Thanks for joining us on the How to Who Blog. We love your comments so please feel free to share your thinking.
This is a story about one of the Hartford Business Journal’s Best in Business Award Recipients. Pam Butterfield of Business Success Tools is that winner, and is the source of the admittedly strange title of this column – Relationship Bunnies.
Pam is not a sales person. She seldom, if ever, pitches her services in order to get a piece of business. Rather, Pam is that rare breed, the business person who builds their business through relationships and generosity.
Relationship bunnies are the 20+ individuals with whom Pam, over the years, has developed very solid and trusting relationships. These people trust Pam, and Pam trusts them. It’s a state not easily earned, but definitely one worth endeavoring to get.
These relationship bunnies are the predominant source of new business for Pam. One of the tenets underlying Pam’s approach to these relationships (and all relationships) is generosity. Pam is always thinking of the other person first, and acting accordingly.
That’s actually the reason she came up with the name relationship bunny. As she told me – “The reason I call it a relationship bunny process is that when you build relationships by leading with generosity, referrals propagate (just like bunnies).” Let me share some examples.
You would think that competitors would be the last source for new opportunities. Not the case with Pam. Like most business people, Pam has at least met many of her competitors. Usually cordial greetings (with wariness on not saying too much) are the norm when we run into them.
For Pam though, a few of her “competitors” are relationship bunnies. Pam focused on the person and getting to know them. Pam (and each competitor) discovered that they had a lot in common (makes sense considering their careers and passions align). They built trust with each other.
They counsel each other on opportunities where there is no overlap, and refer business to each other when the other party authentically can be the better solution. One relationship bunny competitor introduced Pam to a Professional Services client of hers’; that introduction has evolved into a long time client that continues to grow the volume of business they do with Pam.
Here’s another example. A regional bank was getting a new CEO. This new person, in the weeks leading up to them stepping into the job, was deluged with requests for meetings, a cup of coffee, a lunch. The people asking were all of the vendors and hopeful vendors. With a regime change these types of requests are usually the norm. The new CEO’s assistant tactfully declined almost all of the requests.
Pam had a relationship with the new CEO. Recognizing the enormous challenges this person faced in their new role, Pam thought about what would be most helpful for them. She sent this person a book she valued on how to most effectively handle transitions, particularly with the workforce.
By the middle of the following week the new CEO’s assistant called Pam. The CEO wanted a meeting. Long story short, the bank is still today a client of Pam’s.
Pam’s connections with her relationship bunnies are genuinely authentic and strong. When they need something, Pam tries to help. When Pam needs something, such as an introduction, she asks. Her asking is not an imposition. It’s merely one friend asking another to help. Friends are happy to help whenever they can.
Pam Butterfield is a Best in Business Award Recipient. Pam is a relationship maven. Pam understands and appreciates the power of generosity, given in an authentic and genuine manner. It’s all connected. It all works.
The elevator pitch – that pressured packed 30 seconds to 1 minute where your future success lies in someone else’s hands. What to say and how to say it so the other party is at least interested in continuing the conversation.
The assumption with most elevator pitches is that a compelling and exciting description of a business or opportunity is what makes the pitch interesting and engaging. This is important, but it is not the heart of a great elevator pitch.
I contend that the most engaging part of a conversation is the person themselves. If the person is not interesting or engaging, then what they are saying will be either half-heard or not heard at all.
Therefore, if you want your elevator pitch to be engaging, totally enwrap yourself into what you are saying. Show the passion behind the person, and the business. If the other party finds you interesting, then they will be motivated to continue talking. If the other person cannot connect with you, then what you are offering is devalued to a commodity.
Let’s consider a few scenarios where elevator pitches are used. Sales people practice their elevator pitches because they frequently meet people at networking events or similar types of meetings. Entrepreneurs practice their elevator pitch because they are always looking for something, be it new customers, investment capital, or partners who can help them succeed.
In both of these scenarios, think about the person on the receiving end of the elevator pitch. If you are at a networking meeting, would you buy from someone who immediately starts telling you how wonderful their product or service is? If you are an investor, would you put your money with someone who talks about how their product will change the industry and their sales will increase like a hockey stick?
The probable answer in either scenario is no. People, when they first meet someone, are usually most interested in who they are meeting. Who is this person? Where are they from? What is interesting about them?
If you want a great elevator pitch, start with you. What can you say about yourself that is at least intriguing, reflects your personality, and is informative? For example:
- Sales person at a networking event: Hi, I’m Ken. These types of events are uncomfortable for me. How about you? Break the ice with something personal, and in this case, showing a vulnerability. Then maybe follow up with an easy question. For example, What are you hoping for from this event? This question engages the other person in terms of their goals and aspirations. Albeit, goals and aspirations on a small scale, but goals and aspirations nonetheless. At least it is not about products.
- Entrepreneur in front of potential investors or customers: Talk about passions and what drives you. Describe why you are pursuing a product that you think will change an industry. Enable a customer or an investor to connect to you; after all, that is who they are buying. Customers and investors need to believe in the person first. Without that, they won’t even consider the product or the company.
Bottom line – In both scenarios the conversation will eventually get around to business. But the elevator pitch was the first step in that business relationship. Make the pitch a good one by personalizing it – give the other party a strong personal reason to continue the conversation.
As you can plainly see, each fellow is right — and each is wrong — just depends on which side you’re standing on.
The lesson here is that each of us sees the same thing differently — we have different experiences, different lives, so we look at everything from a personal perspective.
So the next time someone says, “You’re wrong”, try this: Instead of defending your perspective, ask the person, “How do you see/understand it?”
You don’t have to agree with the person, but you will gain an insight into how they think, how they view things.
