Category: Relationship Building

Influenced or Influencing?

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More than ever before – your body of work, your network and your accessibility are what drive business to you.

Sales has always used referrals as a means to generate opportunity – but increasingly social proofing is driving these conversations well before a sales person asks for a referral.

Social media channels, both professionally and personally, are growing in content asking for recommendations, providing recommendations and, unsurprisingly, providing an outlet for those who had a sub-optimal experience to vent their displeasure.

There was a recent series of articles around the Instagram ‘Influencer’ who wished to exchange free accommodation in favour of what effectively amounted to digital marketing to her follows. This rather innocent approach became a viral news piece – providing for some interesting discussions in offices and living rooms as to who was right.

The reality here is – regardless of whether you agree or disagree with this – it is happening. People are actively providing and seeking recommendations from their social groups often at the very beginning of their buying cycle.

What this means is that it is increasingly important for business and sales people to focus more on the ‘footprint’ they leave than ever. You are simply as good as your last job. Similarly, even if the business is seemingly doing everything right – social has the ability to change that quickly like for this restaurant. It is also important to respect this channel and the audience as many find how vocal an incensed crowd can become, like this business.

There is much on LinkedIn around personal branding and growing your online presence – most of which is very true. However, today, simply being there is no longer enough much like our personal networks, we are often defined by our contribution not membership.

It is becoming increasingly important that these social channels are respected recognising that when it goes wrong, it doesn’t only have a potentially large audience, it can also hang around for a while.

It is this fear that sees many sales people fearful of commenting or producing their own content on LinkedIn. A fear of being judged, contradicated or simply saying something that offends someone and/or their employer prevents many from contributing content. From being a thought and insight leader.

We see this play out in a online lives daily. We get presented with the most popular posts on Facebook or LinkedIn by default – that is, those posts with the most interactions. Yes, we can override this to a chronological feed, but the reality is we don’t. Much like a newspaper – we are presented with the news/articles the platform thinks is the most important. Someone else chooses who we are influenced by as very few people search much deeper than the core newsfeed.

Why is this? It is the social phenomenon of the 90/9/1 rule.

90% of people on social media lurk. They observe, read and listen – but that is all. 1% of users contribute most of the content and the remaining 9% sporadically contribute.

Not only do the 1% produce the majority of content, as a result of the algorithms being these social platforms, they also become the most seen. This is why people get paid for posting on Instagram etc – it is because the drive the ‘90%’ to the platform. They keep the platform relevant. They become the influencers.

LinkedIn is no different – if everyone simply had a profile on LinkedIn and no content or interaction happened, it would die quickly. As a sales person, knowing this, you can use it to your benefit (and that of your clients) by moving in to the 1%. You can become the influencer – leading with insight and value.

Intelligent Reach

How does one do this? Immediately many get goose bumps thinking they have to write articles and do videos. However, there are a variety of way to share content on LinkedIn. A list in least to most intimidating is:

  1. Like someones post/article
  2. Share someones article
  3. Share someones article with a comment
  4. Comment on someones article
  5. Create your own article/content
  6. Reply to comments on your article

Each time you do this, your network sees this activity (yes, you can turn this off, but why would you?). To be effective, all of these strategies can and should be deployed.

The goal with any of the above is developing intelligent reach.

What is this?

  • Relevant Content: Curating and/or creating relevant posts & articles for your audience/network. Ask yourself the question ‘How does what I am about to post add value to those who will see it?‘. Relevant, high value articles are more likely to be interacted with and shared, furthering your reach.
  • Delivered To A Relevant Audience: Build your network up of people you can help, can help you and can help your clients/prospects. The quality of your content is important – but equally so is having a community who appreciates it. Building a LinkedIn Network isn’t like playing Pokemon and collecting everything!
  • Regularly: Growing your influence in social isn’t a one hit wonder. It requires a discipline to seek insightful knowledge and regularly contribute to your community. Contributing regularly means your audience become to anticipate your content.

So – think about these as some parting thoughts

  • How many great articles did you read this week that you could have shared with your network?
  • Did you read and like/comment on your LinkedIn newsfeed posts?
  • How many clients could you have influenced this week if you had?

The reality is, if you aren’t in the 1% – you are likely in the 90%. The influenced rather than the influencers.

In sales, we should all strive to deliver meaningful, regular and relevant content to those we aim to add value to. This is our job.

In years gone by it was accessing the airtime at a realistic cost that prevented most people from accessing their network (remember the days of email blast newsletter done with ‘office publisher skills’. TV and Radio ad, paper etc were all really expensive. The challenged was getting the bandwidth to have a voice.

Today however, the challenge is vastly different. The challenge isn’t the channel, it is being heard. But to be heard, you have to speak. Everyone has the chance to have a voice, the quality of your content will determine if you are heard. However, saying nothing guarantees no one will hear you. And no one will be influenced.


The Power Of A Love Letter


For many of us, the earliest time we’ve ever had to ‘put ourselves out there’ is when we’ve had to ask someone out. In the school yard – this is fraught with risk, mainly of the consequences of getting it wrong. Enter the ‘love letter’. An arms’ length approach.

Interesting, this is a first real foray in to writing a proposal document of any description. As a supplier (of affection) toward the target of that affection we have to a) see if they reciprocate and b) wish to act on it. It is a sales document no different than many we write to potential clients every day – just with a different outcome and, arguably, greater personal risk.

Now, this was all fun and games until I found out my 10 year daughter got a love letter. Instantly the paternal instinct kicked in and the hackles went up. Who is this boy? Tell me more…..

Then my partner told me to read the letter…

Dear …….

I know a lot of boys like you but I don’t care, it would be enough to be your best friend (well, one of your best friends).

Strong start, acknowledged a/the objection (although, who are all these other boys!! A question to explore later). Also, provided an optional outcome, allowing for a gracious, albeit acceptable exit.

You are a kind and caring person and that’s what I need to keep me company everyday.

Brilliant – lead with the key features you admire and why that is important to you. Compliments, when sincere, are powerful. My ‘Dad Mode’ is softening as this boy has skills.

If you don’t want to be my best friend, it’s okay I understand. I’m sorry that I told you I liked you but it was the truth!

Nearly lost me here but closed strong with the ‘I like you even if you don’t like me back’ line. Same is true in prospecting – just because they say no today, it doesn’t mean they are any less attractive as a potential client tomorrow. And, as this boy so succinctly put it, if you don’t tell them you like them, you aren’t risking anything, therefore you may not get anywhere.

Now I put an end to it and I just want you to be my best friend! ( + some emoticons I am too uncool to understand)

In for the close. Direct and ‘asking for the business’. Well done. Too often we do great things in sales but fail to ask for the business.

PS: Please don’t show this card to anyone because they will tease and embarrass me

No, son – this letter is awesome! We put ‘commercially sensitive’ or ‘private and confidential’ on ours in the work place…same thing. In this case, I love this as it is about being vulnerable. He’s exposed himself and asked my daughter to be empathetic to this.

