It’s Only Common Sense: Dinner Is Not a Sales Strategy


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Tell me if this sounds familiar:

“I can’t sell anything right now because of COVID. Customers don’t want to see me; their companies are closed up tight; they are working from home; I can’t take anyone to lunch, breakfast, dinner, coffee, beer, golf. I can’t sell without really seeing customers.”

Really? Is this the extent of your sales ability? A lousy cup of coffee, a hamburger, a round of golf or a beer? You cannot sell anything unless you are in front of a customer filling your face and theirs?

So, what about the product? What about your true role as a service provider? What about the value your bring to your customer? If the only value you can offer your customer is the pleasure of your company, then you, my friend, are in trouble.

A great salesperson has built relationships over the years—good, solid trusting relationships based on the value she brings to her customers. Sure, it’s nice to see them once in a while, but if you have developed a true relationship with your customers, they will not only take your calls; they will look forward to taking them. Heck, if you have made yourself as valuable to them as you should have, they’ll call you.

Let’s skip over the lightweight beer and burgers sales techniques and get right to it. A truly great salesperson will spend years developing the type of relationship with his customers that will defy all odds from COVID, a recession, a downturn or even an upswing in business.

Now, focus on your existing customers. If you can’t get a current customer to return your calls, that means you do not have a valuable relationship with that customer. The same goes for thinking you can only sell to that customer in person or by buying them a hot dog or a coffee. This is proven by the very fact that he cannot be bothered to answer the phone when you call or to return your call when you leave a voicemail. If this is the case, what does he really think of you and the value you’re providing?

If you hear yourself saying that you can’t sell because you cannot visit your customers, then it’s time to think about how really valuable you truly are to that customer.

Here are eight ways to make yourself extremely valuable to your customers:

  1. Listen and understand exactly what they need. What are their challenges? What kind of supplier do they need you to be? What kind of sales solution provider do they need you to be? Make sure you have a complete understanding of their company, including their end products and what they need from you to help make those products great and their company successful as well.
  2. Be useful. If you did what was suggested in item one, you will know what they need from a good supplier and make sure they get it from you.
  3. Solve their problems. Be there for them in their time of need. Whether they are having a problem caused by your company or another company, if you can help them solve their problems, you will be valuable to them.
  4. Be reliable. Don’t just tell them they can count on you; show them with your actions they can rely on you to be there at all times.
  5. Be trustworthy. Demonstrate over time that your customers can trust you. They can trust you with confidential information and they can trust you to do what you say you are going to do. This is critically important to creating a valuable relationship with your customers.
  6. Be there. This means being there in the good times and especially in the bad times. In the rare instances that your company screws up, be the first person to call your customer. Be brave, honest, and up front. Be the person with enough courage to tell your customer that you messed up—and of course what you are going to do to fix it.
  7. Be honest. Always, and I mean always, tell them the truth. An entire relationship can be ruined by one lie. Always be brutally honest with your customers.
  8. Be compassionate. Help your customer when he is hurting, when he has messed up his scheduling and needs to pull some orders in; when his company created a flawed design and needs you to provide replacement parts pronto; or even when another supplier, your competitor, screws up and your customer asks you to help her out. Do it! This kind of “get her out of a bind” service is the most valuable of them all. Do this for her and she will be beholden to you forever.

Notice that these guidelines are all character-driven. They are all based on the kind of person you are. If you follow these guidelines, if you make them a part of your daily life, you will be considered more than a salesperson by your customers, you will be considered a person of great integrity, someone who can be counted on to tell the truth; a person who will be there when they are in trouble; a person they can trust; a person they can turn to when they have a problem or need a special favor.

You will be a truly valuable salesperson, someone whose calls get returned and who can talk to a customer at any time, whether you are able to visit your customers in person or not. You will be considered a cherished, valuable asset to all your customers, regardless of whether you take them out to dinner. You will always be able to do business with them. It’s only common sense.

Dan Beaulieu is president of D.B. Management Group.

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