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HOW TO TURN A CONNECTION INTO A RELATIONSHIP THAT LASTS A LIFETIME
By DAVID A. RICH
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2013McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved.
It's a Whole New Ballgame
When I began selling almost 30 years ago, things were a lot different. Sure, the basics of selling are pretty much the same. I don't think the basics of being a good listener, asking good questions, making an effective presentation, and asking for the business will ever change. They are still as important as ever. There are, however, some subtle changes in selling and building relationships in the past 30 years that have changed the game significantly, with the biggest change being how much harder it is to establish and sustain a loyal relationship.
Selling is different because the world is different. Today's economy and business world are light-years from where they were when Ronald Reagan was president. Resources are more precious, and budgets are tighter. Businesses are operating leaner and meaner. We live in an increasing smaller world within a global economy. Word of mouth, both good and bad, travels farther and faster than ever before. Competition and choices for the customers are more plentiful, and businesses are smarter. However, the biggest changes in business may be with customers! Customers are more cynical, skeptical, and sophisticated, and they have access to more information than has ever been available at any point in history. All this has led to a dramatic decrease in loyalty. Customer loyalty, in all industries, is at all-time lows. At the same time, customer expectations have skyrocketed, leaving little doubt that this period in business history will come to be known as the "age of the consumer." Let me explain how we got here.
There are two major factors contributing to the rise of the consumer age. The first is the rapid rise of consumer choices. According to U.S. Bureau of Statistics, there were just shy of 11.5 million businesses that reported payroll taxes in 1992. By 2008, that number had grown to over 16.5 million, and this number doesn't even begin to record the number of online ventures and businesses that had no payroll taxes. In the small southern town where I currently live, at last count, there were 18 banks, 6 major grocery stores (not counting convenience stores), 8 dry cleaners, and hundreds of places to eat within 5 miles of my house. All this in a town of less than 18,000 people! I can't even imagine what these numbers would be in big cities, and of course, this doesn't even begin to count the uncountable number of online choices that are increasing every day. You get the picture. The days of the single-merchant towns are over. Consumers have choices they never had before, and this has raised the expectation bar. If they don't get what they want at one place, they always know there's no shortage of options.
The second, and even bigger factor, is technology. One of the reasons why there has been a huge growth in the number of businesses is that it's easier than ever to market a business. In the old days, a business would have to open its doors, maybe run an ad or two in the local newspaper, and wait for word of mouth to spread. Today, marketing begins even before the doors open, and word of mouth travels through the marketplace at unprecedented speeds. The use of technology, however, has had its biggest impact on relationships. Merchants 30 years ago had to rely on their sales reps for information. Businesses counted on those who sold them goods and services, and the reps became part of the family.
When I was a little boy, my family had close relationships with our barber, our banker, our dentist, our milkman (yes, I said milkman), and many others who sold us their wares. Today, these relationships are fragile at best. Most of us cannot even name the branch manager at our bank, let alone have a close relationship with that person. Technology has replaced the need for many relationships. Today, a merchant can conduct business online or by phone, fax, e-mail, or even text messaging. The days of the reps' strolling into their customers' business to take an order and shoot the breeze are dangerously numbered.
This reminds me of an old United Airlines commercial in which the sales manager walks into his sales meeting and announces that the company has just lost its oldest and best customer. He blames technology, stating that business has become a fax and a message on voice mail. He then tells his troops that they need to get face-to-face with all their customers again, and he hands out airline tickets to everyone. As he turns to head out of the meeting, someone yells, "Where are you going, boss?" He answers by saying he's going to pay a visit to that old customer the company had just lost.
It was a great commercial, and very prophetic. This commercial aired in the early 1990s. Today, it's even worse! Faxes are all but extinct, having been replaced by the even less personal text messages. Why call when we can text? Why visit when we can scan a document and e-mail? Why stop by and say hello when you can do it on Facebook? I speak on the importance of building relationships, yet I have caught myself hoping as the phone is ringing that I get the person's voice mail so I can leave a message or send the person a message on Facebook. This is what we've come to want these days: a quick hit, a stealth relationship, the quicker the better. Unfortunately, it's also what customers have come to want too. They don't want to wait for information, and thanks to the Internet, they don't have to. Whatever they want or need is a few clicks away. Technology has put customers in charge, and they know it. They don't have to see you to learn about your services, get a price quote, or even place an order. Relationships are optional at best. Customers are more demanding, less loyal, less patient, and less tolerant of mistakes than ever before. The toll on relationships and the selling process is undeniable. Relationships are harder to build, and customers are harder to impress.
I began selling yellow pages in 1982, and four short years later, I started my own speaking and training company. In those days, it was possible to genuinely impress a customer with good customer service and a demonstration of expertise in what we might be selling. Tom Peters's 1982 bestseller, In Search of Excellence, chronicled how excellence was the key to business success. If we wowed customers with our excellence, they would reward us with their business and pledge their undying loyalty. Well, that's certainly not the case today. Excellence is no longer good enough. Customers aren't "wow-able" anymore. Today, it's getting increasingly harder, if not downright impossible, to impress customers with our excellent service, dazzling product knowledge, and superior selling acumen. That's because today's customers expect those things. They expect excellence. They're not impressed when you deliver great service because, after all, that's what they expect and demand. And if you don't meet their expectations, they know someone else who will.
Here's a good analogy for those of you who play poker. Think of great service and superior selling skills as the ante just to stay in the hand. It doesn't mean you'll win the hand; it just puts you in the game. Great service and selling skills are the minimum requirements just to earn the right to compete. They are still very important, but they no longer give you a competitive edge in and of themselves. If businesses don't ante up to stay in the hand, the odds are overwhelmingly against them to succeed. Excellence is no longer a lofty goal to attain but rather a basic prerequisite to merely have a chance. It's a whole new ballgame, and the t
Excerpted from Contagious Selling by DAVID A. RICH. Copyright © 2013 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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