Cultivate the relationship. Not the opportunity.
Had lunch with a prospect a few days ago. A successful small business owner. Been in the business for over 30 years, built a reputation, a brand and financially has done well. Important to mention – he sells a service. He attended one of my sessions and reached out. By the time I finished my soup, we were already making fun of each other. Good vibes. And around the moment I was thinking to myself whether I need those last few bites and the waiter offering a dessert menu (we politely refused of course), we started talking business. He told me about his way of organizing things, his pipeline management (or lack thereof), his successes and field of expertise, his lessons learned over the years and more. As I am listening to him, I was trying to figure out what is it that he is looking for. “Permission to be blunt your honor” I said eventually. “Please, go ahead”. “What do you want from me?”. He looked at me with a smile and said: “I want to work less hours chasing business. I feel I am spending too much time on the opportunities I am following. Can your executive coaching help me with that?”.
I poked some more and at that point, the conversation went into some mechanics of prospecting, sales processes, and databases as I was trying to get a better view of his current way of doing things. And this is when I realized and so, I asked:” Do you have any succession plan?” He looked down, took a deep breath and with glazing eyes said…”I don’t”. “Do you want one?” I pressed. “ I do. I really do. These are 30 plus years of relationships Alon. This is MY reputation, MY brand I have worked so hard building. I can call each one of my clients now and I guarantee you they will pick up. The trust level I have with these people is something that takes time and effort. How do I make sure I do not damage all of these relationships with handing it over to someone else?”.
I leaned forward, looked him in the eyes and quietly said: “Well, you better start now…”.
“How do you mean Alon?”
"If you take a sincere interest in others, they’ll take a real interest in you. Build relationships, don’t collect them." Rebekah Radice
We are programmed to seek opportunities. Business opportunities. Whether it’s an RFP that comes in, a potential client that has a need, even a referral. We analyze the business opportunity, the ROI, our ability to solve that business need and we focus on the opportunity. When we do so, our biggest return is winning that specific opportunity. When we are head down, and seeing only that opportunity at hand, our only reward is winning that opportunity. But what if you let the opportunity be just a trigger? A trigger to develop a relationship. A relationship that will lead to trust. A relationship full of opportunities and not just one. What if, to begin with, your entire sales effort will be on building relationships? A network of trusted relationships that will create business opportunities and not the other way around.
I know, this will take time. Effort. And not everyone can do this. Moreover, it will take a character of being genuine about it and going beyond the wining and dining. It will take paying attention to details. Being vulnerable. Getting personal. It will require some heart breaks along the way and possibly some regrets. It might take some calls in weird hours and some drives to places you didn’t think you’d visit. It will take a meticulous ongoing social media web of activities. But essentially, it will create a fraternity of people who have your back. People who you would consider your friends and they will see you as such as well. People who will consult you in confidence and people who will not only give you their business but also refer you to their friends.
If you want to create such a system, you need to make sure you have the right mechanism in place. The right mindset and the understanding that this is a long-term investment. With huge returns and many opportunities that come from this investment. There is a method to the madness.
“But Alon, listening to you describing all this, got me realizing that this is exactly what I have been doing all these years”. “That’s exactly what I am trying to show you” I said. “And so, let me ask it again. What do you want from me?”. “How about, how do I make sure all these relationships continue to be leveraged? Even after I retire.”
Thankfully, my gut (and probably experience) was right. He was indeed looking for a succession plan (whether he realized it or not). But his desire for a successor did not come from the need to have the business go on but rather for the relationships to last. His value and his self-appreciation was directly coming from these relationships he worked so hard on developing and maintaining.
I realized how genuine he is about these relationships. How frank he was about the desire to keep showing these people how much he cares. How much he spent on chasing the relationships and not the opportunities. You see, to setup a CRM, pipeline processes, sales stages and ROI is a technical operation. But to prospect and cultivate relationships is an emotional and personal matter that not everyone understands.
“I’d love to help you” I replied. “I think I can. There may be a good opportunity for me here. We will need to identify the right person. The right person with the same understanding YOU have about these relationships. The right person who can be taught the value of long-term cultivation of relationships and the right person who will understand that the business opportunity is an outcome of these relationships. But first, let’s you and I get to know each other better. How is your next Tuesday looking to start cultivating THIS relationship?”.