No proposal is complete without a somewhere to sign, just as no love letter to a 10 year old is complete without:

Bless his cotton socks – he even closed with ‘handwritten by my big sister, sentences by me’. Nice, honest disclosure. I have little doubt that his big sister also helped in write this – but I think this is brilliant. If you have a big sister – why not enlist her help. Why not get someone to help you who is experienced on the ‘buy’ side of the conversation. Something there we can learn from maybe? My good friend, Cian McLoughlin of Trinity Perspectives always talks about Win Analysis. Here, this 10 year old boy started ahead of the curve by engaging the help of his sister. He increased his chances of success dramatically.

To understand how best to sell, understand why your clients buy. I wish I thought of this when I was at high school!

The only thing he missed in this whole letter was what he could bring to the relationship (he’s 10) and this is what I told my daughter to ask him, nicely.

As a Dad – my first reaction was ‘No!’ – but dammit, once I finished that letter I was actually on the boy’s side – eventually. A telling point to remember given I wasn’t even the intended audience. Mainly because I know what was involved in writing that letter. He also reminded me that even a love letter is a sales document.

As you can see above, my daughter said yes (after some consternation). It worked.

We don’t always tell our prospects (let alone our clients) we would be proud to be their supplier and the reasons why. We are often good at telling them why they should choose us, but not so good at telling them why we chose them. We don’t always ask outright for the business – we hope they know we want it. We can learn from a 10 year old’s love letter like this.

This boy and my daughter had a conversation at school and the cards didn’t fall in his favour. He regrouped and wrote this letter and won in the end. Interesting.

This reminded me that, when approaching prospects, we undertake a very similar activity as this 10 year old did, whether written or verbal. Sometimes with less skill unfortunately. We simply just often don’t write ‘love letters’ to our prospects like this. Often we aren’t this explicit – we dance around the fact we’d like to do business and drop subtle hints. We don’t always open up and tell them we’d be proud to do business with them, in any form, if given the opportunity and, importantly, can we? Sure, this boy may have gotten shot down (hopefully I raised my daughter better than that) but at least he would have known, rather than wondered. As we saw, he picked his socks up once and re-assessed his strategy, and it paid off. This 10yo just showed us what great skills reflection, agility and tenacity are here.

As sales people, we can often be guilty of being a one trick pony and always relying on a single means of prospecting – we don’t always adapt our approach to our audience or try different and/or multiple ways of engaging. We do the same thing, every day and often expect the same results with every client, or worse, different (ie better) results. Why is this?

Some clients don’t like cold calls – but it doesn’t mean that they don’t like being approached in a different manner. It may just mean they don’t like being rung. This letter is an example – giving my daughter the time to read, reflect and consult resulted in a far better outcome than simply blurting it out in the playground (a cold call). Some people don’t like being ‘sold’ – but do nearly all like value being added.

How we approach someone can be incredibly important – you only have to go to the animal kingdom to realise the incredibly complex and often ostentatious rituals that exists around finding a partner. Yet, with business, we seem to ‘dumb it down’. We just rush in and often kill the opportunity before it’s started and don’t even know it.

An example is the prospect who never returns your phone call. Ever. We often simply blame them and move on. Our technique is perfect surely – why change? Now you can keep dialing…or maybe not. Try an email. Try a text. Get an intro.

Write a love letter.

React Consciously

Picture your least preferred client…..

They email you unexpectedly with ‘I have the proposal you gave me in front of me.  I have found a few mistakes and have some areas I need to talk to you about.   Can you come to my office at 2pm?’

What feelings do you have?  Natural to go/think ‘Sorry 2pm doesn’t work for me’?  Groan?  Hackles go up?

Now picture you favourite client sending the same email, they say the same thing…..what feelings do you have now?


Be The Lion


When ever we look to do something courageous, contentious, abnormal or similarly ‘departing from the normal’ – we are almost guaranteed to receive criticism and/or negativity. Not the constructive kind either.

More often than not, this criticism comes from people who are at or below average at what you’re trying to do. Average or below doesn’t like above average as it feels shown up. So it unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, looks to discourage any one who could put them to shame.

In sales, great sales people aren’t average – obviously. Therefore, it is fair to say that great sales people have encountered a lot of criticism to get where they are.

There is an African proverb that goes:

In sales there are many small dogs. Some bark louder than others and sometimes they bark in chorus – but they will always bark.

Your Dog

If you are a typical sales person – your dog will bark the loudest and most often. Part of us is fearful of putting ourselves out there, so in the recesses of our mind a dog barks to protect us from failure. The logic – by not trying we don’t fail and therefore don’t embarrass ourselves. Of course this is true – but it also means we never succeed if we listen to this dog.

Sometimes this dog barks for real reasons and correctly identifies skill, knowledge, process or similar gaps in what we’re doing. In this case – listen to the dog, but don’t turn around. Address the gaps – move forward. That dog barking isn’t a reason to stop – that dogs bark makes us stronger. It is warning us.

Unfortunately, our dog is the biggest dog we have to fight. We’re usually the only one that can hear it and it speaks our own language. We’ve taught this dog through years of self talk. We’ve nurtured this dogs bark. It has both protected and inhibited us. You need to learn to not ‘turn around’ because of it, but listen and judge whether it’s bark makes sense.

The Team Dog

In some sales teams, there is an air of mediocrity. Of ‘getting by’. As a result, anyone departing from this culture quickly encounters the team dog/s. This is where average endeavours to maintain the status quo. Statements like ‘That won’t work’, ‘They won’t buy from us’, ‘They’re a difficult client’, ‘This sales course is worthless’ and similar remarks are all the team dog barking.

You can see this in some teams where the best sales people end up lone wolfing simply because they have chosen to ignore the team dog and just do what they know works. They don’t turn around, but unfortunately often at the expense of the team dynamic. They risk getting socially emancipated from the team.

This can often be why good sales people don’t last long in poor sales teams. Too many dogs barking, not enough lions. As a sales leader – this is important as often the lions don’t roar often, but you better listen when they do. Provided you can hear them over the dogs barking.

The Company Dog

Sales is usually one aspect of a business – with many other areas of the business existing and working together. Sometimes, tension unnecessarily exists in a business – you end up with the company dog.

It is all to easy in sales to find a reason to not leave the office. Someone always wants a report completed, some admin work done, and similar valueless work. Sure, it needs to be done, but are you turning around because the company dog is barking? If it doesn’t help you achieve better outcomes for your clients, achieve your results and genuinely isn’t time critical – why did you listen to that dog barking?

As a sales leader, you job is to silence, minimise and/or eliminate this noise from your sales teams to allow them to focus on being the lion. Without distraction.

The Market Dog

I’ve seldom met a sales person who is 100% happy with the market conditions. There is always a more active competitor, someone who is cheaper, someone with a better product, not enough clients, poor economic conditions. That market dog can bark pretty bloody loud if you let it. Sheesh – some days you can question why you even get out of bed.

