Small Business

Why Connections Trump Contacts


The 2000 movie Boiler Room has a scene where Chris, a sales manager in a brokerage firm, explains the business to Seth, a trainee. "Sales is a contact sport," Chris tells him -- the more contacts Seth makes, the more money he'll earn. He claims that top producers make 700 contacts a day. Seven hundred!

I'm so glad selling has evolved since those Neanderthal times -- or so I thought until last week. Just before I spoke to an audience of small-business owners, I met two young men who sold telecom services to small businesses. They bragged that their sales training was fantastic.

I inquired if they attended Chamber of Commerce functions to meet business owners who could buy from them, or went to high-tech meetings to rub elbows with techies who could refer them. They looked at me like I was nuts. Oh no, they corrected me, they were told their path to riches was to knock on 60 doors a day and talk to "DMs" -- decision makers. Their naivete was painful.

NOT COMMUNICATING. At that same event, I met an accountant-turned-headhunter who works for a large, prestigious firm. He had only been on the job a short time but already was having second thoughts. He works in a bullpen with 60 other salespeople, and their job is to call and speak with 25 managers a day who might use their services.

His company's standard sales pitch is, "Hello, this is John Smith with the Recruiting Division of XYZ firm and I've got a candidate who has 15 years of experience and..." blah, blah, blah. They taught him to close with, "Does that sound like a fit?"

So far, after a few weeks of making 125 calls per day to get those 25 managers on the line, his results are terrible. He hasn't received one single nibble. He has heard "We're not looking right now," "That's not our type," and "What did you say?" But not one "Sounds great -- can she start on Monday?"

What's the problem? To borrow from political strategist James Carville, it's the connection, stupid. Or rather, the lack of connection.

EASIER WAY. A common mistake is shared by the fictional Hollywood sales manager, the telecom salesmen, and the headhunter. They equated "contacts" with "connections." While it's true that the more contacts you make, the more opportunities for connection you have, it's the number of successful connections you make that will determine your future earning power.

The advent of do-not-call lists and a overall increased distrust of strangers have made telemarketing a low-return style of selling. Rather than going for a quantity of contacts, focus on your number of quality connections. You'll find it's so much easier to close a deal with someone you're connected to, instead of just a "contact."

In contrast, trying to close someone who you aren't connected to is hard work. Unless you get lucky, you'll walk away discouraged because you "lost" another sale -- when you weren't in a position to win it in the first place.

BIRTHDAY GIFT. Reader Steve Bistritz of SellXL.com in Atlanta showed me a study he led in 1999 that illustrates my point. Steve is an expert on selling to CEOs, and his study showed that 80 of the 100 senior executives he polled said they would only occasionally or never approve an initial meeting with a salesperson who contacted them through a direct phone call. Bear in mind, that's just for CEOs, but the message is the same -- you'll sell more if you call on folks with whom you're connected.

Looking for a powerful way to make more sales connections? Here's a jewel shared with me by a very successful financial products saleswoman I met years ago, whom I'll call Cathy. She's bright and experienced, and her clients are primarily wealthy "mature" women, but this concept could be used with almost any valuable client.

Before an important client's birthday, Cathy invites her to a celebration lunch with her lady friends at a very nice restaurant. The client provides the guest list. Usually, her friends are also well-off, because birds of a feather really do flock together. That's why selling to those who are connected to our clients is so powerful!

SEVERAL WINS. During the lunch, her client's friends inevitably ask Cathy about her business, but she wisely demurs and steers the conversation back to her birthday client. By the end of the meal, Cathy finally relents and tells them a bit about her business and makes her business cards available to anyone who asks for one.

Talk about leveraging connections. Cathy wins from several directions using this strategy. She probably wins several new clients, who likely get their own birthday parties the following year. She often receives more business from her original client as a thank you for the lovely party. And Cathy also gets to know her client even better, so she can target new products or services that fit her newly discovered needs.

When your appointment calendar looks emptier than you would like, remember, "It's the connection, stupid," and make a list of those people you're closely connected to. They could be customers, but they might also be friends, neighbors, or relatives. Then think about how they could introduce you to prospective customers and start connecting. Don't be surprised when your tennis partner's golf buddy becomes your next big client.

The icing on the cake is it's more enjoyable to do business with people we're connected to. This is true for you and your new customers too, meaning everybody wins. So stop cold calling, get out there and connect. Happy selling!

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Steve Ballmer, Power Forward
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