How many of you have met someone either at a business event or made a connection on LinkedIn or other social platform and then are immediately propositioned?
No, I’m not talking about being sexually propositioned or being hit on by someone on the one social platform that is solely business oriented (although that does happen way too often — YUCK — but we’re going to pretend it doesn’t so I can talk about building real business relationships!)
The proposition to which I’m referring is what seems to happen more and more frequently: Immediately being asked to purchase, join, or do something … before you’ve even had a conversation and established a relationship of any kind.
It happens a lot. It happens way more than it ought to … and it’s annoying! I know I’m not the only one who thinks so because I’ve had this conversation with my business friends and colleagues. We all agree, it’s a bad idea.
Build the Relationship BEFORE Selling
None of us want to be annoying, but let’s face it, we can hit the fear space when we realize we’re not where we planned to be by this time … and then we freak out about when/how/where are we getting our next client or customer. Fear-based business actions lead to bad decisions like not really thinking through the email, LinkedIn, or Facebook message we’re about to send to the person with whom we just met or connected.
Yes, we do live in a digital age. And yes, online marketing and selling are de rigueur for most businesses, but it doesn’t mean the basics should be thrown out. We can’t forget that businesses are all about relationships. And successful businesses keep this fact right up front.
I’m going to repeat the above because it’s super important: businesses are all about relationships.
Engage THEM First, Not Their Wallets
It might feel uncomfortable and require more patience and time than you’d like, but this is a big, important thing to learn, know, and live: if you want your business to be successful in the long run, you need to focus on the feels. And nothing feels worse than having someone immediately try to sell you something when you’ve given NO indication you actually need what they have.
And let’s be clear. I am NOT talking about the sales conversations that we all must have. Those conversations are planned and it’s pretty clear when they’re needed, even if it’s spontaneous. When someone wants to talk with you, and they’re sharing their pain points and it’s exactly a problem you can solve, well, then it makes sense to start asking the probing sales questions and offering a little advice and let them know you can actually help. But that conversation is rarely going to be needed after exchanging business cards at the latest networking event!
The reality is, people remember how they FELT about you upon meeting and, more importantly, how you made them feel. If you establish a relationship first, and you make them feel good, listened to, helped, etc, they are much more likely to then turn to you when they need whatever it is you sell.
For example, I have clients that weren’t ready to buy my services when I met them one, two, or even more than three years ago. But I established and nurtured a relationship, so when they were ready, they wanted to work with me.
New Business Relationship Dos & Don’ts
- Networking: Do NOT sell when you meet someone new. Yes, talk about what you do, but do it by focusing on the benefits of your business. Make it clear how you solve a problem (a.k.a. the infamous “elevator speech.”) But the key thing is to LISTEN to *their* problem. Offer some insight so they can immediately see you offer value without making them feel like they have to dodge an awkward and unwelcome sales pitch.
- Business Cards: Yes, exchange them. Yes, follow up with a personal email that shows you appreciate meeting them and that you look forward to getting to know them and their business better. Better yet, ask, ‘how can I best help you? Is there a type of referral you need?’ This way, again, you’re showing value while you’re building a relationship — but there’s no hard sell.
- Email Follow Up: If you meet someone you think would be a great new client/customer, make sure to reach out via email or social a couple times soon after meeting. Initially, just say how glad you are to have connected. Then follow up again and share something you think would be of interest, or helpful, or relatable to the conversation you initially had. Just make it something that helps further your connection.
- Email List: Maybe you ask at the networking event, or maybe in the follow-up email, but when it feels appropriate, ask if they’d like to be on your email list. Be clear what that means for them and why the benefits of it are worth getting one more email. And offer them an easy link to get on your list and/or receive your “freebie” offer. Please note: Exchanging business cards DOES NOT MEAN YOU HAVE LEGAL PERMISSION TO PUT THEM ON YOUR EMAIL LIST. Seriously. Don’t do this.
- Additional Points of Connection: Perhaps you have a Facebook group or similar as a way to stay connected to your audience. If so, definitely offer an invite for them to join! Again, couch it in benefits language. What’s in it for them if they do join your group?
The Relationship Starts with You
At the end of the day (or the blog!) all you need to remember is to be YOU. You have a valuable offering, whether product or service, and your audience is out there. (If you’re having challenges with this part, schedule some time with me and let’s get your brand messaging more on target!)
Good business relationships provide us business owners so many things, from customers who buy our products and services, to referral sources, to simple support, to mentorship, to feedback, to providing us with experiences that teach us how to grow and be better.
So don’t live — or act — in the fear space and try to sell too soon. If you make a good connection, that person you just met, even if not your customer, certainly might lead you to your next big customer, affiliate relationship, collaborative partnership, or your next great idea … you never know!
Invest the time and effort to build your business relationships. You won’t regret it.