But hold on – I have also met a number of highly successful sales people who perform regardless of these conditions. Sure, their results vary in good and bad markets, but they still outsell everyone else. Sure, market and competitive conditions vary but they don’t turn around.

Listen to that dog and potentially change direction accordingly, but don’t turn around. As a sales leader – you need to determine if that dog barking is an excuse masking another issue, or a genuine reason inhibiting their activities/outcomes.

The Client Dog

Sometimes we can even encounter a dog in front of us which can stop us and turn us around. The client dog. This is especially true in situations like where the client has an unexpressed or unconscious need we’ve identified but they haven’t as yet come to realise. Or, where we have clients under stress, competitive pressure, experienced a service or product failure.

It is easy in these situations to have a client who barks a lot and, as a sales person, for us turn around. Sometimes the client dog can bark VERY loudly. It can be deafening. As both a sales person and leader, you both need to determine is that dog going to bite and how hard. After all, as sales people, they’re why we exist.

However, good sales people are resolute and listen to that dog and continue forward to deliver that client the best possible outcome they can.

There are many dogs barking in sales vying for our attention and endeavouring to throw us off course or stop us altogether. Endeavour to find others like you who can hear but ignore those dogs and keep moving forward. Eventually those dogs will stop barking as they have nothing to bark about.

That Lion doesn’t turn around simply because it has nothing to fear. It has learned, as an apex predator, that those barking dogs are noise but not a threat. They exist but are immaterial.

Be the lion.

Be The Candle, Not The Moth


Asking all sales professionals –

  • Do you curate your own content?
  • Do you create your own content?

One of the challenges in sales is finding, engaging and holding to new clients whilst maintaining strong relationships with the ones you already have. You’re like a moth circling many flames at the same time.

Imagine if you could be the candle instead – your flame attracting your clients and prospects alike? Imagine a world where clients seek you out and want, if not yearn, to do business with you? A sales nirvana. One, historically, that was hard to achieve with mass marketing being expensive and a sales force left with phone, feet and (later) email to reach their market.

However, in today’s world your reach is far more expansive than it has ever been. Personally, status updates and tweet immediately reach our friends and network and quickly circle the world. Youtube videos have immediate and enduring reach. People are prepared to and do broadcast their thoughts, ideas, advice and opinion with often reckless abandon.

Yet, professionally, we seem to inhibited in this ability to similarly present our ideas, expertise, advice and opinion with the same passion and frequency. We stiffle this markedly in comparision with our personal lives.

LinkedIn is a fantastic example – whereby anyone can produce articles, share their own content and that of others content, have dynamic profiles and all manner of other mediums. Yet few do. The old ‘1% produce content, 9% comment on it and 90% watch’ plays out day after day professionally.

What is true though is that the reach of social media in business through sites like LinkedIn is growing daily. Businesses and business people NOT engaged and active on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook etc is dwindling. So, as a sales professional, where is your audience today?

Back to the original questions – do you create and/or curate your own content?

More importantly, if you don’t, you are probably asking ‘why should I’? Well, there are a number of salient reasons, including

  • Distinction Yes, sharing information is the first natural step in the social space. Simply clicking the share button and clicking it again. The next step is adding an opinion, comment or embelishment to it. What will people think? Finally, the big leap is producing and publishing your own content – with your own ideas and your own opinion. Nervewracking – probably. Rewarding – definitely. Doing this is like public speaking. Whilst we have a fear of it, most likely everyone else does as well. But by standing up and doing it, we distinguish ourselves. As scared as the you may be, many in the audience are going ‘Wow, they’re brave’ or ‘I couldn’t do it’. Regardless of your content & relevance (which is obviously still important), you’ve already made people stand up and notice. You’d made yourselve distinct from many of your peers and have grabbed the attention of your clients in a completely different manner.
  • Engagement Notwithstanding them even reading the article/watching the video in full, they will notice you on their activity feeds (assuming of course they’re connected with/following you). They are reminded you are there. Of course, whilst clients and prospects alike may not have an hour to spend with you at that particular moment, many will take the time to read articles. Then, wait until people start commenting and real, tangible engagement ensues. The joy of this engagement though is it is not push, it is pull. You are putting it out to the general ether, they are choosing to notice, read/watch and/or engage.
  • Expertise Here is where you can demonstrate your knowledge and why you do what you do. Why you are passionate about what you do and how it helps your clients. It isn’t about ‘selling’ it is about value creation, problem solving and opportunity realisation. Well written articles can challenge thinking, educate, inform or even entertain. But shouldn’t sell (this isn’t an advertisement!). Here is where you give what you know freely, abundantly trusting it will pay you dividends (in what ever form) later.
  • Bigger Than Social What starts as a social strategy, can quickly develop in to a physical, face to face one. Requests to talk, present, coach, and consultant quickly follow. The absolute benefit of this is they are engaging with your because of your thoughts, ideas, advice and opinion – not simply because of your product/service. They want you to advise them – therefore you, in crude terms, enter the sales cycle correctly once engaged. You start with a relationship, not a transaction.

Aaron Swartz, co-founder of Reddit, contributor to the development of RSS and staunch activist for freedom of public information said:

“In the old system of broadcasting, you were fundamentally limited by the amount of space in the airwaves. You could only send out 10 channels over the airwaves for television, right? Or even with cable, you had 500 channels. On the internet everybody can have a channel….So it’s not only certain people who have a license to speak. Now everyone has a license to speak. It’s a question of who gets heard.”

Whilst he was referencing the likes of Google and their control of ‘who sees what’ on the internet – he is stating a modern trusim. Everyone now has the ability to produce content – a license to speak.

However, the last line is true also – it isn’t about simply producing content, it is about who is being heard. To this end Benjamin Franklin said:

Probably like most of you, I quickly remove connections who pitch me ‘ideas’ or ‘opportunities’ immediately after connecting. I unsubscribe and delete similar emails from people who have scraped my email off LinkedIn. They effectively ‘cold call’ by social messaging. Yuck!

I do however read the content produced by my connections and people I am following. And, where it is content I connect with, I share it. Similarly I produce my own content for no other reason than to educate, inform and/or entertain. I certainly hope it is worth reading, but I don’t write it to sell anything.

So, hopefully now I’ve incited you to consider curating or publishing your own content. What next? How do you produce relevant, engaging content?

Consider the below when producing your own content.