And, it’s very OK after listening to his views (and if you’re really savvy, paraphrasing what you heard), you can say, “That’s different from how I see it. The way I look at it is…”
You may be surprised at what you learn. A bonus here is that this approach is a very effective way to build a good relationship because neither of you was put on the defensive.
Jack runs a $26M manufacturing and logistics firm. He was recently contemplating a high five figure software upgrade project. The upgrade would enable greater integration between his systems and his customer’s IT systems. That level of integration would be another layer of differentiation Jack’s organization would have over their competition.
Jack asked the software salesperson to prepare an ROI analysis on the software purchase. A relatively simple request; based on the cost, and the projected impact on my operations, how long would it take to recoup the expense of the purchase?
It’s almost a month later and Jack is still waiting on a response. For the software salesperson out there, if you’re reading this, you lost the sale.
This real story illustrates a large gap in the types of training that most salespeople receive. Often, there is little if any training on reading, understanding, and working with financials and financial statements.
On a basic level, every salesperson should be able to complete an ROI analysis for their products and services. Building on that, salespeople should be able to read and understand Income Statements, Balance Sheets, and Cash Flow Statements. They should know how to calculate a breakeven point. They should understand the impact on breakeven, gross profits, and net profits if any one line item increases or decreases. They should understand basic financial ratios and why they are important.
All of this matters because of how Jack and/or any decision maker thinks about buying decisions. When looking at a purchase, there are usually four questions a decision maker asks.
- How does your product work?
- What are the benefits?
- What’s the ROI and/or business case for me to buy this product?
- Why should I trust you?
The fact that question #3 specifically asks about the financial impact of a decision makes it mandatory that salespeople be trained in financials and financial statements. However, question #4 is even more important when it comes to knowing the numbers.
In a business context, one’s ability to build trust is directly related to the caliber of one’s communication skills, combined with demonstrable expertise about products, services, markets, industries, competitors, and most importantly, the customer’s business.
A decision maker takes all of these elements into account when deciding if they can trust the salesperson. They then factor all of the elements by their perception of the risk involved in the situation.
In other words, the higher the risk perceived by the decision maker, the greater one’s communication skills and expertise need to be. And part of that expertise is understanding the financial impact of a decision, and clearly communicating that impact.
So back to the training gap. Salespeople need to fully understand their products and services; how they work, how they work together, and the solutions customers realize through their use. If you do not understand the full scope of your offerings, you will lose more deals than you will win. If you cannot describe you product in terms the customer understands and needs, you will lose more than you win.
Training on financials is critical because products and services do not operate in a vacuum. They have value only when they are solving problems. That value translates to financial impact when your customer trusts you enough to fully share all aspects of their problems.
The Bottom Line – focus on relationships and build trust. Customers will share more, and you will understand things from the customer’s perspective (which is the only perspective that matters).
Ned McCrory is the Managing Partner for Batchelor, Frechette, McCrory Michael & Co. They are a long-time and very well respected accounting firms in Providence, Rhode Island, serving clients throughout New England and across the country.
As Managing Partner Ned has helped inject into the firm’s culture a strong focus on relationships, emphasizing the strength and depth of the connections they establish with their clients and all others with whom the firm interacts.
To achieve this relationship-focused bias Ned leads by doing. One example is a simple spreadsheet Ned maintains. First, some quick background.
Ned is a golfer. Not your average weekend golfer, but someone who is passionate about the game. He loves to play whenever possible, and is one of the few people I know who can pull off wearing a pair of knickers and make it look good.
Golf is an integral part of Ned’s marketing effort. The New England golf season runs realistically from mid-March through mid-November. During that nine month time frame it’s not surprising to find Ned out with clients and friends several times per week.
Back to the spreadsheet. Ned records every round of golf he has ever played! On a simple spreadsheet he lists out all of the members of the foursome with whom he played. He notes the date and course they played. He designates whether the round was business or personal. And he notes any function, event, charity, etc. associated with the round.
This spreadsheet epitomizes Ned’s focus on relationships. Recording who he played with and where they played is not so much for Ned; it’s for the people with whom he played. Frequently Ned will get a call from someone that might go something like this – “Ned, remember when we played in that charity event last year at Newport Country Club. Who was the banker that was in our group?”
In a few clicks Ned knows the answer. The caller is happy because he has a banking resource who knows him on a personal level. The banker is happy because he can further a relationship and possibly get a new piece of business. Ned is happy because he is able to help.
This focus on relationships is dynamic stuff because it shifts perspective; it places in the forefront the individual and what their concerns, questions, issues, challenges, etc. might be. The spreadsheet is not merely a log, it is a conduit to connections and insights.
Strategic thinking about who you know and how you might help them is powerful. Business success is all about people. The ability to effectively connect people is an asset few individuals possess.
Viewed through the lens of relationships, a round of golf is a perfect venue. It is usually about 4 hours in length, and then a meal or drinks for 1-2 hours afterward. It’s social in nature, with lots of opportunity to talk between shots. In other words, a great setting for getting to know someone.
Ned’s perspective is based on generosity. He thinks about who goes into the makeup of a foursome. Inviting people who do not know each other but should is a generous gesture. Strangers become acquaintances, maybe even friends. This benefits everyone.
By focusing on relationships Ned builds stronger relationships with everyone involved. His business comes almost entirely through those relationships; through introductions and connections where Ned’s generosity is returned in kind.
One last point. There are about 20 years of golf rounds entered into Ned’s spreadsheet. There is foresight in recognizing the value of the approach and cataloging it. Relationships take time and effort. You can’t simply create them when you need them.
Build a relationship for the sake of the relationship. Strengthen a relationship over time; nurture it and respect it. When you need help maybe a relationship might already be there. You won’t have to go looking for it or hope to build it.
And have fun while doing it. Maybe a round of golf or two.