I’m sure that we’ve all heard the question by now. Someone looks through our various social media connections and spots someone they would like to contact. Connecting with someone new seems easier when you get a referral from a friend. So we get asked, “how well do you know so-and-so? Can you introduce me?”
Admittedly I’m not a rookie at sales or in the business of connecting with professionals. I’m accustomed to meeting people for the first time and trying to get their business or to have them take mine. I work in media. The industry has evolved dramatically in the past few years. The days of “cable or satellite” in the business of television are somewhat antiquated by now. We live in an On Demand culture where most everything can be streamed or found in the blink of an eye. When I started in television I didn’t inherit a CRM database or a rolodex from a predecessor. I had to create one on a rented computer (believe it or not my boss at the time rented one somewhat against company approval) using an out-of-the-box piece if software. The customer service department of that CRM company probably grew tired of my calls as I attempted to create reports and functionality they hadn’t anticipated users would need. Still, it wasn’t the functionality of the database that was important. It was the information it contained about my clients. That I accumulated the old fashioned way.
Email was in its infancy at the time so the majority of client contact was done via telephone or face-to-face. When I moved into a sales role I saw my clients regularly. I hopped in my car and drove the highways of the Northeast stopping in to visit my clients throughout New York State, Pennsylvania and New England. I conducted sales and customer service trainings. Afterwards I would meet with the marketing or sales teams responsible for overseeing campaigns to generate awareness and make their subscribers aware that my channel was available.
Along the way I got to know the bulk of my clients as human beings. Rather than run back to my hotel at the end of the day to watch a movie, I would grab dinner with the client (sometimes with their spouse or significant other) and we would talk about business and life. I often tell people the story of the time I stood with the Vice President of Marketing at a pretty prominent cable division as he asked me how business and my family were doing. As we chatted he reviewed a stack of phone messages and I watched as he rearranged them in order of how I believed he planned to call them back (or not?). I knew that my mission was to always get called back.
Those days globe trotting around to see my clients and discuss business were educational on multiple levels. I worked with technicians who gave me tours of headends that made clear how some of my requests as a sales rep were far more challenging for engineers to execute. I spoke to marketing executives who while we spoke, they would share anecdotal challenges they were facing with other workflow or products that had nothing to do with mine. Sometimes I was able to offer recommendations that might assist them with those problems. Once when that happened my manager was with me in the meeting. He interrupted the conversation and reminded the client that we were really there to focus on OUR products. The client sensed that was a subtle cut off from my dialogue and said, “Don’t worry. I will give you all the time you need. What I appreciate is that Mike is trying to help me solve something. I give people like that more attention than I do someone who is focused only on their own bottom line.”
Resources like LinkedIn and similar social media outlets make finding the right person to reach out to a lot simpler than it was when I first started out. You can find the name. You can probably guess or come across the email address (or tackle the person at a conference?). What you still need to achieve is a meaningful dialogue. How do you develop a relationship that will move your phone message to the top of that stack that I witnessed getting rearranged? Are you making phone calls? How do you introduce your selling process to someone who knows why you called the instant they picked up the phone?
What I recommend to those breaking into sales or account management is the following:
- Identify your target clients
- Use your access to them wisely and respectfully
- Don’t misuse or abuse personal details you may have discovered via social media or from fellow professionals in the business
- Don’t just call when you need something (and work on those transitions, “anyway… so I wanted to share with you we have a new platinum level of service that I think you’re going to love!”)
- Don’t rely purely on email or text communications to get results if you don’t have a meaningful relationship with your client already – pick up the phone AND visit them when possible
- Bring them value and don’t confuse a free lunch or a cocktail with “value”
- When you have bad news make sure that they hear it directly from you and make sure that happens quickly
- Know your product/business and don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know. Let me check on that and get back to you” when speaking with clients
- Your objective in any contact is to make certain that you set an expectation for the next one you try to initiate
I’m fortunate to count many of my former employers, colleagues and clients among my list of personal friends. As my career and my life has evolved almost as dramatically as the industry in which I have made my career, many of those same faces have played important roles along the way.
If you want to have professional and personal success, it takes more than an email or Skype or text messages to develop those relationships. Technology is a great thing but robots will never replace a sales representative that you can trust or who remembered your birthday, or realized that you were home looking after your child who was under the weather so he waited to call until the following week.
“So Mike, how well do you know _______?” is the question you’ll ultimately be asked by someone. Make sure you know what that answer is and what the difference is. The good news is that you can change the answer. It is worth it if you make the effort — personally and professionally.
Written by: Michale Nagle, CMO at Invincible Entertainment