  1. Know your audience. In the words of Mr Franklin, one of the key errors is producing (or sharing) irrelevant content. Tailor your content (whether shared or created) for your specific audience. If you don’t know your audience, work it out before you start.
  2. Expertise > Sales. I regularly get infuriated when I read an advertisement disguised as an article. You need to give to get – trust that your expertise is valuable in the hands of your audience if presented correctly. Be a centre of excellence and work The best way to demonstrate your value to your audience is to demonstrate you are a centre of excellence in what you write about.
  3. Don’t over think it. Publishing your first article is someone nerve wracking. As I mentioned above, you will get feedback, questions and sometime criticism. But is this bad? You want to provoke thought and discussion. You want engagement. Sometimes being controversial is actual the angle to take.
  4. Be you. Your articles are a reflection of you – it is your chance to personally talk to your audience. Be conversational and personal – reflect and opine.
  5. Be consistent. Writing one article is easier than consistently writing articles – but regular writing maintains consistent engagement with your audience. Try and publish at the same time so your audience becomes accustomed to when they are likely to hear from you
  6. Don’t worry about the stats. It is easy to become consumed with the number of views, likes, comments and shares. Over time this becomes important, but this grows. Though, do read the comments and respond – if someone has taken the time to compose a response, take the time to respond. Similarly, thank people where they share your article and, if game, ask them what in particular did they connect with as this helps shape further content.
  7. Visuals. A good headline image is important as human’s are visual. Similarly, using images, graphs etc in your article helps with explaining/illustrating points, covering quickly what words would cumbersome to do and provide visual breaks.
  8. Collaborate. If you’re not an expert on a topic you know your audience would like, find someone who is and co-write an article. Ask them if you can share/quote their article and add your own opinions or comments over top to connect it to your audience. Ask them to guest write for you or conversely you for them.
  9. Honour your sources. Don’t use others content without asking and citing them. If you reference other public information – quote and include links. People have taken the time to produce their content, it is only fair your recognise their contribution to the quality of your work.
  10. Be proud. Sign off your work with a) a link to your other work b) how to reach you c) a suggestion people like, share or comment on the article if they found it interesting and/or useful. Remember, 90% of people lurk and for some it only takes a prod or two for people to engage.

There are many more suggestions and I encourage your comments as to what works and doesn’t for you. I fell in to writing articles as I simply wrote for myself and then a few people said I should publish them. Now I find writing articles is incredibly useful for me as much as I hope it is for my audience.

The biggest advantage is this gives you the opportunity to be the candle, producing the flame, rather than a moth looking for something to circle. Sure, you may end up with no or few moths, but with a little perseverance and fine tuning and you’ll quickly find you have an audience, most likely including clients of your competitiors – recognising so few sales people do it.

So, if you are an expert at what you do, why aren’t you producing your own content? Why aren’t you becoming a centre of excellence. The channel is there to speak, you just need to be heard.

The Goldilocks Client


We’ve all had them (or have them).  Clients for who nothing is perfect.  You’re too slow to respond, the pricing is too high, your solution is full of holes, they object to every piece of advice et al.

As sales people, they are the source of many avoided phone calls or rapid succession of expletives post call.  We end up not enjoying working with them and, as a result, they don’t like working with us.  Two things happen:  a relationship of mutual detestation develops and then (or your client may jump to this point), they leave.

For many, the departure of the client is one of relief.  ‘Thank heavens they’re gone’ is the exclamation from the relationship manager.

Some of you will also have witnessed the situation where a client, who was previously perceived as a terribly difficult client by one relationship manager, is transferred to a new relationship manager and they get on like a house on fire.  A previous difficult client becomes tame and amiable.

What happened?

It is easy for the sales person or relationship manager to blame their client.  ‘They are just difficult and hard to please!’.  This is easy because it externalises the problem however, more often than not, it is better to look at yourself in this situation.  Yes, there are a handful of truly demanding clients out there – but it is rare to come across a client who doesn’t want a solution and relationship which is ‘just right’.

So, how do difficult clients get created?

Lack Of Understanding Of ‘Just Right’

As sales professionals, we spend an extraordinary amount of time in discovery to seek to understand the problems and opportunities our clients face and how we can create solutions to improve their situation.  This is selling.

Do we go through the same discover process to understand what a clients’ expectation of our service proposition is?  If a client tells us they want us to be ‘responsive’ – do we know what this looks like to them?  Or do we make assumptions based on our view of ‘responsive’.  Often a demanding client is a factor of us making assumptions as to how they wish to be served.  Wrong assumptions.

You have to have an open conversation with your clients around what is expected and offered in a sales relationship.  If your clients are judging you on the service you provide – you owe it to them and yourself to explore the criteria to which they are judging you.  What does excellent service look like to them?  Not just the terms, but what delivering it looks like.

The offer/expectation model is used extensively in employee/employer relationships and works brilliantly in sales too.  Understanding what a client expects from you (and you from them) at the outset and where this diverges from what you’re offering allows you to discuss the gap before it presents itself as a problem.  Before the client feels let down.

Be warned, you can also over-service your clients.  We always worry about under-servicing them and because of this, in certain situations we can over service them.  Service being ‘too hot’ can be just as damaging for some client relationships.  You see this with call cycle – often relationship managers will call clients on a set cycle because their business says ’90 day call cycles’ – but have we asked the client if this is what they want?

Consistency is similarly important here.  If you serviced a client well and then your service drops off – expect them to become demanding.  You set (or reset) and expectation with them.

Setting the expectations at the outset, like any good relationship, allays many future issues, but is irregularly undertaken in sales.

Lack of Spine

My favourite topic.  It is drummed in to sales people that ‘the customer is always right’.  Well, they aren’t always right.  If this was the case, they wouldn’t need you and would buy your services in an e-procurement model.  If they always knew what they needed and were correct in their decision, advice based selling wouldn’t exist.

Too many sales people create demanding clients by allowing themselves to be steamrolled through fear of offending their clients.

A demanding client exists because they have learned, from you or prior sales people, that the way to get action is through being demanding. Sales people have coached them in to this by being order takers, not advisors.

As sales people, we can’t be afraid of saying no to our clients when what they’re doing isn’t in their best interest.  Telling them that what they want, isn’t what they need.  We have to understand our clients well enough that, when we have these difficult conversations, we can substantiate why what we are proposing is in their best interests.

Free giving is a good example.  Some sales people, to avoid difficult situations, heavily shade pricing or waive conditions to smooth the path and pre-empt any objections.  They then let themselves down by not explaining to their customer what they’ve done and, importantly, why they’ve done it.  As a result, what is a highly negotiated deal for the sales person, is now normal deal for the client.  This may help you win this deal – but will often create a future demanding client when you, or the next sales person, can’t match this later.

Too often, sales people act subservient to their clients.  You are the expert in your field!  However, if you don’t lead your client, they will lead (or leave) you. If you know your client well enough – you should have the fortitude to have the difficult conversations with them when it is in their interests to do so.

Goldilocks didn’t have someone to ask her how hot she liked her soup or how firm she liked her bed – so she had to try them all.  But your clients have you.  Don’t let your service and selling be a trial and error experiment for your clients.  Understand them – especially how they like to be managed.  Suddenly, demanding clients will be a thing of the past.

Source: LinkedIn

3 Reasons To Not ‘Compete’ With Your Clients


Sales is often viewed as competitive.   It can easily be seen as such as we talk winning and losing sales.  Sales people compete with one another.  We talk strategies to overcome objections, strategies to close sales.  We measure conversation rates.  We ‘ring a bell’ when we get back to the office as a sign of success.  Everyone high fives and congratulates the sales person – very few ask about how the client felt.  Ask how the sale improved the clients situation.

