You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want. – Zig Ziglar
The bell rings, its lunch time. Not brave enough to do it yourself, you pass your long pondered over note to your best friend and ask them to give it to the person you’re interested in. Fingers crossed they do their job well – they are your messenger, your intermediary.
We’ve been using intermediaries from a very young age. Whether the above example of using a friend to see if the person we like, likes us. Or ‘convincing’ a sibling to ask your parents something when you don’t want to yourself. We’ve been working with intermediaries early.
We still use them in sales – sometimes well, and sometimes ineffectively. Social selling has seen a rise in the use of intermediaries through the likes of introductions on LinkedIn and similar network extension tools. Social selling has made our intermediary network easier to access and easier to utilise. But, it hasn’t necessarily made it more effective.
An intermediary network will usually form a strong component of a successful sales persons tool kit. They understand that more ground can be covered, quicker, through the effective use of intermediaries. They also appreciate that they themselves are often considered an intermediary to those within their network. So they ‘sell’ to their intermediary network as eagerly as they do to their clients and prospects.
Why are intermediaries important in sales?
There are a variety of reasons an intermediary network is important in sales. The obvious one is the ability to refer/recommend us in to our desired target. They can expedite the top of the funnel.
This can be the traditional handshaking introduction – where they directly introduce you to your prospect. It can take the shape of a an opportunistic introduction where by good fortune or management you are in the same place as your prospect and intermediary (eg a chamber event), or other direct introductions like being introduced to a deal.
But there are many more reasons why a healthy intermediary network is incredibly important, such as:
- They provide information and intelligence. Some intermediaries can’t or won’t provide introductions, but are willing to provide information which can assist you in your sales endeavours. Access to this information can be priceless.
- They can solve problems. A healthy intermediary network often comprises people who can help your clients. (Win/Win/What). Your credibility and value can be accentuate by using intermediaries effectively to solve clients problems or realise their opportunities. This also extends your value proposition to your intermediary, reinforcing why you should work together.
- They can reinforce messages and recommend. Intermediaries can be within or alongside your relationships. They may not refer you in, but may be working with your clients or targets. Having a relationship with them can help reinforce your credentials and value to your clients and targets when pitching to and working with them. Your intermediaries can endorse your solutions and recommendations, and your personal values.
Other benefits exist such as self development and peer support. Friendships even develop and as a result a healthy intermediary network can follow up through your career.
What often gets confused is the difference between an intermediary network and a referral network. Whilst not unrelated in the fact that referrals should be generated from an intermediary network, referrals aren’t the sole reason you develop one.
When you create an intermediary network for the purpose of client benefit, rather than solely generating referrals, it is likely your network will look different. You will have a network which provides the advantages outlined above and more. You will build a network not just traditional rainmakers/referrers, but those who can support, educate, endorse and accentuate your sales activity and, most importantly, add value to your clients.
The pay it forward principle is a strong premise to a successful and mutually beneficial intermediary network. As Zig Ziglar was quoted as saying ‘you will get what you want in life, if you help enough people get what they want’.
The difficulty is that very seldom are sales people taught how to develop and maintain intermediary relationships. This, coupled with the fact that most sales leaders and businesses look for regular results, naturally focuses sales people on the referral aspect of an intermediary network.
There are a number of common challenges I see when people are developing and/or maintaining intermediary networks which limit success:
Too Many, Too Shallow
Many sales people opt to have many intermediaries in their network, but maintain shallow, if not transactional, relationships with them. They also have a wide spread of intermediaries in a certain sector in an effort to hedge their bets. As a result, we only have so much time and brain power to maintain that many relationships. We hoard intermediaries as a safety net and a false sense of productivity, rather than using our network in an effective and considered fashion.
It is far better to have fewer deeper relationships than many shallow ones. Choosing the right intermediaries, rather than any intermediaries is an important sales skill. The right person comes down to your ability to work with them, their connectivity with your clients and prospects, their area of specialism and desire to maintain a meaningful relationship to improve a clients position. Note: it isn’t just about referrals.
Often in sales intermediaries become important when we’re amidst a deal or in a hole in our pipeline. We run the risk of seeking transactions or closing them. We use them in a reactive fashion – reactive to our workload and desire for more business.
A healthy intermediary network is one with regular engagement, rather than a sporadic and/or short term focus. It isn’t about quick wins, but rather about generating a meaningful network to improve our clients position.
We have a coffee/beer/game of golf and have a high level chat. We assume they know what we’re after and them from us. We often don’t articulate what our ideal clients look like, ask what their’s look like and how we can work together to improve our clients position. We have a social meeting – and often leave business off the agenda. Actually, we seldom have an agenda.
Our and our intermedairies time is precious – an agenda is essential. Discussing why we’re there and our we can help one another and our clients mandatory. Yes, having a coffee and chatting about the weekends sport is part of a relationship – but business is why you’re meeting.
We view the primary reason for a relationship with an intermediary as ‘get referrals/introductions’. This shapes who we see, how we engage them and how we view success. But intermediaries are far more than this. As mentioned above, they can educate us and our clients. They can provide intelligence and information. They can solve problems for our clients and create opportunities if we use them wisely.
By opening our point of view to how they can help our clients – the referral becomes an outcome, not a purpose.
Chances are, if we view them as an intermediary – it is fairly like they view us as one. We can be guilty of forgetting this and miss half of the conversation – the piece that adds value to our intermediary.
Reciprocity Is Wrong
A healthy intermediary isn’t a back scratching club. Yes, reciprocity should exist – but it shouldn’t be why you’re meeting.
The real purpose of a meaningful intermediary relationship is working together to improve a clients or prospects situation. It’s a triadic relationship. Then every one wins. It isn’t a score card of referrals, its a score card of clients helped. Lead with the value to the client, not to the intermediary. Definitely not to yourself.
Relationships > Transactions
As mentioned above, we’re often guilty of wanting to be referred in to a transaction. For example – asking ‘do you know anyone unhappy with their supplier’. This is terrible. We should be asking ‘Do you know anyone I should be talking to?’.
The purpose should be around helping clients – not seeking referrals. Your intermediary should refer you in because you can improve a clients position. They should know and trust you to the point where the transaction itself is a given, it is the relationship match with the client which drives the referral, not the piece of work.
Same goes the other way – we should know them well enough to know who they should be working with an introduce them at a relationship/discussion level, not in to a transaction. If a transaction never happens – you never get a referral.
Intermediaries are an incredibly valuable sales channel, but often one left to the sales person to manage. Often, a business or sales leader won’t coach their team on effective intermediary network creation and management.
Intermediaries are much more than a source of referrals. Many successful sales people spend as much time with their intermediary network as they do with their clients. They become friends, trusted advisors, mentors and more. They form a crucial part of the identification and qualification of prospects. Part of the sales process and part of the ongoing relationship management once they become clients. They become an extension of the sales skills, products and solutions the sales person holds.