Small Business

Giving It Your Personal Best


I met a banker who tried for many months to win the business of a large national organization. As far as the account was concerned, he just couldn't seem to get a foothold. Then, one Friday afternoon, he called up the head of the association and asked him a simple question: Do you need cash for the weekend?

As it turned out, he did, and the banker happily hand-carried the amount requested to the executive. This practical but powerful offer opened the door for the banker to eventually woo more than $50 million of the outfit's financial business.

UNIVERSAL THEME. This salesman's success started when he ceased thinking of his prospect as a representative of a big organization and reframed him as just a busy businessperson. It took an extraordinary connection -- in this case, for the banker to act as a human ATM -- to break through his prospective customer's barriers and get the sales ball rolling.

The banker summed up his lesson: "All business is personal." This story demonstrates why building connections carries so much importance. I share this anecdote because, as all good preachers and teachers know, sometimes a good story makes a point better than any Top 10 list of ideas or tips. The banker's tale is just one of the many examples I've seen that underscore the power of personal connections in business.

A neighbor of mine with an 8-year-old son wanted to develop the boy's heart for charitable works. She helped him choose a local pet shelter for his charity, and he began to gather funds. He collected his father's daily change and earned money for doing extra chores and good deeds, and even got 10 cents apiece for push-ups.

FREE PUBLICITY. At the end of the first month, the boy had generated $30. When he presented his money to the shelter, the director fussed over him as if he'd given enough to buy a new building. She gave him a detailed behind-the-scenes tour, introduced him all around, and took his picture holding several of the cats and dogs available for adoption.

The very next day, he received a beautiful card signed by 10 of the shelter's workers. It was filled with sweet notes: "Thanks so much for your hard work" and "Congratulations on all those push-ups for the animals." The boy enjoyed the attention, and the parents told the story far and wide.

The shelter knew that "all donations are personal" and, as the story reaches the community, it will no doubt inspire more donations. The shelter employees definitely set that little boy on the path to becoming a lifelong contributor. The resulting word-of-mouth advertising was priceless. The animal-lovers made a valuable connection to the community via their over-the-top response to a little boy with a small donation but a big heart.

HEARTFELT HELP. Another example comes from reader Francie Lockwood, who writes: "A very elderly gentleman came into the home-improvement store where I work, and he asked me where the toolboxes were. I asked him what kind of tools he needed, so we could determine the right size toolbox. He then told me that he was buying it because he wanted something strong to bury his dying pet poodle in."

She continued: "Since I'm a lifelong animal-lover, we began discussing size, shape, and such. We connected as we talked about how the dog would be buried on his property. He was concerned about water leakage, didn't have a lot of money, and didn't really like the newfangled boxes with bright colors. We looked at all the various rubber storage bins and toolboxes. We even went to the furniture department to see if we had something that would work.

"I felt like I was a part of his family. I shared with him that I had just lost one of my dear dogs this past summer. In the end, he settled on a 26-inch metal-and-plastic toolbox that seemed to be the right size. As he left, I silently prayed that his encounter with me made his situation a little easier, and he thanked me profusely."

MORE THAN A SALE. "When I shared this story with some of my associates at the store, they said they didn't know if they could have dealt with this gentleman's dilemma. I am so thankful that I was the one who spoke to him first, and that I was in a position to truly identify and understand his need. That's what selling is all about -- helping people solve their problems and understanding where they're coming from."

What a wonderful personal-connection story. A sad story, yes. But the sadness enabled the saleswoman to connect with the customer. I'm sure her caring sales approach made the eventual passing of his dear poodle a bit easier, and he'll return to buy from the store -- and from Francie -- again. And he'll no doubt tell his friends, making them more likely to shop there too.

These three industries -- banking, dog shelters, and home improvement -- appear to have little in common. That just proves my point: All businesses have opportunities for tremendous personal connections with their customers.

LOOK FOR CONDUITS. How about you? Are you set up to bond with your customers on a personal level at every transaction? Where are opportunities for you to connect at an extraordinary level?

If all business is indeed personal, search for ways to make your selling more personal -- and watch your revenues climb. And if you routinely build connections with your customers -- prospective and ongoing -- write me, and share your process or strategy. I'd like to hear your story, too. Happy selling!


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