There are some key issues where this competitive focus can become detrimental to client satisfaction and, ultimately, sales success:

Adversarial Mindset

What can happen is this creates an ‘adversarial’ view of our client.  Someone we need to win.  To conquer.  This can create a ‘win at all costs’ sales approach where the victory of the sale is more important than the satisfaction of the client.  Sometimes resulting in a sales person winning the battle of the sale – only to now have to wage war with a client they never should have sold to, or sold to incorrectly.

Our clients aren’t adversaries.  They’re the lifeblood of our business.  Without them we have no reason to exist.  Why compete with them?  Especially when we need to work with them the following day.

Size versus Impact

We see this in sales regularly – situations where the most celebrated sale is the biggest sale of the month or the sale that generated the most margin/revenue.  However, do you stop to consider that your smallest sale of the month could have been the one that have the most significant value to your client.

This thinking can result on the effort you put in for smaller sales.  The care.  Choosing to dig in for the big sales at the expense of the smaller ones.  With little regard to the value of that sale to the client and their business.  We can forget that for our clients that single interaction is the only one they may have with our business that month.  To us it is one interaction of many on the way to our monthly target.  Do we risk demeaning that interaction as a result of scaling our effort to match the value of the transaction to us?

No Sale, No Interest

Every contact we have with a customer influences whether or not they’ll come back. We have to be great every time or we’ll lose them. ~ Kevin Stirtz

In fact, that client interaction may not even be a sale.  Because of this competitive mindset, you can run the risk of losing interest where there isn’t a sale.  Relationship management is often about administrative tasks that don’t (directly) contribute to your sales results.  It is easy to lose interest in these tasks in lieu of winning deals.  We can get annoyed with clients calling or emailing us for ‘mundane tasks’ that take our attention away from ‘selling’ (do you see the irony?).  Again, we not only forget that this may be the only (and possibly last) interaction our clients have with us this month – but seldom think that it may be next month we’re selling them something.

It is when sales people realise that, in fact, they are on the same side as the client, working in their mutual interests, that genuine selling occurs.  Sure, they need to meet the needs of the business they’re working for – but only do so where it truly meets the needs of the client first.

Sales isn’t a tug of war with your client.  Sure a competitive sales culture isn’t a bad thing – but sales is much more rewarding and sustainable when you walk with you client, rather than feel you’re competing with them to win.

Trust Me, I Know What I’m Doing


If I walked up to you in the street and told you ‘I was a modern day William Tell and could shoot an apple off your head every time from 20 feet with a bow and arrow – just stand over there with this apple and I’ll show you’.  Would you trust me?

Of course you wouldn’t and I don’t blame you – the risk/return for you is too small – you don’t know me, whether I can do what I say and, of course, are mindful of what could happen if am more confident in my abilities than they really are in practice.

What if I placed an apple on a fence 20 feet away and shot it off successfully 20-30 times?  Would you then trust me?

What if I showed you video footage of me successfully shooting apples off peoples heads or got others whose head I’d successfully shot apples off to talk to you?  Would this persaude you to trust me?

What if I said to you, I’d be prepared to pay you a $10,000 to stand there and a further $990,000 if I was unsuccessful?  Would you now trust me?

Of course, given the personal risks involved, for most people, these risks are simply too significant to trust someone they know to do this, let alone someone they don’t know.  Very few would be prepared to stand under that apple.

Trust in sales is an area well discussed.  Complete an internet search on the keywords on sales and trust and you’ll see a myriad of articles on the topic of trust in sales.  Courses cover trust regularly as part of the sales process, but how does it work in practice within a sales/advisor relationship with a client?

From a sales perspective – the above techniques are often what we use to convince clients to trust us.  We tell them we’re an expert.  We show them examples of our work.  We get testimonials and client stories and we pay them to become clients either with inducements of discounts to reduce risk.

Of course, in sales your clients life is seldom in risk so the examples demonstrated above will often be sufficient to demonstrate to your clients your ability to be trusted in your advice or recommendations.

But here’s what few sales courses don’t tell you – trust is situational, analogue and dynamic.

Situational Trust

Let’s just say for a moment, I finally got you to stand there under that apple and, obviously, successfully skewered it with my arrow with no personal harm to you.  Then I turn to you and say ‘I am also a proficient axe thrower – stand there again under that apple and I’ll cleft it in twain with my axe’.  Would you?

I bet, whilst you eventually trusted me as an archer and your trust was validated, you would need to reaffirm my credentials as an axe thrower before you would be prepared to trust me, if you would at all.  Yes, I have built some trust, but this situation is significantly different enough by skills and risk, that this previous trust doesn’t carry over.

As a sales person, just because your client trusts you in a certain situation, it doesn’t mean they trust you in all situations.  In situations where they consider it materially different from previous situations where they’ve trusted you, they may have diminished, or no, trust for you in to this new situation.  You may be perfectly suited to dealing with this situation, but because the client hasn’t had confirmation of your skills here, you will need to build trust before moving on.

Analogue Trust

Trust isn’t on or off either.  It exists on a spectrum.  Like situational sales trust – clients can trust you up to a point and not beyond it.  For example, you may trust a carpenters labourer to work on your house with your carpenter – but not to build the entire house by themselves.

In sales, they may trust you up to a certain transaction size or complexity, but not beyond this.  They may not actually tell you explicitly where their trust boundaries end so you need to check where you sit on your clients trust spectrum.  Knowing how much they trust you is important.

Businesses often deal with this by having ‘layers’ within their sales/relationship teams based on the size and/or complexity fo the client.  Where this analogue trust becomes an issue in these situations is where clients grow in complexity and/or size, but the business doesn’t adjust the sales/relationship strategy.  This is reflected in client sentiment comments like ‘they just don’t know my business/situation’.

Dynamic Trust

Just like you can earn trust, you can lose it.  Sometimes it may be as result of nothing you have done but due to external events.  The clients own situation may have changed that suddenly makes them distrust advice they were fine to trust yesterday

An example may be a transaction they saw as a seemingly low risk or riskless transaction yesterday, may suddenly now be business critical due to changes in their business/situation.  As a result of their perceived risks changing, their levels of trust alter.  They may need more reinforcement of your ability to deliver the outcomes – they may need to you rebuild or reaffirm trust as a result.  Given trust is analogue – it can slide both up and down, so can’t be taken for granted.

Trust is, undeniably, an important facet of any functional relationship.  Building trust with clients is therefore often reinforced in sales training and discussions.  It is often a ‘step’ in a sales process whereby you build trust and rapport on your path to a successful sale.

What isn’t discussed is the fact trust is situational, analogue and dynamic as outlined above. To assume you have your clients trust because they trusted you in one instance can result in issues when you try to progress the solution if you haven’t reaffirmed that trust.  This is often the emotion underlying many sales objections.

