You have convinced me that spending time face-to-face with customers is the best use of my sales time. How much of my week should I spend entertaining customers; taking them to lunch, ballgames, etc.?
Great question. Let me answer this is two ways. First, spend as much time as you can interacting with your customers in social settings. That means that you should try to have lunch with a customer every day. You should entertain in the evening as often as your family, your boss, your life style and your budget will allow.
Having said that, here’s a second answer. The issue has more to do with the quality of the time than it does the quantity of time. You shouldn’t spend social time with a customer just to meet some quantity goal. It’s not time for the sake of time; it’s time for the sake of some objective. If, for example, you take the same customer out to lunch every week because the two of you are buddies, that’s not quality time. If you take people out to lunch or to a ball game, and those people are minor players in an account, having little, if any, influence on the decision, that also is not quality time.
Instead, be thoughtful and strategic about the investment of your time in your customers. Make a list of all the people who are important decision-makers or influencers in your “A” accounts. Then, think about which of them do not know you very well. This is a critical issue. Remember, it’s less important that you know them, than it is that they know you. If they feel like they know you and are comfortable with you, you will have significantly advanced the personal relationship and made it easier for them to do business with you. So, your primary objective in spending social time with a customer is to have them become comfortable with you. Your secondary objective is to get to know them better.
With that clearly in mind, identify those powerful people in your “A” accounts who should know you better, and try to spend social time with them.
If I found myself free for lunch on Tuesday, for example, I’d start at the top of the list, and invite my number one candidate. If he/she couldn’t make it, I’d go to number two, and so on. That way, I was always focusing on those individuals who were most strategically important.
The amount of entertaining by sales people has dwindled significantly in the last decade. I recall one of my friends, a manufacturer’s rep who sold automotive components in Detroit, had an entertaining budget in excess of $80,000 annually. And that was twenty years ago.
While those days of lavish spending are in the past, it is, never-the-less, true that spending social time with a customer can be a powerful sales strategy. In my days as a field sales person, I would take two or three customers and their spouses out to dinner at Greektown in Detroit, followed by a Tiger game. My spouse would join me, and we would have six or eight people together for the evening. We never talked business, but business in those accounts always grew afterward. It was because they got to know me on a personal basis. I met their spouses, and they mine. We came to know one another as real people, not just people playing the role of buyer and seller. As a result of forging this personal relationship, it was easier for us to do business together.
That is still true today, perhaps even more so. As more and more business is done electronically, people hunger for the high-touch of personal relationships that has been excluded by high-tech communications. That sales person who is able to build real personal relationships with his/her customers will succeed where others fail.
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