Small Business

Relationship Rules for Salespeople


To improve your relationships with both customers and family members, maintain a balance by sticking to one set of standards

As a salesperson, your relationships with members of the business community can make you or break you. That's why successful salespeople do everything they can to create and maintain the healthiest relationships possible.

The same holds true when it comes to your family. If you want a successful relationship, you have to put in the effort. I decided to put more effort into my family after we experienced a tragedy nine years ago. Our oldest child, Mark, was 8 years old. He was bright, made friends easily, and liked to make up jokes. When he got sick, the doctor first thought he just had the flu. An MRI revealed he had a brain tumor and 11 days later, Mark died of brain cancer.

Remember, "family" means whatever you want it to mean. It doesn't matter whether you're part of an Ozzie-and-Harriet traditional clan, or you're a single person with friends and relatives.

Here are four lessons I've learned to improve relationships with family and customers while maintaining a balance between the two worlds.

1. Keep your word. Most of us will do whatever it takes to keep a promise we make to a customer. If we tell them, "I'll have it there by Friday at 5 p.m.," even if it takes some last-minute phone calls or driving to a supplier to pick up a part, we make the extra effort to keep our word.

Don't give your word unless you are sure you can keep it. It's O.K. to tell your customer, "Let me check with my company to be sure we can have it to you by 5 p.m. before I agree to that deadline." Do the same with your family and check your calendar thoroughly before you agree to an event.

In addition, just as you probably build in some wiggle room with your customers, if you think you'll probably be free by 5 p.m., tell your loved ones you're available at 6 p.m. so you have some flexibility without hurting any feelings. If you finish up early, everyone wins.

2. Don't give your family just your scrap time. It's tempting to sell until you've exhausted every possible lead and then head home. When you do this, your family gets just the last few drops of your time and energy. Resist—and reprioritize.

Speaker and author Larry Winget likes to say that you ought to be able to run your entire business in just four hours a day. While I haven't whittled my workday down this far yet, I keep it as a goal. With each item on my to-do list, I ask myself if Larry would include it in his four hours (see BusinessWeek.com, 2/9/07, "An 'Irritational Speaker' on How to Sell More"). If not, I try to delegate, outsource, or eliminate it from my schedule. That keeps me focused on my most important work.

3. Show up regularly for your family. It's easy to tell yourself there's always tomorrow to spend time with your family. It's a lie. I never went to one of my son's baseball games because I thought baseball was boring. My husband was the team coach, so Mark had plenty of family support, but not from me. I don't get a do-over. Learn from my mistake and show up even when you don't feel like it.

4. Play it straight and tell the truth. My first boss taught me that no one likes surprises. If the price is $16,000, then say so. Don't tell the customer $10,000 to win as the low bidder and then upcharge them later to recoup the other $6,000. The only one who wins after those tricks is your lawyer if you are sued for misrepresentation and bad faith.

Our business lies can hurt our families, too. Imagine how embarrassing it must be for the families of the criminals from Enron and WorldCom.

Tell your family the truth. If you can't afford to buy a swimming pool or go on an exotic trip this year, tell them. Don't give them a perpetual "maybe" or "we'll see." Instead, make a plan as a family to pull together to save and earn the money or vacation time needed to make your dreams come true.

GoDaddy's Bob Parsons is quoted as saying, "We're not here for a long time, we're here for a good time." Sure, you've got to sell to provide for your family, and your relationship with your customers is important. But remember to schedule in good times with your family, too. That's a relationship money can't buy—but your time and love can. Happy selling!

Michelle Nichols, the founder and president of sales consulting firm Savvy Selling International, leads a weekly podcast and writes her Savvy Selling column every other week.

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