Trust isn’t a step in a sales process – it is a fundamental cornerstone in every step of the sales process.  Whether getting your prospect to hear you, your client to understand how your solution improves their position or helping clients make buying decisions – it must exist through the entire process and be continually monitored and affirmed.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like’ button and also share via your Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook social media platforms. I encourage you to join the conversation or ask questions so feel free to add a comment on this post. Please follow my LinkedIn post page for all my articles.

Thank you Keith Dugdale for input.

Your Clients’ Client: Selling Real Value


It is an irrefutable tenet of sales that a client is central to the process of selling.  In order to understand whether we could and should work with clients, we need to invest considerable time in understanding our clients, who they are, why they exist, what they do and how they do it.  This discovery is the key to selling successfully in terms of adding tangible value to our clients.

So, if it is undeniable that our client is central to our world it becomes difficult to argue that our client’s client is central to their world and so this continues up and down the sales chain.

As mentioned above, we often focus on why our clients exist, what they do and how they do it, yet it becomes a natural, but often neglected part of the sales discovery process to understand who they serve.  The who behind why they exist.

Often in sales, we can be working with and selling to the people who aren’t charged with the sales side our of customers business.  Often this can be procurement teams or finance teams or similar, often inwardly facing, parts of our clients business.  As a result, we always focus on how what we’re selling them helps them improve their business – but how often do we consider how what we’re selling helps them improve their clients position?

Like we exist to improve our clients position, they exist to improve the position of theirs.  To be effective in delivering real value to your clients, you need to understand how they deliver value to their clients.  You need to understand their clients.  You need to understand the challenges your clients face in delivering value to their clients.

Even the seemingly simple and usually difficult conversation/negotiation around price often isn’t that simple for your client.  Yes, we often fall in to the trap of believing the client just wishes to ‘ratchet the price down’ – but how often do we explore the real reason?  For example – would we be aware that our client is suffering considerable competition in their market yet also suffering labour and other value chain price rises.  They can’t adjust the price to their customers given the strong competition and, as such, are sitting in front of you in an attempt hold their price to their clients to protect their competitive position.  Yes, we should, but do we?

Understanding your clients’ client and how your client goes about improving their position is a crucial element to long term successful sales.

Often when presenting in sales, we talk about and to the benefits our product or service means to our client.  This may be represented in efficiency; such as time saving.  But if you know your clients business well enough, you can actually translate this in to client service improvement.  Increase in numbers of clients onboarded/serviced.  Time to answer or turnaround reduced.  Suddenly the ‘efficiency’ not just becomes meaningful to your client, it becomes meaningful to their client.

To use the example of pricing above; instead of talking in terms of ‘cost savings’, you can translate this in terms of held gross/net margin or the possibility of improved pricing to their client to accentuate competitiveness.

Translating our benefits in this manner helps alter the tone of the sales conversation.  It focuses the conversation not on what the client is buying but how it improves their relationship with their client.   Understanding who our clients sell to and how they improve their position are two crucial questions successful sales people want to know the answer to.  This not only helps us sell meaningful value to our clients, it helps us refer and introduce people in our network who can support our clients’ quest to improve their clients position.  It positions us as an adviser, not supplier, to our clients.

We are trained to focus so heavily on our clients, we can become myopically focused on them.  We can have cursory conversations about their clients (mainly ‘who are they’), but can neglect to comprehensively understand how our clients improve the position of their clients in our quest to simply improve our clients position.  It sounds similar, but the outcomes are drastically different.  Most clients will make decisions based on how the outcome improves their ability to serve their clients.  Failing to understand this results in selling with only half the information.

Even if at the outset of the sales process, you ask your client ‘How does/can what I can offer you improve how you can work with your clients?‘, you’d be surprised with the answers.

Next time you are working with your clients and prospects to assess how you can help improve their position, ensure you take the time to understand their clients and how they improve their position.    When you do this properly your value to them, becomes their value to their client.

Celebrate Happiness

065/365: Show us your smile!

“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” ― Abraham Lincoln

Hit the target, lift the bar, hit the target, lift the bar.  Live in sales can sometimes resemble ground hog day.

Sales is a constant series of small sprints within a long race.  We have targets, KPI’s, deadlines and a myriad of other external drivers to keep us focused on achieving both micro and macro goals.

How many times have you heard, or used, the phrase ‘I’ll be happy when….’?  We usually think that we will be happy once we are successful.  So we chase success in the hope we’ll then be happy.  But does this work?  Refer this video by @ShawnAchor:

‘Success’ is a usually a moving feast.  We achieve it and recognise it for the briefest of moments before we either reset our expectations or the next ‘race’ begins.  An example of this most of us can relate to is a month’s end/beginning.  We may have had a fantastic month and recognise this success in a fleeting moment.  However, what is laid out in front of us is the next months quota to fill so any happiness garnered from the success of the last month is quickly overtaken by the focus on efforts needed to achieve the coming months targets.  And, if we don’t worry about achieving our target, we will worry about something else.  Whether it is client satisfaction, margins, retention, etc – we are conditioned to worry about achieving some metric or KPI.  As a result, it is difficult for sales people to be happy and, if we are, even more difficult to hold on to.

The weird thing is, we can often manifest this happiness in front of clients – but do we live it in the office?

Stress is counter-productive in sales.  Worrying about achieving target can make you do things you shouldn’t.

  • It can make you focus on transactions rather than relationships.
  • It can make you focus on short term gains rather than long term successes.
  • It can make you focus on any client, rather than the right ones.
  • It can make you distrust your plan

As sales people and sales leaders, we need to make sure we take the time to honour success and celebrate happiness.  The trusim is that if we are looking for our happiness to be driven by our success and our measurement for success is constantly lifting – how are we ever going to be happy?  We actually have to focus on being happy first.

If you’ve hired the correct sales people/team – as a sales leader, you shouldn’t have to bang on to them about their targets and other metrics.  You should be focused on providing the environment & motivation for them to be successful.  Maybe that focus is on making sure they’re happy first?  There is little argument in sales circles that happy staff will lead to happy clients.

If succeeding is something we do to be happy as a sales person, maybe we have the equation around the wrong way as Shawn Achor suggests.  Maybe success is actually driven from happiness?  Maybe a fun work place is a key to success?

Rather than driving happiness from success – maybe happiness is a key skill to being a successful sales person and creating it to successful sales leadership?

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like’ button and also share via your Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook social media platforms. I encourage you to join the conversation or ask questions so feel free to add a comment on this post. Pleasefollow my LinkedIn post page for all my articles.

Are You Average?


“By definition, it is not possible to everyone to be above the average.”  James C. Collins

The ‘great’ people and personalities we immediately think of didn’t become iconic through doing what every one else did or just meeting expectations.  Sir Edmund Hillary is great example – his feat many years ago is even today difficult for people to achieve despite the considerable advance in technology supporting them.

Why then, in sales, do we often refer to someone doing what was expected, normal or promised as great service?  Is it great service?

If we take ‘great’ to be defined as ‘above average’ and take this in to the sales arena – by that same definition, doing what everyone else is doing isn’t great service – it’s just service.

