this article, I don’t mean to imply that you don’t need a sales organization. It simply implies that there may be a more effective way to start a sales process. However the real purpose of this post is to get a discussion going around how companies can make their on-line marketing efforts more effective. 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.

Conclusion

In today’s world where the Internet has shifted the balance of power into the buyers hands, it is critical to understand how to delight potential buyers, and win their trust before promoting your product.

The answer: build a trusted relationship with your potential buyers.

  • Get to know your customers so you can understand what they would consider to be of high value
  • Define your strategy for adding value that you believe will lead to becoming a trusted adviser
  • Create communications channels (e.g. blog, etc.) that avoid selling, and deliver on your strategy.
  • Consider hiring content creators to create the material. Evaluate domain experts,
  • Never wreck the power of those communications by adding in any kind of sales messaging
  • Leverage social media to broaden the audience for your content.
  • Continue to nurture the relationship over time with high value communications
  • Try to get the customer curious to the point where they start asking you questions about how you can help them with their business problems. At that point you have started to win a trusted relationship. The sale will become easy – they will ask you for your advice on what to purchase, and will follow the advice without reluctance
  • Be careful to retain that trust by only recommending your product when it is a good fit for their situation.

If you do this correctly, you might just find that they spread the word virally about the value you are providing.

Above all, remember that your customers hate being sold to!

Credits: I’d like to thank Mark Roberge, the VP of Sales at HubSpot for contributing two important thoughts to this post.  Mark explained one part of this process that I had not yet been able to put into words: the importance of getting the customer to start asking questions.  Mark also highlighted the ability of his sales team to use the Internet to research their leads prior to making their first phone call, using information that was publicly visible on their website, blogs, tweets, etc.

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  • 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.

  • http://sismebebekal.com/ şişme bebek

    Beğenmedim desem yalan olur

  • 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.

  • http://www.saglik-haberleri.tk/2011/11/geciktirici-eczane.html geciktirici eczane

    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.