Last year was a good year for my consulting practice. And while I was doing my taxes, it struck me that my income came from nearly 20 sources. Each a client with a story to tell. This got me thinking about how many of these client relationships spring from one core sales secret. Here it is:
I don't sell. Ever.
Seriously. If you've ever met with me, you probably noticed that I could care less whether I make the sale. I don't "close." I don't "overcome objections." I don't have a "sales cycle." Instead, we talk honestly about what you need, and what I can offer you. If I am not an outstanding choice for you, in your judgment or mine, I am happy to suggest other options. And then we'll shake hands.
Likewise, if you work with me, you may have noticed I am not constantly angling for more work. There is a thoughtfully chosen reason for this. I believe you are an intelligent person who knows what you need and when you need it. And I want you to feel every bit as welcome coming back to me three years later as you do three weeks later.
Is this a stupid, naive, or lazy way to sell? No. Here's why:
Think about all the people you've met who really wanted to make the sale. People whose partisanship toward their product or service was obvious. People who would probably never, even on pain of torture, suggest something other than themselves. Do you trust them? Would you go to them for impartial advice? Do you seek to create long-term partnerships with them? Well then. I'll bet that any purchases you made from them were despite their so-called sales efforts, not because of them.
You see, many of my clients are people I've partnered with for a long time. I cherish these partnerships, whether they use me every week or once every couple of years. They already know I am really good at what I do, and even when they don't cross my palms with silver I value being colleagues with them. Most of them probably would have gone running for the hills if I was constantly - or, for that matter, ever - foaming at the mouth to sell to them.
I learned this philosophy from, of all people, a car salesman. For years and years, Jeff has always patiently let my wife and I test drive one car after another, never presses us to make a decision, and knows his products cold. He never asks us stupid questions like, "Are you prepared to buy a car today?" or "What would it take to get you into this vehicle?" That's why we've purchased close to $100,000 in cars from him over the years, and hope to purchase $100,000 more. And why he's always busy every time we see him. If Jeff's employers ever make him read a sales manual, they're toast.
There aren't a lot of Jeffs out there, either on the car lots or in my profession. But I do feel there is a reason that he and I both seem to do really well most of the time: people like dealing with us. So stop caring about making the sale. Throw out most of what you've read on selling, and start thinking about building relationships. And above all, completely blow people away when you work for them. Then all sorts of good things will start happening to you.