Also, extrapolating out that definition, anything above ‘average’ could be construed as great service couldn’t it?  Well, yes it could – however, by who’s definition?  The customers of course.  This is an important distinction as in sales do you know what your client expects from you a sales person?  Do you know what their ‘average’ is?  If you don’t – how can you exceed it?  How can you provide great service?

Providing great service needn’t be about grandiose gestures, massive expense or ceremony – more often than not, it is the regular undertaking of small, meaningful actions which provide great service.  Stressing the words, regular and meaningful.  Great one off gestures quickly lose their value if not repeated and, in fact, can ultimately diminish client sentiment if they get to briefly experience great service and only receive ordinary service there after.  Similarly effort placed in to significant service activity which is valueless to the client is misdirected as the clients often think, but seldom say, ‘what a waste of time’.

In our personal lives, we go the extra mile for our friends, yet so many sales people don’t do this for their clients.  For example, if you see a concert coming up and you know your friend likes the artist, you’ll remember to tell them.  Would you do this for a client?  Do you know the artists they like?  If you know your clients like crayfish and you’re a diver, would you get them some?  Do you know enough about them to be meaningful? Why not?  We care enough to know what is important to our friends – but do we for our clients?

So now you’re inspired to provide great, distinct, meaningful service.  Now think about this:

  • Do you think you can be great once or twice and this is enough?
  • If you do it all the time for your clients, does it become ‘average’?  So does the ‘great service’ benchmark drift upwards?

Greatness is relative to the service level they’re used to receiving and, more importantly, greatness is about consistency, not about one off gestures.  Continued great service lifts your clients service expectation – hence the need to make a decision to be either consistently great, or consistently average.

The key to being able to provide great service to your clients is simply a matter of executing two things:

  1. Ask them at the outset of your relationship with them what is important to them in a sales relationship.  You need to understand what they value highly and what this looks like (eg respond quickly is good to know – but does quickly mean within the hour or within the day?)
  2. Sense check this understanding with them at regular intervals.  You need to know if what’s important to them has changed and, of course, ask them whether they believe you’ve delivering against it.

Of course, then you have to make a conscious decision to be great knowing and acting on the above.  Greatness isn’t as difficult as we think – but it requires us to think about others and what’s meaningful to them.  It requires us to ask what is important to our clients so we aren’t guessing whether what we do is meaningful, and therefore great, for our clients.  And then it requires us to act great.  To care enough about our client to provide them with a service experience second to none.

As James Collins was quoted everyone, by definition can’t be above average. It requires you to be willing to be above average.  Willing to differentiate yourself.  Willing to care about your client.

Are you average?

Sales Sentiment Model: Choose Your Battleground Wisely


There is much rhetoric around satisfaction and loyalty in sales and the difference between the two.   Satisfaction is a sense of fulfilment or the pleasure obtained from needs or expectations being met.  Loyalty is the giving or showing of firm and constant support.

As Shep Hyken said:

 There is a big difference between a satisfied customer and a loyal client

Or, as Jeffrey Gitomer was quoted saying:

Customer satisfaction is worthless.  Customer loyalty is priceless

Customer loyalty allows you to weather service failures and competitive threats.  Satisfaction is more of a point in time perspective and can quickly be dismissed if subsequent service doesn’t follow suit.  To give some perspective – if you partner said you they were ‘satisfied’ with their relationship with you – how would you feel?

In a sales sense, both are important.   You can have loyal, but dissatisfied clients – especially at a point in time such as a service failure.   Of course, were you to leave them in a dissatisfied state for too long, their loyalty begins to come in to question – so acting to promptly to reinstate satisfaction is important.

Similarly, you can have satisfied but disloyal clients – such as when pricing arguments arise.  You can have a client who wins a battle of price and is satisfied with what you have offered, but actually isn’t loyal.  This can happen where you have clients with significant barriers to shift to new suppliers (such as contracted obligations) and can remain disloyal but satisfied with what they have.  Here, the focus is around leveraging the satisfaction to drive loyalty.

As a disruptor to this situation – a sales person who wishes to form a relationship with these clients should be looking at whether their prospects are both satisfied and loyal to their incumbent suppliers.  As a sales person, you are looking for clients of other suppliers who are sitting in a position of questionable loyalty or satisfaction.

Recently, I wrote about relationships where clients love their suppliers and suppliers love them back.  These are very difficult relationships to displace simply for the reason that the client is both satisfied and loyal.  Something significant needs to change in this relationship for you to displace it.  Accordingly, you have to honour this loyalty to make head way in forming a relationship with them.  It isn’t about selling in a relationship of this status; it is about learning and patience.

So what are the wider states that exist in client/supplier relationships?  If you consider sentiment as an important driver to whether clients are mobile or not – you can generate a client sentiment model as follows:

In this model, the A’s are those expressed above.  Those who have a mutual loyal and satisfying relationship with their suppliers.  I’ve covered them previously here.

There are three other states of relationship which can help you form your sales strategy once you can identify them:

C:            Mutual Disloyalty

Here you have clients who have a low feeling of loyalty to their supplier and it is reciprocated by the supplier.   They want to be left alone, but want the supplier to jump when they need them.  They won’t speak highly of their incumbent supplier and usually not of any suppliers at all.  They usually just want the cheapest option but all the bells and whistles for it.  It isn’t uncommon for them to express their disloyalty by constantly shopping their incumbent on every transaction or jumping from supplier to supplier.  As is their right, they don’t feel this is an issue and it is always the suppliers fault.  As a result, their supplier isn’t loyal in return and the client receives mediocre service.

Tread carefully here as you can be acquiring an issue – however don’t dismiss it immediately.  Some times these pieces of coal can turn in to a diamond.  Sometimes this is the result of a situation – it can be driven by a supplier who has done a significantly poor enough job that they taint the clients view of all suppliers.  I won’t spend much time here as it is an area best avoided until you’ve exhausted the below.  The ROI is just too poor.

B:            Misplaced Loyalty

These are clients who have learn to accept average/mediocre service as good service.  This is exampled by them saying things like ‘when I ring them, they answer the phone’ or ‘they always do want I ask’.  This is responsive service that the client has been unfortunately conditioned to think is good, or even great, service.  Asking questions like ‘how often does your supplier come out and visit you’ is a great question.  Or ‘does your supplier introduce you to potential clients’.  These will quickly highlight the supplier side apathy in the relationship.

There is significant uncaptured value in this relationship.  A proactive sales person can quickly identify this value.  As a disruptor to this relationship you should be looking to open their eyes to what they aren’t getting.  Ask them their strategic goals, challenges and opportunities.  Connect them with people who can help them realise and mitigate them.  Advise them.  Provide them with opportunities to educate themselves.  Host them so they get to understand what a proactive, consultative relationship should be like.

In short, show them the love they should be getting from their supplier.  It isn’t about price – it is about value and advice.  About caring.

In sales – these are the most likely clients to displace as you can add the most value.  Here you have clients who are loyal, but often not as satisfied as they realise they could be.

As the incumbent, you need to be careful as a disruptor who is smart and attentive, can quickly point this out to them.

B             Apathetic Loyalty:

Here you challenge is the client sentiment is ‘why jump from the frying pan to the fire’.  This client was probably, at one point, loyal to their supplier and it is highly likely that the supplier was/still is loyal to them.   They are usually easy to pick up because they literally will say things like ‘you are all the same’ or ‘why change, you’re as bad as one another’.

The challenge here is different from the above as here you often have a client who has ‘given up’ on their supplier.  The situation here is they are often dissatisfied, but loyal.

As a disruptor to this relationship the focus isn’t about questioning their loyal, it is about addressing their satisfaction.  If you can satisfy them, the loyalty will follow.

Often they will have become apathetic because there is an unrealised or unexplored disconnection between what they want and what they are getting.  Their supplier may be incredibly loyal and eager – but they haven’t explored what is important to the client and, hence, they aren’t being satisfied and, as I mentioned above, eventually their loyalty wanes.  As the disruptor, you need to connect the dots between what they reallywant from a supplier and then deliver to this brief.  Drive their satisfaction to obtain their loyalty.

Your Battleground Is The B’s

As a disruptor to an incumbent supplier relationship – your battle ground is on these last two client groups which is why they’re grouped together as a B.  Sure, the A’s will and should always receive a focus – but these are long game clients.  However, the most consistent results will be achieved in dealing with those with either Misplaced or Apathetic Loyalty to their incumbent.  These relationship states are where the most unrealised value exists.  It is the process of realising this value that generates the opportunity to create new client relationships.

Next time you are talking with your clients or prospects, remember what Ross Perot said:

Spend a lot of time talking to customers face to face.  You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers

This model applies to both the incumbent and disrupting sales person/business.  You need to constantly explore and confirm that you client is both satisfied and loyal.  This should be articulated in your CRM as it is these two sentiments that drive how you manage the relationship.  Both of these sentiments are the best defence to someone usurping your position as the incumbent as but a crack in either can give them a handhold to grasp on to.

But They Love Their Incumbent!?


You’ve gone to all the effort of identifying your next ideal client. You researched them and found out what they do and why you should be talking with them. The name and number of the person you need to contact is on your call list and today is the day you ring them. You ring them and the bottom falls out of your best laid plan. They indicate that they absolutely love their incumbent supplier and, worse, their supplier loves them. They have a fantastic relationship.

What do you do next?

Good sales people will realise that if they’ve identified a business as their next ideal client – it is highly likely that their competitors will view the client the same and, importantly, their incumbent supplier will be well aware of their value.

So what you don’t do is politely thank them for their time, close of the call, update your CRM with the annotation that they aren’t worth pursuing and strike them off your marketing list. Unfortunately this happens too often.

What you should do is one of two things – you either bring it up before they do or honour the statement. Bring it up before they do? Yes! If you know they are highly likely to be loved by their incumbent supplier and warrant it – you tell them this. You say to them ‘I recognise you are probably well loved by your current supplier, however I would enjoy the opportunity to meet with you and form a relationship’. You’ve actioned two things here. First, you’ve taken away the opportunity for supplier satisfaction to be used as an objection to meeting with you and second, and more importantly, you’ve set the expectation for how you believe they should be treated. They should be loved by their incumbent supplier.

If you have done your research properly and believe they are a client you should be working with – be realistic. They will have an incumbent supplier who likely recognises this. Your objective, as with any initial call or visit, is to form a relationship with them – not sell them anything.

How Do I Displace Them?

These clients are difficult to displace – here you have a situation where your ideal client loves their incumbent supplier and they love them in return. This can be exampled by the client being prepared to be a reference site, testimonial client or even appear in the suppliers marketing material. Often times, these clients are considered to be influential and/or important and can often be at the top of their field. They are usually worth loving. Because they are worth loving, their incumbent supplier will be looking after them. And, because they are worth loving, they are worth you establishing and maintaining a relationship with – though you need to honour the relationship with the current supplier.

Whilst displacement may be difficult – there may arise a number of situations where displacement may occur:

  1. Irrecoverable service failure by the incumbent. This can come about through a service failing or inability to satisfy the current or future requirements of the client (eg a product or service gap). It could occur through staff changes highlightling a lack of institutional knowledge of the client when the incoming relatinoship manager is left wanting. Though bear in mind that given the mutual loyalty enjoyed by both sides, the incumbent supplier will usually be given a longer length of rope here to recover the situation.
  2. Significant event. A significant enough event occuring in the business could instigate change. This could be a major purchase/acquisition, a JV with a client empathic to your solutions, shareholder change or new key staff who can influence decisions.
  3. Relationship Apathy. Sometimes a client decides that they should open their supply relationships to competitive tension to ensure they are getting the best deal. Effectively an RFP or EOI event. In this situation, unless something is materially flawed, the incumbent is usually still in a position of strength especially where changing suppliers is unwieldily. That said, it is recognised that tendering as the incumbent can be a troublesome event.
  4. One Off Event. A standalone opportunity could arise for which the client wishes to separate from their other business for various reasons – eg risk, differing stakeholders. This may present an opportunity for you to work with them in an isolated situation.
  5. Unrealised Value. It may be possible that you can identify something the incumbent has missed which could be of value to the client. This could be a solution unique to you, a challenge or opportunity they have considered or other situations. This could open the door though you need to manage the sale carefully if the incumbent could also meet this for the client

There are other situations which can arise and feel free to comment below of others you’ve encountered. The key here is being on the dance card when they do crop up.

How Do I Manage These Relationships?

Developing a meaningful relationship with these clients is important here rather than selling to them for two reasons. First, when a event like this arises they need to know you and trust you enough to engage with you for a solution. Second, when called upon to deliver against one of the above situations, your knowledge of them, their challenges and their opportunities will allow you to impart value on your response rather than just price.

If you didn’t maintain the relationship prior to the opportunity arising you may miss out on knowing about it all together or, if you are given the opportunity, it is highly likely you’ll only have a price lever to play with.

If the client has told you they are happy with their current supplier but are equally happy with developing and maintaining a relationship you – honour the existing relationship by not ‘selling’. Instead the relationship strategy here is to stay in discovery and credibility phase. Find out as much information about the business, the people, their pain and opportunity points, their strategy, their clients and suppliers and add value where you can through your network. Not selling, but supporting their business. Showing interest and demonstrating value. Treat them like a client so they can experience it and, when the opportunity does arise for them to become one, they already know your value proposition because they have already experienced it.

These are’t overnight wins. They aren’t relationships to ignore because they are currently in a mutually loyal relationship with their incumbent supplier. In fact, hearing this when you call on them is exactly what you want to hear. It means you are likely speaking to the right clients.

You can’t be disingenuous to them by suggesting they are disloyal to their incumbent so they can be loyal to you. This is hypocritical. What you can and should do is spend the time and effort to get to know them deeply so when the opportunity does arise to work with them, you can improve their position using this knowledge.


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